Loading...

Slow Start 

Wednesday, Jan 23 2002
Comments

If the Philharmonic’s first-of-2002 concert should be remembered at all -- and I see no special reason why -- it ought to be tagged in the index as “D-minor Turgid.” D minor is a dangerous key anyhow: icy and menacing. (The immortal Nigel of Spinal Tap pegged it exactly: “The saddest chord known to man, it sends everybody instantly to weeping.”) Beethoven rescued us all by steering his Ninth Symphony finally into D major‘s sunnier climes. Schoenberg was not so kind, and Brahms’ halfhearted salvation was rendered murky by the, well, Brahmsian orchestration.

Would Brahms‘ First Piano Concerto claim our attention today if its composer hadn’t also composed the Clarinet Quintet and the Fourth Symphony (to cite my own choice as the least unbearable of his works)? Would Schoenberg‘s Pelleas und Melisande still be performed today if its composer hadn’t gone on to Pierrot Lunaire and the Third String Quartet? Musicology needs a comparative study, with built-in trash can, to save mature composers from their early indiscretions. And the Philharmonic needs something similar, to prevent these two indigestible lumps from appearing on the same program and thus beclouding an otherwise warm and sunny afternoon.

Schoenberg‘s exasperating exercise runs nearly 45 minutes. His first and (Gott sei Dank) last attempt at large-scale descriptive orchestral writing, Pelleas assigns recognizable themes to the characters in Maeterlinck’s haunting, symbolic drama, and to some of the concepts as well. They mix in a steady stream of clotted counterpoint, out of which some sense of dramatic narrative may be discernible. The model seems to be the Heldenleben of Richard Strauss, who befriended and helped the young Schoenberg upon his arrival in Berlin. If you believe, as I once did, that Ein Heldenleben is the ugliest of all major orchestral works, you don‘t know Schoenberg’s Pelleas. Its apologists point out that Schoenberg had not heard Debussy‘s operatic setting, and that he should not be judged against that great score. Unacceptable: Schoenberg may not have known the opera -- which had had its Paris premiere shortly before he began work on the tone poem -- but he must have known the play itself, enough not to betray its spirit in his music.

Related Stories

  • The Pancake Breakfast Is Coming!

    It's August in Los Angeles. Time to listen to Vin Scully on the radio (here's that Time Warner petition), dream of rain, and get tickets to our Pancake Breakfast. Plan your weekend events and juice fasts accordingly. If you haven't seen the (pink!) artwork on your neighborhood's LA Weekly newspaper box, here's a...
  • SoCal Meets Old World: Stone Brewing Co. and Green Flash Announce Plans to Brew in Europe

    This summer has been full of interesting expansion news from several California breweries, including Lagunitas in Petaluma — which recently opened a Chicago tasting room — and Sierra Nevada, which has an expansive North Carolina brewery that is already releasing product. But none of the announcements made in the last...
  • Aesthetic Perfection Returns to L.A.

    'Til Death is industrial act Aesthetic Perfection's crossover album, the one intended as much for the kids wearing neon as much as the kids wearing black PVC. It has strains of Depeche Mode, and Nine Inch Nails' early work. It hits the streets on February 11 through Metropolis Records.  Daniel...
  • Soccer Streaming

    In perhaps a sign of the growing popularity of soccer in the United States, the L.A. Department of Water and Power recorded a modest spike in water usage at halftime of Thursday's World Cup game between the U.S. and Germany. Water usage then dropped sharply during the second half. It...
  • A New Berlin Currywurst

    Grand Central Market downtown is adding new dining options at breakneck pace. In just the last ten months, we've seen the additions of Sticky Rice, Valerie at Grand Central Market, G&B Coffee, Horse Thief, DTLA Cheese and Eggslut. In the coming weeks Olio Pizzeria, Wexler's Deli and The Oyster Gourmet are also set to open. And today comes the announcement that Berlin...

I am perhaps unduly irritated by the time wasted -- the orchestra’s, Esa-Pekka Salonen‘s and mine -- by this inferior addition to the current Schoenberg observance. The Philharmonic may have initiated the celebration, inevitable given the fact of Schoenberg’s residence and his death here 50 years ago. But its contribution, as I have noted before, has been strangely skewed toward a preponderance of the early works, which has had the perverse effect of leaving no real clues as to why we‘re bothering to celebrate him at all. To justify this attention we would need at least the Violin Concerto, the Variations for Orchestra and even the Music for a Film Scene -- plus a Chamber Music Society concert including the Serenade andor the Suite. We did get the Piano Concerto, another great work, but if you recall, it came gift-wrapped in spoken assurance -- by performers and management -- that it wasn’t going to hurt a bit. You have to wonder whether that hasn‘t been the attitude behind this entire venture. None of this happened during last season’s Stravinsky festival, which also included some fairly scary music (along with some deadly dull).

