Jazzed-Up Stravinsky

Grant Cornett

"The Rite of Spring" gets a new score for its centennial.

Avant-garde jazz trio Bad Plus has reinvented many iconic melodies, exploding tunes like “We Are the Champions” and “Chariots of Fire” with exuberant undulations. Recently, the group took on a real masterpiece: Igor Stravinsky’s score for The Rite of Spring, the Vaslav Nijinsky–choreographed ballet whose debut in 1913 was so scandalous, it caused a riot. The piece’s Russian-folk-music roots resonated with the trio, who have what bassist Reid Anderson terms “our own primal language” for collective rhythm-making. And despite the score’s daunting complexity, Anderson says, “we face it with abandon.”

On June 13, coinciding with The Rite of Spring’s centenary, the trio’s interpretation will accompany a new dance by legendary choreographer Mark Morris at the Ojai North! festival in Berkeley, California. Morris had resisted approaching the work, but the Bad Plus score won him over. In a return to Stravinsky’s intentions, his dance will have no plot nor any ritualistic dancing to death, as in the Nijinsky ballet. “I don’t believe in human sacrifice,” Morris says. But with more than 16 dancers and Bad Plus performing live, what Morris calls the music’s “great throb” will be every bit as powerful. In a season choked with anniversary productions, this Rite of Spring feels freshest. At Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley; calperfs.berkeley.edu.