'Schoenberg's Playlist' festival revisits early 20th century musical movement

Pianist and associate professor of music Xak Bjerken has organized a four-day concert festival at Cornell that aims to resurrect an experience of hearing new music with open ears, as promoted by composer Arnold Schoenberg in early 20th-century Vienna.

"Schoenberg's Playlist," Jan. 27-30, will feature concerts with such guest artists as the Daedalus Quartet and mezzo-soprano Rachel Calloway, showcasing works by Schoenberg and his contemporaries; as well as colloquium talks, preconcert lectures and a museum event Jan. 28 with music, food and art. All events are free and open to the public.

Schoenberg founded The Society for Private Musical Performances in 1918 to present carefully rehearsed performances of new music that transcends ideologies, and make them available to an interested public.

During the society's first two years, Schoenberg did not present any of his own music, but featured works by Stravinsky, Bartók, Debussy, Ravel, Berg, Webern and others. These composers provided a wide range of music for the society's concerts. Schoenberg or an appointee of his would rehearse each work intensively, with players chosen from among the most gifted young musicians he could find. The concerts -- some 353 performances from 1918 to 1922 -- were performed for society members only; critics were forbidden to attend.

The music to be performed at Cornell has been selected for the narrative quality of the works within their own respective musical languages, as Schoenberg and his circle did in Vienna.

"Schoenberg's Playlist" begins with a Midday Music at Lincoln recital by Bjerken's students, performing piano works from 1903 to 1915 by Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel and Scriabin, Jan. 27 at 12:30 p.m. in B20 Lincoln Hall.

Schoenberg scholar Michael Friedmann of Yale University will give a lecture, "Beginnings and Endings in Schoenberg's op. 23," and Cornell Ph.D. student Mike Lee speaks on "Mahlerian Discourses of Performance and the Third Movement of Webern's Variations, op. 27," Friday, Jan. 28, at 1:30 p.m. in B20 Lincoln Hall.

That evening, 8 p.m. in Barnes Hall, concert selections include Karl Weigl's Quartet No. 3 in A Major, Webern's Variations for Piano, Alban Berg's Quartet and songs by Schoenberg, Webern, Schreker and Zemlinsky, performed by Calloway, the Daedalus Quartet and pianists Bjerken and Lee. Friedmann, Lee and Cornell musicologist Roger Moseley give a preconcert talk at 7:15 p.m.

A concert program Jan. 29 at 5 p.m. at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art will be accompanied by an exhibition of Wassily Kandinsky's "Small Worlds" lithographs and catered food available for cash purchase. With Friedmann on piano, Richard Faria on clarinet, Bjerken on piano, Nicholas DiEugenio on violin and the Daedalus Quartet, the concert features Szymanowski's Romance for violin and piano, Stravinsky's Three Pieces for quartet, Schoenberg's arrangement of Johann Strauss' Kaiser Waltzes for flute, clarinet, quartet and piano; and works by Schoenberg and Berg.

The final concert, Jan. 30 at 3 p.m. in Barnes, features Calloway, conductor Jeffery Meyer, Cornell pianists Bjerken, Miri Yampolsky and Yiran Wang and violinist Joseph Lin. The program includes Schoenberg's arrangement of Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer," scored for chamber ensemble; Debussy Nocturnes for piano and a Korngold violin sonata.

The festival is funded in part by the Department of Music, Cornell Council for the Arts, the Johnson Museum, the Center for European Studies, Department of German Studies and the Institute for German Cultural Studies.

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Blaine Friedlander