Context is King

So the Rite of Spring is 100 years old, and so it the ‘Riot’ that accompanied it.

Commentators then and now seem divided on what caused the fracas; was it the music, the dancing, the performance itself, or some class-based tension in the audience that had little or nothing to do with the show? The most likely answer is probably all of these things at once, with the music the least likely culprit.

But I don’t think that context can be understated. The way the concert was presented in advance (Diaghilev’s marketing was fairly ambiguous), the other music on the programme (Weber and Borodin) the venue itself (don’t we still cling onto class prejudices about ‘going to the ballet’?) all played their part in stoking the shock-value of the famous premiere.

A new, visceral ‘context’ for The Rite of Spring

Now we have a ‘Riot Ensemble’ – one that fully embraces the importance of context. Our concerts start a long time before the music. You can watch a video about the concert in advance, virtually meet the performers through blog posts, and interact fully with the performances through education projects (we have a whole string of these planned for 2014). And our concerts all cost £10 or less (no class-based tension in our concerts, thank you very much!).

A video trailer for our just gone ‘Shapes of a Square’ concert

In 2010, when the Riot Ensemble was embryonic, I played the solo part in Michael Daugherty’s piano concerto ‘Le Tombeau de Liberace’, a performance that caused a very British kind of protest in the form of quite a few audible harrumphs from composers in the audience. Perhaps the insertion of gaudy light music at the end of a programme showcasing ‘serious’ contemporary works was not to their taste! Another example of context playing its part.

But if it sounds like it might be to your taste, then head to Brighton this Thursday evening (April 25th) where I’m performing a programme of ‘classical’ works written by leading lights of the local rock and jazz scene.

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