This week, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) is presenting a series of concerts whose focus is on 20th-century music. These IPO performances, in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, will be conducted by Philippe Jordan, the acclaimed artistic director of the Vienna State Opera, and joined by the celebrated German mezzo soprano soloist Claudia Mahnke. This program will give the listener the opportunity to experience the music of three great composers who were at the forefront of 2Oth century music: Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Richard Strauss.
In truth, with each note of a new composition, every composer changes the art of music to a certain degree. Schoenberg made a monumental, creative leap in the early 1900s, as he searched for new sounds and found inspiration in developing a new set of rules based on atonality and chromaticism. His goal was to find new ways of expression without the dominance of one single note, key, or chord in what he called the “emancipation of dissonance.”
The program will open with Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra whose melodies are fragmentary and musical language is rich in its daring use of dissonance. Each movement is distinctive and stands alone in character. Schoenberg uses these five short pieces to explore the different effects of the orchestra, while he gives special emphasis to the ever-shifting movement of instrument colors. It has been written that this piece is so demanding it not only requires an orchestra of talented soloists but also requires an excellent conductor whose role is to organize and unify the seemingly random style while setting the aura of each movement and intertwining the orchestra with the solo voice.
Mahnke is one of the leading mezzo sopranos of our time. Born and schooled in Germany, she is a member of the Oper Frankfurt company and a leading guest artist in opera houses worldwide. Her broad concert repertoire extends from Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Beethoven’s Symphony N0. 9 to works by Arnold Schoenberg, Krzysztof Penderecki and Gustav Mahler.
She shares the stage with Maestro Jordan, who is regarded as one of the most established and leading conductors of our time. His career, in addition to his being artistic director of the Vienna State Opera, includes his managing frequent guest appearances with the world's major orchestras, distinctive opera houses, festivals, as well as producing a series of distinguished and award-winning recordings.
Musicians and audiences are known to respect and admire him for his absolute mastery of the musical score, as well as his precision and attention to subtleties. In rehearsals and lessons, his advice to musicians and students is valued, as he points out, how conductors must never forget their role and why they have chosen their profession, as well as urging them to use and reveal the traits of curiosity and enthusiasm in all their musical undertakings.
Maestro Jordan will be appearing with the IPO for the first time, as well as a first IPO performance of Altenberg Lieder by Alban Berg. Berg was a student of Schoenberg, yet he takes dissonance to another place in this song cycle with its rich and dramatic moments, and dark sonorities, whose words speak of exploring the complexities of the soul. The composer uses the orchestra much differently than his teacher did. He demands a richer orchestra presence while he builds on Schoenberg’s creative example. When one hears the musical juxtaposition of works by Schoenberg and Berg, it is clear how each composer used the same elements to create music in their own ways.
The third selection of IPO’s concert of 20th-century music is the tone poem An Alpine Symphony by the German composer Richard Strauss, whose music is considered to be part of the late romantic and early modernist musical period. Although Strauss composed it at about the same time as the compositions by Schoenberg and Berg, and was influenced by the dissonance and advanced harmonic style of the musical period, one finds added differences here. The orchestra is expanded greatly, both in numbers and variety of instruments. Moreover, the music is more melodic in nature and expressive in orchestration. Music historians have described this symphony as an instance where one can almost feel the scenery of the Alps.
These 20th century IPO concerts are noteworthy as they highlight three different genres of music written by three 20th composers using three different approaches to modernism in music. It surely is a different way to begin the New Year.
Performances take place in the Sherover Hall Theater in Jerusalem on January 11; the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv on January 12, 13, 14 and 15; and the International Convention Center in Haifa on January 16.