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The Soldier’s Tale

June 10, 2015

by JoAnn Falletta

Violinist Tianwa Yang & conductor JoAnn Falletta
Photo: David A. Beloff

With the centenary of the first performance of The Soldier’s Tale fast approaching, the Virginia Arts Festival decided to mount performances and make a recording of Stravinsky’s iconic masterpiece. We found that the work has lost nothing of its power and poignancy, almost one hundred years after its première in Switzerland on 28 September, 1918. In fact, the stark truth of this allegory has become even more relevant in today’s world. The audiences were shocked at the ending and, in the case of our high school audience, deeply troubled. They all agreed that it was an extraordinarily potent hour of music, narration and dance, and I am sure they will continue to think about the experience for some time to come.

JoAnn & Tianwa with members of the Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players
Photo: David A. Beloff

Composed at the end of World War I, the piece emerges from the landscape of that dark and frightening time. Stravinsky assembled his unique ensemble (clarinet, bassoon, violin, bass, trumpet, trombone and percussion) from the few musicians in the town who had not lost their lives in the war. The lean timbre and powerful colors of the group stand out in stark relief, both on the stage and in the ear; the music is complex, multi-rhythmic and absolutely absorbing.

Photo: David A. Beloff

Based on a dark Russian fairy tale, the work calls for three narrators, a dancer and chamber orchestra. In the Virginia production, beloved radio personality Fred Child played the Narrator, and actors Jarod McGuire and Jeff Biehl gave superb performances respectively as The Soldier and The Devil. Caitlin Cooley was the beautiful Princess, and the piece was directed by Pam Berlin and choreographed by Todd Rosenlieb.

Photo: David A. Beloff

We put together an incredible group of musicians for the orchestra, including superstar violinist Tianwa Yang. As the soldier’s “alter ego”, Tianwa’s violin played an all-important part in the production, and she was absolutely amazing.

Tianwa & the Soldier
Photo: Tianwa Yang

Her performances of the three dances (in which the Soldier’s violin cures the Princess of her illness) were particularly sensuous, passionate and unforgettable. Tianwa herself enjoyed the collaboration tremendously (as you will see from the photo of her playing violin with the Soldier) and she commented that it was a great deal of fun to play sitting next to the trombonist!

The story is centred around a young soldier returning home on leave who, tired and hungry, sells his violin (his soul?) to the devil in return for material comforts. That decision follows him for the rest of his young life, and even though he finds love and contentment, he sadly must pay the ultimate price in the end.

The complete performance was recorded for NAXOS by producer Tim Handley.

JoAnn Falletta Biography & Discography

Tianwa Yang Biography & Discography

Igor Stravinsky Biography & Discography


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