Maison symphonique de Montréal
Ticket Prices
$42* to $200*
Concert dates
Tuesday, October 20, 2015 - 8:00 PM Done
Wednesday, October 21, 2015 - 8:00 PM Done
Thursday, October 22, 2015 - 8:00 PM Done
Kent Nagano, conductorchef d’orchestre

Presentation of the concert

Stravinsky, The Firebird (complete ballet) (approx. 45 min.)

R. Strauss, Don Juan, op. 20 (approx. 17 min.)


Ravel, Bolero (approx. 14 min.)



Kent Nagano conducts a program infused with the incomparable dramatic intensity of two of the OSM’s most successful stagings: Ravel’s Bolero and Stravinsky’s Firebird. Don Juan by Richard Strauss, heralded as a major triumph when it premiered, completes the program. Join the OSM’s Music Director in this homage to three of the most lauded compositions of the 20th century.

The three works on this program are the result of the close associations between music, poetry and dance. Yet, tonight, in spite of the absence of words or visual elements, the evocative power of the music remains. Even shorn of verbal or gestural components, the music reveals its innate aural potential. One need only abandon oneself to the haunting allure of Boléro, the passionate outpourings of Don Juan, or the fairytale magic and diabolical rhythms of The Firebird to be convinced of this.


Born on the estate of Oranienbaum, June 17, 1882 – Died in New York City, April 6. 1971
The Firebird (complete ballet)

Igor Stravinsky, still at the outset of his career, was both flattered and touched that Sergei Diaghilev asked him to write music for a new ballet he wished to present with his Ballets russes in Paris. From this bold undertaking was born The Firebird in 1910, a descriptive work with a storyline and the physical implications of dance. While writing the score, Stravinsky closely followed Michel Fokine’s choreographic indications. The combination of highly inventive music, the fairytale world of the costumes, the luxuriance of the sets, and the expressiveness of the choreography strongly appealed to a Parisian audience that thrived on exoticism.

The ballet’s storyline draws upon traditional Russian fairy tales that relate the adventures of Prince Ivan who, aided by the Firebird, destroys the magician Kastchei and frees the creatures he has turned into zombies.

Gabriel Pierné conducted the first performance of The Firebird for the Ballets russes on June 25, 1910 at the Paris Opéra. The following day, one could read in Le Matin these lines from composer Alfred Bruneau: “Finally we have an absolutely beautiful work, something entirely new and of great import … to my mind, it marked a memorable date in history.”

One can see in The Firebird the influence of Rimsky-Korsakov, especially his opera Le coq d’or. Still, Stravinsky’s score reveals originality in the play of orchestral colors, its harmony, and its use of modal scales and certain intervals (the augmented fourth, for example, which is associated with the supernatural characters in the story). But it is above all in rhythmic excitement – a forcefulness that looks forward to The Rite of Spring – that the composer truly asserts himself.


Born in Munich, June 11, 1864 – Died in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, September 8, 1949
Don Juan, op. 20

Don Juan is one of Strauss’s first symphonic works with a program. The music was inspired by an eponymous poem by the poet Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850), which describes the loneliness of the hero in chimerical character appearances. In his desperate search for the ideal woman, Don Juan creates a worldly existence out of love affairs, but once he is sated, life cease to have any meaning.

Strauss endeavors to create a psychological portrait of Don Juan by depicting the various states of the character’s mind, more so through suggestion than through actual description. To this end, Strauss uses contrasting dynamics and thematic material, conferring on the orchestra a great sense of excitability, varying the tonal colors and accompaniments. The highly virtuosic writing is imbued with all the high spirit and impetuosity of a 24-year-old composer already possessing total command of his craft. Strauss, who had launched a career as conductor in Meiningen under Hans von Bülow, was totally aware of the technical and expressive capabilities of each instrument, and availed himself of these with great success.

The work opens with an upward rush of sound that heralds the rhythmic excitement in the title character’s first theme. A rising theme in the major mode – triumphant, highly rhythmic – depicts the hero’s fickle character through frequently changing tonalities. This virile theme, which returns several times throughout the score, is contrasted with the harmonically stable, lyrical and seductive themes associated with femininity. Strauss handles to perfection the transitions between these differing elements, an art he learned from Wagner. The final presentation of the Don Juan theme leads into a dazzling coda abruptly terminated by silence. Don Juan expires to the dissonance of a pianissimo chord.

The audiences was not mistaken: the work was welcomed enthusiastically at its premiere on November 11, 1889, in Weimar, under the direction of the composer.


Born in Ciboure, March 7, 1875 – Died in Paris, December 28, 1937

“My masterpiece? Come on now! It’s Boléro! Unfortunately, there’s no music in it.”

November 22, 1928 marked the premiere of Boléro, given by Ida Rubinstein’s ballet troupe at the Opéra in Paris. It quickly became a roaring success. In fact, though, Boléro almost never saw the light of day. Rubinstein, wishing to mount a Spanish-themed ballet, approached Ravel with the request to orchestrate Albeniz’ piano score of Iberia. The project appealed to Ravel, but he could not carry it out since this had already been done by the composer Enrique Fernández Arbós, and was protected by an exclusivity clause from the publisher Argentina. Ravel thereupon drew up a rough sketch for a work without “any real form, with no development, and with next to no modulation.” This was the esthetic stance that brought forth a hypnotic, mesmerizing composition. Instead of focusing on structural complexity, Ravel stretches out the linear motion until it reaches a paroxysmal climax while along the way omitting everything non-essential.

Loosely inspired by a Spanish dance in triple meter, Ravel’s work is laid out as a sort of passacaglia (another Spanish dance form), in which variety is created not through rhythm or melody but through the adroit play of tone colors. Boléro is all about repetition. The work is built on an ostinato rhythmic pattern in the snare drum, over which two themes in C major are played twice in succession; these are heard eight more times in alternating pairs (AABBAABB …) A long, continuous, almost mechanical crescendo in volume averts any sensation of monotony. Yet beneath this static surface runs a repressed force creating powerful dramatic tension, which resolves in a sudden modulation into the key of E major, momentarily annihilating C major – a stroke of genius from a musician who knew how to “create something out of nothing.”


© Florence Leyssieux

English translation by Robert Markow

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