LETTERS TO EDITOR
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A CurtainUp Berkshire Feature
" Schoenberg's Lesson to Broadway's
"New Music " Composers
by Elyse Sommer
The Tanglewood Music Festival has launched its summer season with several programs to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Arnold Schoenberg. On Sunday afternoon Schoenberg's String Trio, Opus 45 was bookended with a Mozart and a Beethoven Quartet. Pianist Peter Serkin's Monday July 2nd and Thursday July 5th concerts will continue this tribute to the man whose music is most often described in terms of "12-tone, atonal" . . . and, inevitably "difficult.".
As usual, the concert program notes make for enlightening and fascinating reading. Michael Steinberg's essay, "Listening to Schoeberg" reveals Schoenberg the man and the innovator. The man was an accomplished painter and tennis player, two passions shared with George Gershwin with whom he corresponded extensively. The details about his musical ideas made me more receptive to the pieces to be presented.
The program essay also made me think about what's been happening in the world of musical theater. Although Jason Robert Brown won a Tony for Parade and Audra MacDonald was widely praised for her singing in the title role of Michael John LaChiusa's Marie Christine, critics and audiences had few welcoming words for these operatic works. This past year, it was back to more tuneful and fun to watch shows. Whether a revival like Forty-Second Street or a new shows like The Full Monty and The Producers the name of the game was bouncy, fun entertainment. Even the Off-Broadway musicals like Bat Boy and Urinetown (the latter moving to Broadway), which are often more experimental, were in step with this backlash against the non-hummable musical (shades of Schoenberg's atonality).
But composers like LaChiusa and Jason Robert Brown can take heart from the fact that there's been an ebb in the resistance to listening to Schoenberg. Moreover, what Mr. Steinberg writes about the driving force that ruled Schoenberg has meaning to all creative artists with a vision that does not quite fit the mainstream. As Steinberg puts it "Scheoenbeg was difficult, but he was difficult against his will. . . After thinking in 1906 when he composed his Chamber Symphony No. 1 that he had established his style he quickly learned that the Supreme Commander had ordered him on a harder road. " That "Supreme Commander" was "his imagination, his ear, his conscience, his artistic morality"
Whether Arnold Schoenberg is your cup of classical music or not, his courage to listen to that "Supreme Commander" and to t"ravel the hard road," is something to think and rejoice about on this anniversary of his death.
For Details about the season's programs Tanglewood programs, check out the Tanglewood Web Site, and our Tanglewood Tips for 2001.