Stravinsky at Eighty-five: An Interview

Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky; drawing by David Levine

“I turned the tuneful art
From sounds to things…”
—An Essay on Man

NYR: We read that you had cancelled your European tour, Mr. Stravinsky: I hope not because of illness?

I.S.: Not illness, thank you, though if I sneeze nowadays you may count on the newspapers reporting it. In fact I have just returned from a concert tour, a Via Dolorosa further darkened by some unscheduled glimpses of the Culture Explosion (the violent arts), in so far as this phenomenon may be said to have reached Miami, Beverly Hills, Seattle, and Honolulu.

NYR: What were the local detonations like?

I.S.: Pfft. Miami, as the winter quarters of Brooklyn and the Bronx, might at least be expected to possess a first-rate orchestra. But not much in the city seems to be propitious to the arts (though the hotel I stayed in had a Venus de Milo with the arms restored), certainly not the sun-worshipping life (the entire population looks as if it had been fried in butter), nor even the musicians themselves, a description that in some cases seemed to mean anyone with the knowledge that a violin is more or less held under the chin.

Nor did a sampling of the condition of culture in Beverly Hills force the imagination as far as Florence or Athens in search of adequate comparisons. But it did make me change one of my tunes. Heretofore I have criticized the policy of building more and bigger halls for bad and worse performances, but now I say at least halls. The boudoir-pink ballroom of the Beverly Hilton was an absurd environment for The Rite of Spring, and the switching off of the lights while I conducted—it did not help that the music we fizzled through during the blackout was the Fireworks—made a concentrated performance even more impossible. The management must have thought that the long overdue air raid had finally begun.

In Seattle, my Histoire du Soldat was embellished with panel backdrops by Saul Steinberg, but they were indecipherable, without telescopes, beyond the first row. Even on stage I had to squint to make out the pagoda-like first scene (Vietnam?), while the Soldier—who may have had weak eyes, for he was surprisingly ready to weep (a degree of fortitude being expected in his profession)—seemed baffled by the “Royal Palace” at a distance of only a few feet (a penthouse? condominium? spaceneedle?).

NYR: And Honolulu?

I.S.: I enjoyed it more than my last trip there, which was in 1959, shortly before the islands became a state. There were annoying airport formalities then—a health inspection for which we tried to look sober and refrain from blowing our noses, but the standards must have been extremely low; the inspector strode by so quickly that he could have noticed no more than whether anyone was actually dead or unusually green. The new state is easier to enter,…

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