Seierl, Amann, Karaew, Schoenberg

A young Swede, Christian Karlsen, conducted a concert at the Schoenberg Center tonight by the Ensemble Reconsil Wien, a chamber music ensemble specializing in contemporary composers.

The main work, and the only reason to attend, came after the intermission: Erwartung by Schoenberg, in an arrangement for chamber ensemble.  Schoenberg’s music may not qualify as beautiful, but it is intelligent and has a real sense of drama.  Cornelia Horak performed the soprano solo in keeping with the style.  It was, however, more than a little ironic that for this 12-tonal work she needed to hold a tuning fork to recalibrate her own pitch periodically.  The small auditorium may have been too small, though, even for this limited arrangement – apparently, they could have opened the room up to make it bigger, although this might also have augmented the realization that the audience was quite small.

Normally, concerts present music in vaguely chronological order, so the Schoenberg piece might have been expected before the intermission rather than after it.  However, by placing Erwartung after the intermission, its 12-tonal sounds sounded almost delightful in comparison with the dreadful works performed prior to the intermission.

The concert opened with the world premiere of Parent Parts by the Austrian composer Wolfgang Seierl.  After the conductor came out, the orchestra started tuning again – or so I thought, until I realized they had actually begun performing the work.  Seierl composed the piece in memory of his parents, who formed “two halves of the same brain” according to the program notes.  Obviously, he grew up in an extremely unharmonious house.

As bad as this was, it paled in comparison with the second work, another world premiere by an Austrian composer, this time the Embrace of the Branches for Trombone and Ensemble by Michael Amann.  As far as headaches go, I would rank this piece somewhere between a room full of crying babies and the Chinese water torture.  Before the piece began, the orchestra started un-tuning.  Amann distributed notes rather arbitrarily between the instruments, but every so often one instrument was allowed to play three or four notes together in a row, giving the audience hope that some music might break out, only to once again be interrupted by the reality that Amann was clearly not in the business of composing music.

The third and final piece in the pre-intermission set was the Austrian premiere of the Postludio #8 for piano, clarinet, and behind-the-scenes-string-quartet by the Azeri composer Faradsch Karaew.  This piece had all the charm of a leaking roof.  The first five minutes consisted of the pianist tapping high notes with long pauses between them.  Eventually, the clarinet started making noises that sounded like she drowned.  Finally, the string quartet off stage got to play a few bars of rather pretty chorale-like music, before the pianist put an end to that anomaly.

I’ve never been so excited to hear Schoenberg.

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