Monday, July 2, 2012

a brief update

Yes, I know, it's been five weeks.  Month-plus hiatuses were not really supposed to ever be a part of this blog -- there were the good old days when I'd have three or four posts a week, and I had hoped to keep the thing going with new content on a weekly basis at the very least. However, life has conspired against me, and here we are, in early July, with nary a word since late May (devoting time to thinking of oh-so-clever Tweets hasn't helped much, either).

If you'll recall, from all those weeks ago, I was anticipating a trip to Vienna, and then another to D.C.  Well, both happened, and we are happily settled, with kitties intact -- despite a few rocky moments -- in Capitol Hill.  I have finished two weeks of work at the Library of Congress -- more on that in a bit -- and am looking forward to spending six more weeks here before heading back to Graduate School Year Two in August.

So, Vienna: pretty cool.  I had no idea exactly how the Schoenberg Institute would work -- this is only the Arnold Schoenberg Center's second iteration of a summer academy -- but was extremely pleasantly surprised to find out that it would work out awesome.  The Center were amazing hosts, and for two weeks us four UNC students took in the sights and sounds of the city, worked with composers and musicologists from China and Russia, and at the end of it presented papers based on some of the research we did in the Center's archives.  If you're in Vienna, even if you're not a twelve-tone fan, I can't recommend more strongly to visit the Center -- it's an amazing facility, complete with museum, gift-shop (I am now the proud owner of a copy of a deck of playing cards painted by Schoenberg, as well as about 8 Schoenberg magnets, some buttons, and 2 t-shirts), archive, and very friendly people.

Concert-wise, we saw about the best you can see.  One actual Vienna Philharmonic concert -- a sturdy though sometimes under-powered Gurre-Lieder under the direction of Zubin Mehta -- as well as one Vienna Phil almost-concert dress rehearsal of their echt-schmaltz outdoor palace summerfest, complete with every kind of kitsch you can imagine, andDudamel leading the proceedings.  The orchestra didn't entrance me in either performance the way I had hoped, but I also kind of expected that; a few moments were astonishing, but I'll stick with my Berlin Phil, thank you.  I also heard the Concentus Musicus Wien with Harnoncourt and Buchbinder doing some Mozart -- Buchbinder never quite clicked with the ensemble, and the Musikverein wasn't really the right venue, but the concert was enjoyable besides.  The Wiener Festwochen, the giant early-summer cultural festival, was in full swing, and I was super-underwhelmed by Luca Francesconi's Quartett, a new, blandly-scored opera which felt like an amalgam of all the cliches of chamber-opera Regietheater I saw last year in Berlin.  I had my hopes up for a nutso La Fura dels Baus staging, but it was fairly mundane -- a giant box suspended above the stage, with projections layered on top.  I want some 3D and crazy cranes, damn it!

Fortunately, Lachenmann saved the day.  Hearing the composer himself as the speaker in his ...Zwei Gefuhle was an unforgettable experience (twice!), and there were also excellent renditions of his Serynade and Dal niente.  

If this all sounds like very superficial analysis, my apologies -- I had no intentions of doing my usual reviewing business, and kind of just took things in as they were.  After all, I was there on business.  My business was talking about Arnold Schoenberg's Theme and Variations op. 43, his only work for concert band.  Take a listen, if you're not familiar with it:

(And then go buy this recording, because it's great, and Go U Northwestern)

As a child and teenager growing up in Vienna, Schoenberg actually had some of his earliest important musical experiences at the Prater Park, hearing military bands which played there.  The Vienna Phil wasn't cheap, and didn't play very often, and Schoenberg probably heard Wagner and Beethoven first via the conducting of band leaders like Karl Komzak and Carl Michel Ziehrer (both of whom are actually buried right near Beethoven in Vienna's Zentralfriedhof, pointing to their significance in Austrian musical life despite their complete absence in most discussions of it).  In my paper, I drew connections between these early experiences hearing military bands and Schoenberg's return to the band form in 1942, with the Theme and Variations -- connections he himself acknowledged but with which scholars have not yet fully engaged.

So that was Vienna, and now I'm in D.C.  As a Pruett Fellow, I split my time at the Library of Congress between doing processing work for the music division and pursuing my own research.  We have just finished processing the Arthur Laurents collection (you should probably know his name; in case you don't, he wrote the book for West Side Story, among many many other things), and we've begun sorting through the musical manuscripts of Wanda Landowska -- it's been a fascinating process.  My own research involves wrapping up some aspects of my Connotations study, and getting more hymnals and such for my Pleyel project (read more about those here).  Concert-wise, I've heard New Lights, an interesting attempt at inventive programming by the National Orchestral Institute, as well as a spectacularly engaging showing of the 1923 silent film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with excellent live accompaniment of music from the period in which the film takes place (courtesy of the Hesperus enesmble).  Thus, the greatness of Machaut and Dufay, a bit of Hildegard, and a mix of popular tunes -- they used the L'homme arme for one of the big battle scenes, probably the only time I'll actually hear that tune outside of one of its myriad mass settings (Anne has more).

That's about it for now.  Unfortunately, I can't promise much more soon -- I have a number of large projects going, and you probably won't get to see any of them until late July, but keep your eyes peeled. And keep tabs on UNC/Carolina Performing Arts' Rite of Spring at 100 project.