Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra explores transformation

By - Feb 18th, 2011 04:00 am
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Arnold Schoenberg; not 25, but the youngest picture we could find.

At 25, Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) was a decade away from becoming the controversial atonalist and then 12-tone composer so alienated from the public. In his youth, Schoenberg was a Romantic.

The Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra has named its Sunday (Feb. 20) program, Transfigured Night, after one of Schoenberg’s most famous Romantic works. Of course they will perform the 1899 piece — in German Verklärte Nacht — along with Rolf Martinsson’s A. S. in Memoriam and Ottorino Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 3.

The Kiss - Painting by Gustav Klimt

The Kiss – Painting by Gustav Klimt

Verklärte Nacht, for string sextet, was the first program music for chamber group. Schoenberg conveys the story from a poem by Richard Dehmel via Wagnerian musical motifs and Brahmsian structural elements.

Richard Dehmel‘s poem describes a man and a woman walking through a dark forest on a moonlit night. She shares a dark secret with her new lover: She bears the child of another man. The stages of Dehmel’s poem are reflected throughout the composition, beginning with the sadness of the woman’s confession, a neutral interlude wherein the man reflects upon the confession, and a finale which reflects the man’s bright acceptance (and forgiveness) of the woman. (Synopsis from Wikipedia – full text of the poem here.)

At the concert, conductor Richard Hynson will offer tips for identifying the transitions in the poem within the music before performing the entire piece. You can hear a 30-minute analysis of the work at BBC’s excellent Discovering Music.

Frankly Music performed the original sextet version at Wisconsin Lutheran College in 2008. You can still listen to that performance on line at Instant Encore. The MCO will play Schoenberg’s adaptation for chamber orchestra. The chamber orchestra version offers a broader, richer sound by adding a double bass line and occasionally building density by further dividing the parts. (I’m partial to the intimacy of the sextet version.)

A century later, Rolf Martinsson (1956 – ) wrote a tribute to Schoenberg’s work, A.S. In Memoriam.  His compositions, which resemble Scriabin’s, offer a contemporary vision of Romanticism.  This Swedish composer is often performed in Northern Europe but rarely in the United States. (However, the Milwaukee Symphony performed his trumpet concerto, Bridge, in 2004.) Hynson is impressed by Martinsson’s work and would like to present his Violin Concerto in 2012.  You can sample Martinsson’s work at his web site or buy A.S. in Memoriam for your mp3 player here. (Only $1.69)

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) established his reputation as a Romantic through tone poems such as the Roman Trilogy. He was also a student of 16th and 17th century music. He  incorporated the melodies and the spirit of the lute and guitar songs of that era into his Ancient Airs and Dances Suites. The MCO will play Suite No. 3. These are not transcriptions, but lush orchestrations influenced by the original and transformed to 19th-century sensibilities.  Hynson compares the transformation as “from black and white to color.” Still, the simple songs come through. Compare this performance from Ludivico Roncalli’s Capricci Armonici sopra la Chitarra spagnola (directly transcribed to a modern guitar) to the Passacaglia of Respighi’s Suite.

Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra - Richard Hynson, Music Director

Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra – Richard Hynson, Music Director

The Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra lives up to its slogan, “Nobody gets you closer to the music.” It plays at Calvary Presbyterian Church, which has open seating rather than pews. The orchestra plays on the floor level only a few feet from the audience. Although bright for brass, the hall is ideal for a string orchestra. The entire room resonates in sympathy with the strings. I’m often tempted to take off my shoes to soak in the vibration from the wooden floor.

The concert begins at 4 pm. Tickets are $25 for adults, $23 for seniors, and $10 for students with ID, at the orchestra’s website, by phone at 414 881-9900, or at the door (Calvary Presbyterian Church, 935 W. Wisconsin Ave., in downtown Milwaukee).

Complimentary valet parking is available at the southeast corner of 10th Street and Wisconsin Ave. All patrons are invited to a free wine tasting one hour prior to the concert, presented by Vino 100 of Wauwatosa. There will also be a silent auction to benefit the MCO.

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