LCCE guitarist Michael Goldberg, who will perform in all three selections on next month’s program (photograph by Vivian Sachs, courtesy of LCCE)
The final program to be given in the 25th anniversary season of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble (LCCE) will feature music by Arnold Schoenberg that is seldom performed. One of the biggest problems with arranging a performance of his Opus 24 is that of recruiting the necessary performers. Only seven instrumentalists are required; but the parts are for violin, viola, cello, mandolin, guitar, clarinet, and bass clarinet, not the sort of instrumentation one encounters in the serenades of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In addition, the fourth of the seven movements sets one of Petrarch’s sonnets, whose vocal line requires a bass voice.
Schoenberg was working on this piece at the same time he was wrestling with the theoretical problems behind what would emerge as his twelve-tone technique (between 1920 and 1923). His decision to call his Opus 24 a serenade suggests that his intention was to demonstrate that his efforts to depart from the concept of a tonal center constituted a logical step in the evolution of past approaches to composition. By the time he began work on Opus 24, Schoenberg had invested several years into taking what is now called “free” approaches to atonality. The sonnet setting marks his first use of the twelve-tone technique, while all of the instrumental movements present some of the composer’s last approaches to “free” atonality.
This past January Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) prepared a program that included Schoenberg’s Opus 42 piano concerto with Emanuel Ax as the soloist. MTT provided a brief introduction of remarks that could be distilled down to a simple piece of advice to the audience, “Listen to the rhythm, not the atonality.” If it was not hard to detect traditional Viennese schmaltz in the rhythms of Opus 42, those of Opus 24 are jauntier and perhaps shaded with a bit of the decadence that Christopher Isherwood tried to captured in the two novellas he collected under the title The Berlin Stories. Think of a cabaret band trying to anticipate the bebop innovations of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
LCCE will set the stage, so to speak, for Opus 24 by presenting two other serenades. The earlier of these was written by one of Schoenberg’s lesser-known students. The student was Sándor Jemnitz; and the selection will be his Opus 33 trio for violin, viola, and guitar, which he composed in 1932. The other piece to be performed will be the world premiere of a serenade entitled “Rinconcito” that Nicolas Lell Benavides composed for LCCE, following Schoenberg’s lead of adding a guitar to a string trio.
The San Francisco performance of this concert of serenades will take place on Monday, May 21, in the Recital Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). SFCM is located at 50 Oak Street, between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street and a short walk from the Van Ness Muni station. Tickets will be sold at the door for $35 for general admission and $18 for those under the age of 35. However, if the tickets are purchased in advance through a Vendini event page, the prices will be $30 for general admission and $15 for those under the age of 35. (The discount is applied after the number of tickets to be purchased is specified.) Those requiring further information may call 415-617-5223 (LCCE).