On the evening of Thursday 15 December, the Australian Youth Orchestra will perform a unique arrangement of Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird concert suite. This arrangement was the result of a conversation between AYO and conductor Matthew Coorey, which worked its way up to the Stravinsky Estate!
Matthew took the time to reflect on bringing this arrangement to life for the orchestra.
Many of Stravinsky’s most well-loved works emerged out of the abundant creative energy at the heart of the Parisian Ballet Russes company. This company was established by Sergei Diaghilev, an impresario with a fantastic knack for spotting talent and bringing artistic minds together.
Diaghilev brought Stravinsky on board when the composer was still an unknown name, learning under the tutelage of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The Firebird was his first composition for the company, followed by Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. Stravinsky’s distinctive use of orchestral colour and angular, sometimes aggressive rhythms continues to capture audience imaginations to this day.
“When the Australian Youth Orchestra invited me to conduct their 2021 season, they suggested we perform the 1911 Firebird Concert Suite to commemorate the 50 years since Stravinsky’s death,” Coorey notes. “I have a great love of Stravinsky and have performed the 1919 suite many times. I knew the 1945 suite and the original ballet well, but I didn’t know the 1911 suite at all.”
The 1911 version is not commonly performed. It is orchestrated for just under a hundred musicians, larger than any other version of The Firebird, but it’s likely that there’s another reason it isn’t the go-to: “I believe the 1911 suite is rarely performed is because Stravinsky failed to include the ‘big hits’ of the Berceuse and Finale; when you know how The Firebird usually ends, ending with the Infernal Dance seems abrupt – thrilling as it is!” Coorey observes.
“When considering this suite, I was still attracted to its great music and daring orchestration. I wondered if it might be possible to continue with the Berceuse and Finale the way Stravinsky does in his later suites, while retaining his original larger orchestration.”
The Stravinsky Estate were contacted with this proposal. The Estate embraced the concept and licensed the arrangement specially for AYO. The result is an iteration of The Firebird that is closely aligned to the original ballet, utilising a dazzling orchestral force.