The Rite of Spring

A rite old riot

One person’s Bacchanalia is just someone else’s drunken brawl, so exactly when does a rite turn into a riot?

Gillian Moore, the Artistic Director of London’s Southbank Centre, is the perfect guide to steer you through the red mist which descended on the critics of the day in 1913 when the curtain went up on Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Modernism was born.

A cast of frenziedly stamping dancers greeted the great and the good of the Parisian art world on that opening night, allegedly sparking a riot because of its innovations in form, rhythm, dissonance and its sheer sonic power.

But what really happened on the night? Were all the people who claimed to have been there really there, given that reports of a riot didn’t appear until weeks later? Or was Modernism born out of a myth?

Gillian uses her musical scholarship to track how The Rite of Spring’s pagan and earthy rhythms shaped so much of what happened next over the rest of the 20th Century when she comes to Buxton International Festival on July 8.

You know how the theme tune from Jaws gets it teeth into you even before you see the shark? Gillian tracks how its writer John Williams channels Stravinsky to achieve it. Who really was The Mother of Invention for Frank Zappa? Zappa said he was the man who had listened to The Rite of Spring more than anyone on earth.

And for most of us, The Rite means dinosaurs, choreographed to The Rite thanks to a deal struck by Stravinsky with Walt Disney who wanted it for the soundtrack to his ground-breaking Fantasia cartoon which brought classical music to millions of children.

Gillian has been a real force in music herself. Born in the East End of Glasgow, she was playing the piano by the age of six, listening to The Beatles and The Kinks and singing in church choirs.

After studying music at university, she came to London where she was in a pop band with her boyfriend of the time, John Lunn, who’s now the most successful television composer in the world, because he wrote the music for “Downton Abbey.”

She has used her 25 years at Southbank to promote music by and for people who might not otherwise get a chance to play it or hear it: the next Stravinskys and their audiences, perhaps.

“If we don’t support contemporary composers, their music is going to die,” Gillian once told The New York Times.

“History is littered with people who struggled to get any recognition at all, even people who are big names now. And it’s really important that there’s a healthy scene for creative artists in all art forms.”

Gillian Moore will talk about The Rite of Spring 8 Jun 10am-11am. Philip Moore and Huw Watkins will perform a recital of The Rite of Spring after Gillian’s event 12pm-1pm.