Yes, yes, I know that today is the 100th anniversary of the celebrated premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. But this is my husband Bob’s recollection of the 50th anniversary in 1963.
Bob was in the Upper Circle of the Royal Albert Hall with a group of students from the Royal College of Music at the ‘historic’ 50th anniversary performance of the Rite. The LSO was conducted by the 88-year-old Pierre Monteux. Bob remembers being thrilled to look down and see Stravinsky, a little man, stand up in his box at the end of the concert to acknowledge the audience’s excited cheering.
Years later Bob heard Sir Isaiah Berlin, a close friend of Stravinsky, talking on radio about that night. Stravinsky was in London at the time of the 50th anniversary concert, but had no intention of going to it. ‘Nothing in the world could persuade me to go and hear my music being murdered by this frightful butcher’. He asked Isaiah Berlin to book tickets for them to go to Mozart’s ‘Figaro’ at the Royal Opera House instead. Berlin tried to persuade Stravinsky he should not be seen at Covent Garden on the evening when his own work was being given a special 50th anniversary performance down the road, but Stravinsky was determined. After making some calculations about the relative length of the works involved, however, he agreed to tiptoe out of the opera at the first break and be driven to the Albert Hall to take a bow at the end of the Rite. After an hour at the opera, when the lights were half-brightened, Stravinsky and his party made their way out of the auditorium, only to met by an usherette telling them, ‘You can’t leave now. This isn’t an interval.’ Stravinsky went red and roared at her, ‘We all have diahorrea!’ The usherette recoiled, and the group left by taxi for the Albert Hall, arriving just in time for Stravinsky to slip into his box and stand up innocently at the end to acknowledge the cheers.