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From Interlochen's archives: A brief performance history of Ravel's Bolero at Interlochen

Composer Maurice Ravel

Read about and listen to some of the earliest performances of Maurice Ravel's iconic Bolero at Interlochen.

Maurice Ravel's Bolero is probably his most famous composition.

It's also one of the last pieces of music that he ever composed, completing it in 1928 before retiring due to illness.

The piece is based on a repeated rhythm played 169 times by the snare drum, expertly spoofed in this 1992 short film:

The remaining instruments of the orchestra alternate two different melodies, taking them through a variety of instrumental sounds and colors.

Bolero was an overnight sensation, and orchestras around the world began performing and recording it.

Ravel's Bolero reached Interlochen's National Music Camp by the summer of 1934, when the National High School Orchestra played it for the very first time.

The following timeline traces the performance and recording history of Ravel's Bolero globally and at Interlochen's National Music Camp.

zweig_ms_74_f001r_Ravel Bolero - Article 12.jpg
British Library
Maurice Ravel: Bolero. Ballet for orchestra. Version for piano duet.

November 1928

Ravel's Bolero is performed for the first time. Conductor Walter Straram led the Orchestra of the Paris Opera, and original choreography by Bronislava Nijinska was featured.

November 1929

Arturo Toscanini conducts the American premiere of Ravel's Bolero with the New York Philharmonic.

May 1930

In Paris, Arturo Toscanini conducts the New York Philharmonic in a performance of Bolero that Ravel attends.

The composer and conductor began a very public dispute about the piece, in which Ravel allegedly told Toscanini that his tempo was too fast and Toscanini responded that Ravel knew nothing about his own music.

February 1934

Paramount releases "Bolero," a film starring Carole Lombard, George Raft and Sally Rand.

Ravel's Bolero is featured prominently in the film.

July 1934

The National High School Orchestra at Interlochen's National Music Camp plays Ravel's Bolero for the first time.

The piece was played during a sight-reading workshop but not included on any concert performances or broadcasts.

A list of pieces sight-read at the National Music Camp, including Ravel's Bolero
A list from 1934 National Music Camp program book of all pieces sight-read during the first two weeks of that summer's camp season

August 1938

The National High School Band at Interlochen's National Music Camp plays a transcription of Ravel's Bolero on the final Sunday concert of that summer's camp session.

This is the first known concert performance of Ravel's Bolero at Interlochen. The concert was not broadcast or recorded.

A concert program from the National Music Camp 1938
The National High School Band program from August 21, 1938, which includes Ravel's Bolero

August 1940

Frederick Fennell conducts the National High School Band's performance of Ravel's Bolero.

This performance was broadcast on radio, much to the delight of Olga and Bill Boutwell, who sent the following telegram in response to hearing it:

"We almost turned around the came back to camp when we heard the band, choir and orchestra broadcasts on the road driving home. . . . The band's Bolero so exciting it nearly ditched us"
A telegram from Olga and Bill Boutwell printed in the National Music Camp's Scherzo bulletin for August 18, 1940

Mr. Boutwell was one of the founders of the National Music Camp's Radio Workshop and served on the summer camp faculty.

William Dow Boutwell, one of the founders of the National Music Camp's Radio Workshop

July 1945

The National Music Camp's High School Band, under the baton of Walter Welke, performs Ravel's Bolero.

This concert was broadcast on WKAR and was recorded on transcription disk.

A digitized and remastered excerpt of the performance is available below.

Maurice Ravel, Bolero
July 28, 1945 performance by Interlochen's National Music Camp Band, conducted by Walter Welke. Excerpt from WKAR radio broadcast with announcer David Ward.

August 1946

The National High School Orchestra at the National Music Camp performs Ravel's Bolero on a concert for the first time.

This performance was broadcast on WKAR but has not been preserved.

The August 4, 1946 National High School Orchestra program that includes Ravel's Bolero

Stefan Wiebe remastered the archival audio featured in this article.

Eileen Ganter provided additional research support.

Dr. Amanda Sewell is IPR's music director.