Some of the major holes in the Philharmonic‘s “Schoenberg Prism” have been filled in by other local organizations. The Villa Aurora, that storybook palace in the Palisades where Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger once lived, has sponsored talks and symposiums, including a celebration of Schoenberg’s onetime assistant Leonard Stein on his 85th birthday. Stein himself braved -- with 85-year-old fingers, to be sure -- the whole of Schoenberg‘s piano music at one of the “Piano Spheres” concerts he helped to organize. The Los Angeles Opera brought over Berlin’s Moses und Aron, praiseworthy in both motivation and performance. Southwest Chamber Music has helped fill in the list with the quartets and late works, including the String Trio and the Violin Phantasy. Unfortunately, many caring concertgoers have lost confidence in the group‘s performing standards -- a shame, in view of the enterprise of its programming.

The most recent Monday Evening Concert at the County Museum formed what I would consider the crown of the Schoenberg celebration -- prismatic or otherwise. The excellent Parisii Quartet performed, somewhat changed in personnel from their last performance at LACMA, but no less marvelous in their control of both sound and impulse. They played the Schoenberg Third Quartet, Anton Webern’s Five Movements and Alban Berg‘s Lyric Suite: the excelsis of the master’s expressive manner and its extraordinary echoings in the work of his most prominent disciples.

To my thinking, the Third Quartet represents Schoenberg compleat, the ultimate demonstration of the potential of his dangerous musical theories. The work is pure 12-tone; yet from the very start, the solo for first violin that wraps caressingly around the agitated figuration by the other three players, you sense a melodic process -- as you might in a Haydn Quartet from 150 years before. You hear themes, hear them broken up in a developmental way, and recognize them as they return. The music is appealingly vivacious, even at times witty. The slow movement, the long lines tracing patterns of pure if chilling beauty, holds you spellbound. Everything works, and, before you have the chance to check your watch, it achieves a logical, satisfactory ending.

Webern and Berg took their master‘s teaching in almost exactly opposite directions: Webern to the extreme of compression where a single turn of phrase, even a single note played pianissimo, can send up incendiary showers; Berg with occasional strayings from the strictness of The System in the cause of exuberance and romantic outpourings. All three composers, each in his own way and at his own pace, arrived at beauty; the young Parisians of last week’s splendid ensemble joined them there. That spectacularly good concert furnished the justification we had been needing for the current piling up of honors in this Schoenberg retrospective. It was a long time in coming.

Related Content

Now Trending

  • REDCAT's New Original Works Festival: From a Table-Puppet Show to a Hip-Hop Ballet

    There is no discernible guiding principle for the selection of the New Original Works Festival's compilation of choreography, spoken word, song and enveloping visual images. The minute you might say, "Ah, these are works that look at the world through symbols," along comes Overtone Industries' Iceland with its old-fashioned love...
  • Neil LaBute Plays Take Over L.A.

    The coldblooded rogues' gallery of antiheroes that inhabits playwright Neil LaBute's universe demands a new word to adequately describe it: La•Bu•tean (lah-byoo'-tyen): adj., of, pertaining to or suggestive of the perfidious cruelty, moral cowardice and emotional retrogression displayed by otherwise average guys, especially when goaded by the manipulative camaraderie of...

Slideshows

  • A Day in Griffith Park
    Pack a picnic basket and escape the hustle and bustle of L.A. by spending the day in beautiful Griffith Park.Stop and grab a cold drink at Trails, then go hike. Stroll around the Observatory. Cruise past The Greek Theater to the Bird Sanctuary, or practice golf and grab a snack at the Roosevelt Cafe. Just remember, you don't need to be a tourist to enjoy what Griffith Park has to offer. All photos by Michele McManmon.
  • FANFARE-LA: Fine Art Nude, Fetish, and Risque Exhibition (NSFW)
    FANFARE-LA, the Fine Art Nude, Fetish, and Risque Exhibition was held Jan. 31st to Feb. 2nd at the Hamilton Galleries in Santa Monica. Here is a peek of the sexually-charged, fetish-fine art that is featured in the show. More info at fanfare-la.com.
  • Gloryhole 2013 @ The Pleasure Chest
    The Pleasure Chest's annual anniversary party, Gloryhole, took place Thursday night, transforming the popular West Hollywood sex shop into a pleasure den filled opportunities to get spanked, tied up and dominated. For those of a more voyeuristic nature, the live XXX Gloryhole installation offered a glimpse of erotic play and sexuality. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.