In Cambridge, a Fresh Take on Stravinsky’s Immortal Firebird

The CSO will perform the lesser known 1910 version with ballet dancers onstage.

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

It’s that classic story of boy meets mythical bird, bird gives boy magical feather, boy rescues girl from evil sorcerer king with bird’s help.

“And then of course, they get married and live happily ever after,” says Cynthia Woods, conductor of the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra. When she takes the stage at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium this month for a one-night performance of Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird, Woods and the band will have company—former Boston Ballet dancer Gianni Di Marco and members of the newly formed NorthEast ArtSpace.

The piece, originally conceived as a ballet in 1910, was reworked into a better known 25-minute suite nine years later. Stravinsky’s youthful indecision is apparent in the earlier version, Woods says. Just 28 years old at the time, he struggles to find his true sound, pulled in all different directions by the Romantic influence of his fellow countryman Rimsky-Korsakov, Expressionism, and Impressionism.

“By the time he does the suite nine years later, he’s a mature composer,” Woods says. “He has a very clear sense of style and orchestrating, so he’s very much an Expressionist composer at that point: bold, huge sounds, lots of color.”

Hardly a stranger to Stravinsky, Woods made her conducting debut at the helm of the 118-piece Worcester Consortium Orchestra for an explosive performance of the Russian composer’s Rite of Spring. And she grew up dancing too, only abandoning the discipline for music once she arrived at the bitter conclusion she was “not quite bendy enough.”

“It’s exciting for me because I’ve always imagined music as part of motion and part of performance, and to put it together has been a very fun thing for me to do,” she says.

Gianni Di Marco. Courtesy Photo

Gianni Di Marco. Courtesy Photo

Handling the motion is Di Marco, who will also perform as the wicked King Kashchei. Di Marco will be joined by soloists Ruth Whitney as the Firebird, Alan Alberto as Prince Ivan, and Jaime DeRocker as Princess Vasilisa, along with a small corps of dancers.

Di Marco, a native of Venezuela, says they will not be a constant presence onstage, but a “token of dance,” serving only to accentuate Stravinsky’s most sublime moments of brilliance.

“We’re like the whipping cream on the great cake, you know? That’s all we are,” he says. “And hopefully the cake is going to be so good, people aren’t going to want much whipping cream.”

The marriage of live music and ballet on the same stage is especially rare in New England. But with it, Woods hopes to create a work of art blending sound and movement into wholly new experience.

“We really hope to create a higher energy level,” she says. “The dancers are very excited. They’re used to having the orchestra under the pit, or dancing to prerecorded music. I think the first time they step in front of a 90-piece orchestra playing as loud as it can, hopefully it will inspire them to do something extraordinary.”

Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, The Firebird. June 18, 8 p.m., MIT’s Kresge Auditorium. Tickets $15-$25.