American Symphony Orchestra
Leon Botstein, Conductor
Isaac Stern Auditorium/Ronald O. Perelman Stage
Press: Chris Schimpf, Sacks & Co.
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 21, 2011
J.S. Bach (orchestration by Max Reger): Chorale Prelude BWV 622, O Mensch, Bewein' dein' Sünde gross, 1713-1715
J.S. Bach: Chorale Prelude BWV 654, Schmücke Dich, liebe Seele, 1723
J.S. Bach (orchestration by Arnold Schoenberg): Chorale Prelude BWV 681, Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist, 1713-1715
Lyonel Feininger (orchestration by Richard Wilson), 1921-1922: Three Fugues
Arnold Schoenberg: Variationen für Orchester, Op. 31, “Variations for Orchestra”, 1926-1928
J.S. Bach (orchestration by Schoenberg): Prelude and Fugue in E Flat major, BWV 552, "St. Anne", 1739
J.S. Bach (orchestration by Wolfgang Graeser): Excerpts from “The Art of the Fugue”, 1742-1749
Tonight’s thought-provoking concert by the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, under the baton of its musical director and principal conductor, Leon Botstein, was titled Bauhaus Bach, due to Bach’s strong influence on the German Bauhaus school that prospered from 1919-1933, on the culture of Modernism, and on the actual musical compositions of artist, Lionel Feininger, whose retrospective was recently mounted at the Whitney Museum. The program consisted of works by J.S. Bach, orchestrated by Max Reger, a German composer and conductor, by Arnold Schoenberg, an Austrian composer, and by Wolfgang Graeser, a young Swiss composer. Also included in the program were works by Arnold Schoenberg and a World Premiere of Fugues, composed by Feininger and orchestrated by Richard Wilson, the ASO’s composer in residence. This was a feast for music and art scholars and for an audience that likes to be challenged. Mr. Botstein is president of Bard College, and a founder and artistic director of music festivals, as well as Conductor of Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.
The first work, the Bach “Chorale Prelude”, orchestrated by Max Reger, was performed with seamless melodic tones. Its introduction was rapturous, and the strings collaborated for a lullaby effect. The second work, Bach’s own orchestrated “Chorale Prelude”, had a hymn-like quality, with such instruments as triangle, glockenspiel, and harp, along with tuba and timpani. The Schoenberg orchestrated Bach “Chorale Prelude” was the liveliest heard yet, though brief, with windy, sweeping drama and instrumental echoes.
This was the right programmatic moment for the Feininger Fugues, orchestrated by Richard Wilson, Resident Composer. These Fugues were composed two centuries after the previous works and began with what seemed like elements of film noir, atonal and eerie. The Fugues proceeded with marimba passages that reverberated like a glass harmonica. Pizzicato, staccato plucking of strings quickly changed motif and mood, evoking imagery of Bauhaus modern artists, like Klee, Kandinsky, and Feininger, himself. Soon brassy trumpets and trombones created a fullness of volume and lyrical rhapsody. These Fugues should have been heard before, and hopefully this Premiere will add compelling interest to Feininger, the composer.
Schoenberg’s “Variations”, also composed during the Bauhaus, resonated with oceanic tonal imagery, evocative of Debussy’s 1905 La Mer. It, too, had eeriness, with foreboding pauses, repetitive phrases, and fascinating nuances, as the variations of a theme were wound about and played in an eclectic array of tempos and styles. Whispers became screams, and harmonies ended with a sudden, crashing finale. The Bach “Prelude and Fugue”, orchestrated by Schoenberg, was regal and solemn, with scintillating flutes and violins. Some of the featured instruments were celeste, cymbals, glockenspiel, and xylophone. The orchestra exuded texture and then re-assembled for the finale, Excerpts from Bach’s Art of the Fugue.
This final, ten-part work flowed melodically, with oboes, English horns, and organ, among featured instruments. Two cellos were prominent as it opened, leading the re-assembled orchestra with the effect of a chamber ensemble. It was interesting to see the Concertmaster and Principal musicians spotlighted in solo showcase. But, when the orchestra combined, the sound was even more compelling. Flutes, bassoons, and oboes were particularly poignant. Toward the middle of the Excerpts, the horns and strings echoed intriguingly, before a mournful march was heard. Maestro Botstein brought out the fullness of his ensemble here, as he had, throughout the night, with his full Orchestra. In fact, I noticed the focus and seriousness of the musicians, who were diverse and dedicated. The Bach finale brought momentum and majesty, with pleading, poignant horns, before a hymn-like harmony ended on a whisper. Kudos to the American Symphony Orchestra, and kudos to Bach.
Leon Botstein Conducting the
American Symphony Orchestra
at Carnegie Hall
Courtesy of Jito Lee