Saturday, April 11, 2015

Who's Afraid of Arnold Schoenberg?

I was stuck by the fact that the music review in today's San Francisco Chronicle managed to account for just about everything that happened at last Thursday's matinee concert and the SoundBox event that same evening except for the performance of Arnold Schoenberg's Opus 9b chamber symphony in its orchestral version. Given that John Adams' chamber symphony (on the same matinee program) was a product of the composer trying to learn the Schoenberg piece well enough to conduct it, this struck me as at least a little bit negligent. Nevertheless, I have to confess that any of the versions of the Schoenberg (including Eduard Steuermann's solo piano transcription) remain more opaque to me than any of the hypertrophied abstractions of Iannis Xenakis. In fact, yesterday was the first day I could detect one of Schoenberg's motif's lurking in Adams' score. So, if Virgil Thomson believed that we should write about music in order to explain, I have to confess that this particular Schoenberg piece is still beyond my capacity for explanation. Still, I once gave advice to a high school student that could be distilled into a single sentence: Write what you remember. At least memory served me with the ability to detect one instance of the presence of the Schoenberg in the Adams, even if I have no idea if any more exist. That meant that I could not allow myself to ignore either Schoenberg's music or its impact on Adams' music!

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