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Originally published Friday, May 30, 2014 at 6:15 AM

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Totally French: Ravel, Dutilleux at Seattle Symphony

The Seattle Symphony will perform an all-French program on June 5 and 7: Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé” and Dutilleux’s Symphony No. 2.


Special to The Seattle Times

CONCERT PREVIEW

‘Daphnis et Chloé’

7:30 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Saturday (June 5 and 7) at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; tickets start at $19 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).

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Separate chapters in two ambitious programming arcs meet up in Seattle Symphony’s next concert (premiering Thursday, June 5, at Benaroya Hall), which features Maurice Ravel’s 1912 ballet, “Daphnis et Chloé,” and Henri Dutilleux’s 1958-59 Symphony No. 2 (“Le double”).

Under any circumstances, the pairing of these extraordinary French composers makes sense: Ravel, active in the first half of the 20th century, and Dutilleux, who died a year ago at age 97, were both masters of vivid orchestration, rich sonic textures and instrumental colors.

But for Seattle Symphony music director Ludovic Morlot, each piece is a part of a larger plan.

“The Dutilleux is continuing our cycle of performing and recording his music,” Morlot says. “We presented his first symphony last year. We are continuing an exploration of his music, and presenting his second symphony now falls into that dynamic.”

One of those live performances from Benaroya Hall of Symphony No. 1 (“The Shadows of Time”) is on the recently released first recording (“Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1”) of Seattle Symphony’s in-house record label, Seattle Symphony Media. The piece was paired with another Dutilleux orchestral work that Morlot (who first met the composer in 2001) conducted, “A Whole Distant World.”

“Symphony No. 2,” Morlot says, “is an early work from the ’50s, and he never wrote another symphony. It’s as if, very early on, he decided to abandon the form all together.”

“Le double” takes its name from Dutilleux’s unconventional division of the orchestra into two ensembles of different sizes. The different groups interact, though in complex ways, playing off and over one another at various points.

Morlot plans to record, over time, Dutilleux’s entire orchestral cycle. Compared with that achievement, the inclusion of Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé” in a separate, larger scheme seems relatively modest.

Except it isn’t. Not often performed in its entirety, “Daphnis et Chloé,” based on a second-century Greek romance, was written by Ravel for Ballets Russes and commissioned by the company’s founder, Sergei Diaghilev. Choreographed by Michel Fokine and conducted by Pierre Monteux, “Daphnis” premiered in Paris on June 8, 1912, with Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina in the lead roles.

Ravel’s score for a full orchestra and “wordless” choir (the Seattle Symphony Chorale will also perform) was introduced during the same period in which Igor Stravinsky also composed three ballets for Diaghilev’s troupe.

On June 19 and 21, Morlot will conduct the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s performances of that Stravinsky trio: “The Firebird” (1910), “Petrushka” (1911) and “The Rite of Spring” (1913). Taken with “Daphnis,” SSO is presenting its own late-season snapshot of some thrilling years of Ballet Russes’ early history.

“I thought it was more interesting to present Ravel’s whole ballet than just the second suite, which is the one done all the time,” says Morlot. “People don’t know the complete ballet, so we’ve decided to include a little bit of supertitles so the audience can follow the action that takes place in the story, like subtitles in an opera.”

Does Morlot consider “Daphnis” Ravel’s most beautiful composition?

“I love all of Ravel, so it’s very difficult to say. There is a big part for principal flute in ‘Daphnis,’ and the lush string sound is incredible in slow passages. With the intervention of the wordless chorus, Ravel treats the voices like horns, and he does that quite extensively from the beginning, echoing movements of the French horn. It’s quite a beautiful effect.

“I always tend to love best the Ravel I’m focused on at the moment. I’m finding again so many beautiful things in ‘Daphnis.’ ”

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com



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