Igor Stravinsky's U.S. Debut

How the New York Philharmonic orchestrated the first North American appearances of the enigmatic composer.

Stravinsky family (1920)New York Philharmonic

The Stravinsky Family

Igor Stravinsky with his wife, Yekaterina (Katya), and their four children, Fyodor, Ludmila, Soulima, and Marie Milène, in 1920. Stravinsky cited the need to support such a large family as one of his motivations for embarking on international tours.

Stravinsky and Diaghilev (1921)New York Philharmonic

Sergei Diaghilev

Diaghilev (left), a Russian impresario, is widely credited as having “discovered” Stravinsky in 1909, helping Stravinsky’s career skyrocket through the commission of new works for the Ballets Russes, a troupe of Russian dancers living in exile. 

The Rite of Spring, page 3 (1921) by Stravinsky, IgorNew York Philharmonic

The Rite of Spring

It was Stravinsky's third work for the company, The Rite of Spring, that would forever cement him in the public’s memory as a controversial figure. 

Letter to Clarence Mackay (October 17, 1922)New York Philharmonic

"Interesting and important novelties"

This letter to NYP Chairman Clarence Mackay from October 17, 1922 details then Music Director Willem Mengelberg’s strong desire to bring The Rite of Spring to New York in the upcoming 1923-24 season, as no orchestra had yet done. However, Serge Koussevitzky would beat him to it.

Stravinsky at Concertgebouw (March 2, 1926)New York Philharmonic

The Organizers

A key figure in bringing Stravinsky to America was Willem Mengelberg's Secretary S. Bottenheim (seen here behind the two women), a Dutch musicologist who imported the biggest musical talent of the day to New York. Mengelberg, third from left, embraces Stravinsky amiably.

Bottenheim cablegram to Judson (August 23, 1924) by Bottenheim, S.New York Philharmonic

Stravinsky Agrees

Bottenheim met with Stravinsky several times in 1924 to negotiate the terms of the tour, sending this message to Orchestra Manager Arthur Judson when Stravinsky had finally agreed.

Stravinsky 1924 contract (August 23, 1924) by Stravinsky, Igor and Bottenheim, S.New York Philharmonic

The Contract

Drawn up under direction from the New York Philharmonic by Bottenheim, this contract secured the terms for Stravinsky’s first tour of America. He was required to give between 10-20 performances, with a guaranteed pay of $1,200 for each, plus a $1,000 travel stipend.

S.S. Paris (1921)New York Philharmonic

The S.S. Paris

The ship on which Igor Stravinsky traveled to America for the very first time, the S.S. Paris. His was a first-class cabin, outfitted with its own piano.

S.S. Paris manifest (December 27, 1924)New York Philharmonic

On Board

Passenger manifest of the S.S. Paris, December 27, 1924. Stravinsky’s entry appears on line 20. 

The ship departed from Le Havre, France on December 27, 1924, arriving in New York City on January 4 of the following year, delayed by a full day due to snowstorms at sea.

NY Harbor 1905 (1905)New York Philharmonic

New York City, 1925

NYC as Stravinsky saw it from the ship looked quite different from today. While home to the tallest building in the world, the city lacked its modern-day megastructures. This photograph, taken in 1905, is representative of the view that greeted him upon his arrival.

Igor Stravinsky Arrives (January 05, 1925) by The New York TimesNew York Philharmonic

The Hype

Audiences and critics alike were anxiously awaiting the celebrity's arrival at the pier. Reports detailed his colorful clothing and golden accessories. 

Stravinsky debut program (January 08, 1925) by New York PhilharmonicNew York Philharmonic

The Debut Concerts

Stravinsky made his first appearances conducting the Orchestra on January 8 & 9, 1925. These concerts also marked his first public appearances in the United States. The composer himself conducted the All-Stravinsky Program, which consisted mostly of his early works. 

Clipping collage (January 1925) by The New York Times, Musical America, The New York World, Musical Digest, The New York Herald-Tribune, and The New York Telegram & MailNew York Philharmonic

Critical Reception

Reviews of Stravinsky’s concerts with the Philharmonic in January 1925.

Hofmann reception (January 11, 1925) by Pach Bros.New York Philharmonic

Steinway Party

Stravinsky, seated in the bottom-left corner with arms crossed, attends a reception in honor of pianist Josef Hofmann on January 11, 1925. Two seats to the right sits German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who had just made his NYP debut earlier in the month.

The Rite of Spring first performance (January 22, 1925) by New York PhilharmonicNew York Philharmonic

A Change of Plans

Stravinsky was supposed to conduct The Rite the previous night. However, citing insufficient rehearsal time and the fact that Koussevitzky had conducted the piece at Carnegie Hall not two weeks prior, Stravinsky backed out, leaving it for Furtwängler to conduct later on instead.

Philharmonic Plays "Rite of Spring" (1925-01-23)New York Philharmonic

"The Baffling of Furtwängler"

This critic described the orchestra as "hesitant" and "insufficiently prepared" under the baton of Furtwängler, who, nose in score, was unable to interpret the modernist piece. Audiences were left disappointed.

Igor Stravinsky on ship deck (1935)New York Philharmonic

The Tour, in Numbers

In total, Stravinsky made 19 appearances in 7 cities—New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, and Cincinnati—on his debut North American tour, earning an estimated $25,000 (nearly half a million in today's dollars) for his performances.

Stravinsky is Grateful (February 06, 1925) by Stravinsky, IgorNew York Philharmonic

Stravinsky at piano (1925-01)New York Philharmonic

The Birth of a Legacy

Subsequent trips to America would see Stravinsky's popularity grow and relationship with the New York Philharmonic strengthen, resulting in numerous guest conductor appearances and the commission of a new work, a historic "first" for the Orchestra.

Credits: Story

This digital exhibit was curated by Meredith Self, Assistant Archivist, for the New York Philharmonic Archives.
Gabryel Smith, Director, Archives & Exhibitions; Julian Stuart-Burns, Archives Assistant.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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