Friday, November 10, 2006

Kids and Schoenberg - a winning combination

Okay, here's a short post: this morning (Friday, Nov 10) we have two more-than-sold-out houses of school children (mostly high school with some middle school), teachers, homeschool parents and chaperones listening with rapt attention to Verklaerte Nacht (Transfigured Night) by Arnold Schoenberg, performed by the highly-acclaimed string sextet, Concertante. The name Schoenberg conjures up mixed reactions from adult audiences -- his later 12-tone works do not always yield their rewards easily to the casual listener -- but this early work is a prime example of what I like to call "ripe, rich, almost-ready-to-rot late Romanticism." It's lushly, deeply expressive music.

This string sextet is inspired by an 1896 poem of the same name by Richard Dehmel. A woman who is desperate to have a child meets with a stranger and conceives. She then encounters another man, her true soul mate, but she fears he cannot love her, because she has borne her child by another man. Her soul mate accepts the child as his own, taking their love to a higher realm. All very passionate indeed, and the music reflects the spirit of the poetry masterfully.

Concertante's musicians, making their collective debut here today, are all extremely talented Juilliard School graduates. They're not only illustrating excerpts of the music before playing the entire work, they're reading the poetry to the students and explaining the connections, providing an important "way in" to understand this composition. At 9:15 in the morning, this topic is probably not your average children's concert fare, but in an age when children encounter issues like this in the media (not to mention in real life) , they can relate to it -- and to the music, when presented in this way -- without a problem. Coming out of the concert, the kids snicker a bit at the poetry, but like the idea that true love can be compassionate and transforming.

What's even more gratifying is that they connect with the beauty of the music, which Concertante is performing exquisitely. The piece ends extremely quietly, and having gone on the musical journey with Concertante's performance, the students are utterly engrossed. I think this is truly fantastic!

Transfigured Night is on the program Concertante will perform tonight at 8:15 PM, along with the excellent Brahms B-flat Sextet, and the elegant Introduction to Capriccio (the opening of the actual opera, for string sextet) by Richard Strauss...a heady dose of deliciously high-cholesterol German Romanticism. There's a free pre-concert talk at 7:15 on Transfigured Night by Dr. Kurt-Alexander Zeller. If you want to be transported in deep-Romantic musical bliss, good seats are available.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sam!
This is a great idea! Also--a great pic of you. Really "arty!" You are a showing the world what a modern executive director can do with an already splendid venue.

All my best!

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Rachel Shapiro said...

Hi Sam!

This is Rachel Shapiro of Concertante. I want to say thank you so much for your kind words on your blog and also mention that we were absolutely thrilled with the reaction of the kids this morning. We had two fantastic (large) groups of kids who clearly illustrated their interest and focused listening through their creative comments and musical observations. It is was a calculated risk playing the SChoenberg, but I believe, as you so aptly put it, that if you give kids a "way in" there is no musical topic that cannot be presented. And further more, that they will respond with the appropriate reaction and interest in what they are hearing.

Thank you for the opportunity to play for so many wonderful kids, and we are looking forward to tonight's concert in one of the truly fabulous halls of this country!


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