During World War I, Igor Stravinsky lived in the village of Morges, Switzerland, and worked on some of his most distinctive compositions, including "Les Noces," "L'Histoire du Soldat" and "Pulcinella." The interlude provided a relatively calm haven from the destructive forces that were devastating Europe and the revolution that was sweeping across his native Russia, making him willy-nilly a citizen of the world.
Morges must have been a beautiful place in those days. It still is, as seen through the television cameras in "My Father, Stravinsky," the latest episode in the "Kennedy Center Tonight" series, which will be shown tonight at 9 on Channels 22 and 26 and simulcast on WETA-FM (90.9). The composer's son, Soulima Stravinsky, is taken bank to the village where he spent a large part of his childhood, and his memory is triggered into reminiscences by the familiar scenes.
Sitting on a quay on the shores of Lake Geneva, throwing crumbs to the ducks and swans, Soulima Stravinsky recalls what it was like to be the child of a genius. He wanders through the colorful marketplace and bicycles down the country roads that used to be traveled by his father during what he called his "bicycle years." He encounters a puppeteer and in a conversation that leaps back and forth between Italian and French, he is introduced to Pulcinello and Pulcinella (Punch and Judy), the characters who inspired the ballet.
He searches out the scanty remaining traces of his father's residence in Morges more than 60 years ago -- a street sign reading "Quai Igor Strawinsky" and a plaque on the side of a building to mark the spot where he composed "L'Historie." He points to the room in the building where his father used to work, and recalls what it was like taking piano lessons from Igor Stravinsky -- a "wonderful" father but a formidable musician: "These were very difficult sessions, and very bitter for me, because he just got impatient."
Photos trigger his memory as well as familiar scenes from long ago; he recalls how difficult it was posing for his father, who was an excellent but very demanding amateur photographer, and he loses himself in contemplation of a father-and-son photo taken when he was about 7 years old. They stand, strangely isolated against an ocean-front background, looking proud and perhaps a bit lonely, a subtle atmosphre of exile somehow still clinging to the old black-and-white image.
Music interwoven with these memories is supplied by Pinchas Zukerman -- as vioLlinist in a chamber ensemble playing parts of "L'Histoire Du Soldat" at Dumbarton Oaks, and as conductor of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra n the Suite No. 1 for Small Orchestra and the "Pulcinella" Suite at the Kennedy Center. These are smashing performances, made more effective by excellent camera work -- a zoom deep into the bell of a trombone, for example, just as the brass section is swinging into one of its most raucous passages.
For purely informative value (e.g.,, an understanding of Stravinsky's relation to the 18-century scores he plundered for his "Pulcinella" motifs), "My Father, Stravinsky" is not particularly rewarding. But it has an undeniable charm, and the music is excellent.