Inside Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto

For those of you who made it to the Oregon Symphony’s last subscription series this past weekend, you were treated to wonderful, expressive performances of Alban Berg’s great Violin Concerto. No doubt, many of you were intrigued by the snippets of information given both in Maestro Kalmar’s introductory talks and the program notes, so here are some excellent resources for exploring this extraordinary concerto in-depth:

Wikipedia: Berg Violin Concerto

Answers.com: Berg Violin Concerto

BBC: Audio commentary and analysis of Berg’s Violin Concerto
(requires Real Audio player)

Michelle DeYoung – not to be missed!

If you are within a two hour drive of Portland, Oregon – I strongly urge you to come to either our Front Row Center concert Friday, January 20th at 7:30 p.m. or to our Classical series January 22-23 in Portland and Jan. 24 in Salem, Oregon. She will be singing music from Saint-Säens (“Ah! mon coeur” from Samson and Delilah), Bizet (the famous Habanera from Carmen) and Ravel (Shéhérazade) on Friday night (on a program entitled “Women of Substance”) which will also include Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Scheherazade, and on Sunday and Monday she will be singing only the Ravel. All are great works, but the dusky, perfume-laden atmospherics of the Ravel have not been heard in Portland for over two decades, and it is not to be missed!

Michelle DeYoung

Click here for tickets. As for Ms. DeYoung, she is one of the most stunningly voiced mezzos to be heard in recent years, and to see her on the concert stage in this repertoire is a rare treat, indeed. Michael Stern conducts.

new and/or unfamiliar – fear and hostility – why?

I was looking at the Oregon Symphony’s Web site the other day, and noticed a section which allowed patrons to post reviews of concerts (presumably those reviews which are published are only the positive ones). Here is part of a letter which caught my eye:

One thing I enjoyed also was the lack of modernistic atonal music. I guess it is necessary to play that but perhaps it ought to be another series like “pops” for people who enjoy it.

I’ve long been puzzled by the disinterest or downright hostility towards new and/or unfamiliar music. I understand that the patron pays good money to see a concert, and they don’t want to hear something which they don’t enjoy, but does the concert hall necessarily need to be a museum? In addition, don’t we also pay good money to see things which are not necessarily pleasant, such as the war photography of James Nachtwey, or Spielberg’s Schindler’s List? As a further question, don’t our ears “evolve” as we listen to a wider variety of music, so that something which seems fearsomely complex and incoherent can, after exposure to other similar works, begin to seem familiar and interesting? I quote the following review of a contemporary composer of some renown:

All impartial musicians and music lovers were in perfect agreement that never was anything as incoherent, shrill, chaotic and ear-splitting produced in music. The most piercing dissonances clash in a really atrocious harmony, and a few puny ideas only increase the disagreeable and deafening effect.

The composer? Ludwig van Beethoven. The piece? The most-agreeable Overture to Fidelio. The point is, to many of his time, Beethoven was incomprehensible noise. Knowledgeable patrons and critics continued to produce concerts and give favorable reviews, and over time his work gained greater favor. My point here is that symphony orchestras, as an essential part of their mission, need to promote and disseminate new music, or music which is worthy but not widely known. To not do so is a disservice to the communities they serve, and the greater good of Art.

I am thankful that people such as the patron who wrote to the Symphony’s Website care enough to buy tickets season after season, and that they are so passionate about what they hear and see that they write in to the management, music director, and even individual musicians. We are lucky in Portland to have such devoted followers. All I ask is that audiences listen with open ears, read the program notes before the performances of unfamiliar works, and come to concerts expecting the new and unusual as well as the familiar warhorses. Perhaps, in the not-so-distant future, audiences might come in greater numbers for these new “classics”.