Check out this passage from Stravinsky’s autobiography of 1934. He is writing about Ernest Ansermet, the conductor at the premiere of “Histoire du Soldat” on September 28, 1918 (our NOVA performance yesterday celebrated the 95th anniversary of this event almost to the day- Happy Birthday, L’Histoire!).
Ansermet is one of the conductors who emphatically confirm my longstanding conviction that it is impossible to grasp fully the art of a bygone period, to penetrate beneath the obsolete form and discern the author’s meaning in a language no longer spoken, unless he has a comprehensive and lively feeling for the present, and unless he consciously participates in the life around him. For it is only those who are essentially alive who can discover the real life of those who are “dead.”
Musicians and artists are almost always taught that to understand the art of your contemporaries, you must be thoroughly versed in works of the great artists and composers of history. Stravinsky felt the same ideal applied in reverse, that you can only understand the art of the past if you are truly alive and sensitive to the present. Perhaps NOVA concert programs are onto something by placing the music of the past and present in dialogue with each other…