Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky: The Firebird, Symphony of Psalms

New Philharmonia Orchestra, Orchestre et Choeurs de l'ORTF

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New Philharmonia Orchestra

Igor Stravinsky — Conductor

Choeurs de l'ORTF

Orchestre de l'ORTF

Igor Markevitch — Conductor

Program notes

During a memorable farewell concert in London in 1965, Stravinsky the orchestra conductor conducts Stravinsky the composer.

This film invites us to relive an historical concert: Igor Stravinsky's farewell performance at the Royal Festival Hall of London in 1965, at the age of eighty-three. To stop the recalls and applause, the composer-conductor finally comes back on stage wearing his coat and hat.

Born in Russia, in 1882, where he spends the first twenty-seven years of his life, he then goes to France and Switzerland where he lives twenty-nine years before leaving Europe for the United States where he dies in 1971. As Milan Kundera rightly says in Testaments Betrayed, "his only native land, his only home, was music, all music and all musicians." Without a home, therefore at home everywhere, constantly changing musical style and method, he remains the same in all of his experiments. That is the wonderful paradox of the person who provoked the greatest shock in the history of music with the premiere of The Rite of Spring in 1913.

Three years before, on June 25th, 1910, the ballet The Firebird was premiered at the Paris Opera under the direction of Gabriel Pierné during the second season of the Ballets Russes. Stravinsky chooses Suite No.3 taken from The Firebird to say farewell to the London audience. It is a sight to see him bent over, hobbling along and then fill with energy before the musicians of the New Philharmonia Orchestra and transform himself, as if under the effect of a magic wand, to conduct his music. His native land, his home.

Another Igor, whose name is Markevitch, is also a Russian emigrant, a partner of the Ballets Russes, a composer and an orchestra conductor. How could the two of them not become friends? But contrary to Stravinsky, Igor Markevitch finally dedicated himself solely to the orchestra, while putting himself at the service of contemporary composers.

That evening in 1967, he conducts the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chorus of the ORTF in the Symphony of Psalms by the other Igor, a symphonic and choral work which has the beauty of a cathedral. This cathedral, which Stravinsky wrote for the fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is based on words in Latin from the Bible. Under the impulse of Markevitch, the orchestra, completely electrified, constructs before us this monument of sound.


  • Stravinsky, The Firebird, Suite No. 3. Filmed by Brian Large, at the Royal Festival Hall, London, 14 September 1965, BBC archive.
  • Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms. Filmed by Denise Billon, at the Royal Festival Hall, London, 14 September 1965, INA archive.

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