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Evolution or revolution?

SAMUEL BROWN on RTÉ's Second Viennese School weekend


'My music isn't modern, it's merely badly played.' Arnold Schoenberg's words could be true, but one of the biggest problems for any listener wanting to make their own mind up is the relative lack of performances of the composer's music. With the exception of Verklärte Nacht and perhaps the Variations for Orchestra Op 31, over fifty years after his death it is still unusual to see Schoenberg's name on an orchestral programme. In chamber music he fares a little better with the second quartet and first Chamber Symphony making occasional appearances. But Schoenberg is still seen as the pastime of specialist performers (particularly pianists and singers) -- not to mention specialist audiences. Whether it is orchestral managers' fear that Schoenberg will not bring the crowds in or simply prejudice, the composer's standing in classical music certainly isn't related to his popularity in the concert hall.

For this reason alone, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and RTÉ deserve praise for their courage in hosting the weekend of music just past. Schoenberg, Berg and Webern: Evolution or Revolution was a short festival of six concerts and recitals involving not only the National Symphony Orchestra, but also its sister ensemble the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and Vanbrugh String Quartet. As the rather wordy title suggests, it was to be a weekend of exploration, with visual displays and talks complementing the performances in Dublin's National Concert Hall.

To take on not one, but three composers and their place is music history in just a few performances is a tall order but, even from the first concert, the value of hearing the music in live performance became clear.

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Copyright © 22 February 2002 Samuel A Brown, Dublin, Ireland







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