TAMPA — I recently watched a documentary (by British filmmaker Tony Palmer) on Stravinsky, and it had footage of ice breaking up in the frozen Neva River in St. Petersburg, the Russian composer's childhood home. Experiencing that could have been the source of his oft-quoted remark on "the whole earth cracking" during the onset of spring as inspiration for his ballet score The Rite of Spring.
Such imagery is a long way from our steamy springtime in the bay area, but it was still a sharp idea for guest conductor Tito Munoz and the Florida Orchestra to play Stravinsky's revolutionary masterpiece Friday night in Morsani Hall of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, just a few days before the 100th anniversary of its premiere in Paris (May 29, 1913), the historic staging by the Ballets Russes that caused a scandal. It's a sensational centerpiece for the orchestra's season finale.
The Rite takes a huge orchestra of 99 musicians, and the sheer weight of the dissonant cacophony can be overwhelming, but it all starts with the weird little bassoon solo, expertly played by Anthony Georgeson, that sounds like a strangled goose (it's a Lithuanian wedding song).
Because the brass, winds and percussion create such an incredible noise at times, they get the glory, but for me, it's the writing for strings that makes the piece so radical, from the famous hard-driving chords about five minutes in — The Augurs of Spring (Dance of the Young Girls) — to all the intricate counting needed to negotiate the random notes in the climactic Sacrificial Dance. Stravinsky's greatest hit doesn't come around very often, and Friday's crowd of 1,177 got a fabulous treat.
To establish a French theme, the concert opened with Messiaen's "symphonic meditation" Les Offrandes Oubliees, with its slow-fast-slow movements and a daringly soft ending in the strings. Then came Debussy's tone poem of watery impressionism La Mer, which wound up with a rich brass choir. Throughout the evening, Munoz gave the impression of a man who thoroughly enjoyed what he was doing on the podium, no small thing in such a complex program.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.