Program Notes By Clarice Assad
In 2019, I received an email from conductor Michael Votta with an intriguing vision for a commission: How would you like to write a response to Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” experienced through the eyes of the sacrificial maiden? I wrote back immediately, saying, “I want to hear more.”
He told me the subject came up during a conversation with a woman who mentioned her scariest moment in music is in the Rite of Spring when the young woman dances herself to death. It was easy to agree with her on this. How awful it must have been for this young woman to be put to death at such a tender age to please the Gods of Spring that may not exist. The music sounds terrifying, and the choreographies I have seen over the years are up to par. But what about this girl? Was she accepting of her fate or felt forced into it? So many questions popped up; most importantly, who was this person? How was her life before? Her dreams? I wanted to explore.
There were many angles to tackle this story, but a light bulb moment occurred when I envisioned this poor young lady living as multiple versions of herself at different places and times. That is how MULTIVERSE came into being. In this re-telling of the Rite of Spring, the experience is multi-fold. Here, the story begins in tandem with the first part of the actual Rite of Spring, and each movement bears the exact title as in the original. But in Multiverse, the story ends right before the Sacrifice. We only go as far as when the victim discovers she is the chosen one. We are not sure whether she will die or escape. As in the original, we begin with the introduction, “Adoration of the Earth,” and hear the most famous melodic fragments of the original piece, often in distorted ways. The glitchy nature of this passage suggests that we are experiencing many realities at once but, eventually, focus on the new one.
The second movement, “Dances of the Young Girls,” offers an unfamiliar sound world contrasting with the Rite’s most famous pulsating and visceral passage. It is cheery and full of playfulness. The young girls in this dimension are dancing to another tune, literally. They might not know what is coming their way. Everything seems like a game. Their naiveness is almost heart-wrenching as the dance segues into Movement III: Mock Abduction, and quotes from the Rite of Spring are peppered through this section, first with the jest from the girl’s nature, but that eventually becomes ominous and serious, a suspicion of bad things to come. Still, there is a sense of hope in this alternate macrocosm, where events are happening through their young and innocent eyes.
In Movement four: Spring Rounds, we experience a ritual musically influenced sounds of ancient Mesoamerican sounds, and in movement V, “Games of the Rival Tribes,” the backdrop changes once again into another set of musical quotes from different parts of the original score, influenced by jazz.
In the final Movement “Dance of The Earth,” the main character shifts between realities as if trying to escape her ultimate destiny: Death.