What Can Stravinsky Do For You?
Juilliard bassoonist, Morgan Davison, on how she found the magic of Stravinsky.
“Every person will react in a different way upon listening. Some will be abhorred, some enraptured, some not amused. The important thing is that you felt something at all.”
What does Stravinsky’s have in store
for a new generation of performers and concertgoers?
I was six years old when I first stumbled upon Mr. Stravinsky. I was staying with my aunt, who always put something on the T.V. to help lull me and my twin brother to sleep. I’m not sure if it was by fate or by accident that my only memory of this stay is when my aunt tucked us into bed and then put the movie Fantasia 2000 on the screen. Fantasia sets animated stories to life, accompanied by classical greats such as Beethoven’s 5th and Respighi’s Pines of Rome. Stravinsky’s Suite from his ballet The Firebird is the last short story in the movie. I was so enraptured by how this music felt different, almost three-dimensional; as if the fluttering of the flute and strings in the “Firebird Variation” of the Suite brought the cartoonized leaves, being stirred on the screen, directly into my lap.
Yes, I connected with the visual story being told, but it was the music that made me feel something. After this encounter, I decided I wanted to be a classical musician. It wasn’t until I started auditioning for schools, however, that I realized just how far back my love for Stravinsky’s music went. As a bassoonist, it’s utterly impossible to get through a single audition without encountering something by Stravinsky. Along with the technical difficulty of these excerpts, to achieve the correct emotion behind the music is the greatest struggle.
Musical emotion isn’t found in practicing scales, it depends on the aural story that the composer has set. So I started to do research into who Igor Stravinsky was, why his music had always sounded different to me, and how I can accurately use this research to influence how I play his music. This evolved into doing so much research that I wanted to share it with the world, and how it related to me as a bassoonist, hence my #stravinskysaturday series. One of the overall themes that I’ve discovered about Stravinsky, that I believe relates to anyone who listens to or plays his music, is the fact that he was an unabashed leader who did not let controversy, quarrels, or disfavor, influence the genius that he must have known existed in his works.
He always wrote what he felt, regardless of whether or not it would be accepted, and possessed the ability to make those feelings come to life with a uniquely musical touch. This begins the answer to why I have always loved his music. His music is for the sake of feeling, not for the sake of how one will react to that feeling. That concept, along with his style as a pioneering composer, is what catapulted him not only ahead of the composers of his time, but what secured him as one of the greatest composers in history. It’s also why, in my opinion, Stravinsky’s music continues to be important to audiences today. Every person will react in a different way upon listening. Some will be abhorred, some enraptured, some not amused. The important thing is that you felt something at all.
Morgan Davison is a Bassoonist and graduate student at The Juilliard School.
Issue No.7 features in-depth interview with artists and arts organizations across 10 cities.
Find this, and more, in the forthcoming print edition of Issue No.8.