Monday, June 28, 2010

Never underestimate an audience

One of the most vivid musical experiences in my life was hearing Gary Bertini conduct Schönberg's A Survivor from Warsaw in the Alte Oper here in Frankfurt on a concert marking the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht.  I had never before and have not since witnessed an audience so stunned and shaken by a piece of music,  indeed struck deep to the viscera by a single moment in a piece of music, which is that when the male chorus enters singing a setting of the Sh'ma Yisrael.    The match of a piece, a performance, and a setting like this is a perfect illustration of the ability of a music to reach its audience — communication in the way that an iron handle communicates heat — regardless of its supposedly forbidding complexity, construction (it's 12-tone, and rather transparently so), or style (a particularly literal and hyper- version of the composer's Wiener espressivo).

One of the odd factoids about A Survivor from Warsaw that has stuck in the back of my head for further exploration was that its premier took place at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.  Stephen Soderberg has an interesting description and meditation on this event in his blog, here

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