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ASO’s Dec 7 concert is “Against the Avant-Garde”

“Leon Botstein goes where other conductors fear to tread.” – New Yorker

In “Against the Avant-Garde”, a program that only the American Symphony Orchestra could present, Leon Botstein leads the intrepid ensemble in U.S. premieres of works by Walter Braunfels, Hermann Suter, and Joseph Marx. Special guest Daniel Hope performs Suter’s 1924 Violin Concerto in this Sunday afternoon concert on December 7 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.

Among the many cultural changes brought about by World War I, concert
music experienced an avant-garde revolution, caused as much by
jubilation as by the death of the old world order and the perceived
death of Romanticism. While many composers – especially those under the
influence of Stravinsky – turned away from Romanticism, many others
struggled to prove that Romantic music was still relevant and thriving.
Among the most successful retro-Romantics of their day were Hermann
Suter (1870-1926), Walter Braunfels (1882-1954), and Joseph Marx
(1882-1964), each of whom is to be given a belated United States
premiere during the second Lincoln Center concert of the ASO’s 2008-09

The ASO’s music director, Leon Botstein, who is
giving pre-concert talks from the stage of Avery Fisher Hall this
season, introduces his view of the era in a program note:

During the 1920s, there was a vibrant musical life involving new
composition by composers who were either opposed to or uninterested in
modernist developments. These composers include individuals who
believed that the claims of the avant-garde were fraudulent because
they called for the violation of fundamentally true principles of
musical composition and expression. They felt the innovations of the
avant-garde were temporary aberrations of passing historical

Hermann Suter,
the eldest of the three composers in this concert, was Swiss-born, and
enjoyed a relatively quiet career in the land of his birth. He was a
choir director, and the high quality of his compositional output is in
inverse proportion to its volume. His 1925 oratorio on canticles of St.
Francis of Assisi brought him international acclaim, and many of his
works were of a religious nature. His Violin Concerto, dedicated in 1924 to the great Adolf Busch, was also well-known outside Switzerland, but his music soon faded into oblivion.

British violinist Daniel Hope,
a champion of the new, the old, and the unjustly neglected, will give
the long-overdue first U.S. performance of the work with the ASO. He
describes the concerto – completely new to him until he took it up on
the invitation of Leon Botstein – as having hints of contemporaneous
music, “close to Brahms, with the lyricism of Strauss or Mendelssohn or
Grieg,” and even with tinges of Edward Elgar. “Suter wanted to say what
he wanted to say in his own, beautiful language, that had gone out of
fashion. … It was a pleasure to learn this beautiful piece, to work
with Mr. Botstein,” Hope explains.

Daniel Hope discusses Suter’s Violin Concerto in a video interview at the ASO’s website available as of November 7:

Walter Braunfels
composed half a dozen operas and lived long enough to write a
“television dance ballad”, as well as numerous large-scale vocal and
choral works. Many of his Romantic works were based on the same classic
German texts by Goethe, Brentano, and Eichendorff that his predecessors
set to music. In this concert, one of Braunfels’s sets of variations on
familiar themes, Don Juan: a Classic-Romantic Phantasmagoria – composed between 1922 and 1924 – receives its first U.S. performance. It pays homage both to Mozart and to Liszt, and his Reminiscences of Don Juan (after Don Giovanni). The ASO program note describes a “divided reaction” to the Leipzig premiere in1924 under Wilhelm Furtwängler:

[T]here were comments about eclecticism and misinterpretation. But
Braunfels handled the original in a similar manner to how Max Reger
over-composed his Mozart Variations in a late romantic way: the theme-fragments become transmitters for a new point of view of Mozart and his Don Giovanni.

Joseph Marx
was famous in his day, not only as a composer and critic, but as the
founder and director of Vienna’s first music conservatory, and as a
teacher of theory and composition. He wrote his Autumn Symphony in 1921. John Wood, in his ASO program essay, writes of Marx:

He has rightly been labeled both an Impressionist and a Romantic. He
was influenced by Scriabin and Reger but evolved his own unique sound.
It can be heard in the first bars of “The Song of Autumn” that opens Eine Herbstsymphonie.
By superimposing yearning melodies and bi-tonal effects, and by
unexpectedly changing keys, he develops a level of ingeniousness that
he had already demonstrated in his Lieder and in his single-movement
cantata Autumn Chorus to Pan (1911).

Mr. Wood compares Marx’s Autumn Symphony to large-scale contemporaneous works – Mahler’s Lied von der Erde, Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony, Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony, and Hausegger’s Natursinfonie
– and cites their common themes of “five of the great fundamentals of
human existence: the earth, the sea, nature, autumn, and love. But
their true subject is the meaning of our relationship with those

Indeed, all three of the works in this
ASO program, “Against the Avant-Garde”, deal with these themes – the
vital sexuality of Don Juan, the gentle and quasi-religious walk in the
rain with Hermann Suter, and the sweetness Marx associated with the
changes of autumn.

“Against the Avant-Garde: Romanticisms of the 1920s”
Leon Botstein conducts the American Symphony Orchestra
Sunday, December 7, 2008, 3 pm, at Avery Fisher Hall

Walter Braunfels (1882-1954):
Don Juan, Op. 34 (1923) U.S. premiere
Hermann Suter (1870-1926)
Violin Concerto, Op. 23 (1924) U.S. premiere
Daniel Hope, violin
Joseph Marx (1882-1964)
Eine Herbstsymphonie (Autumn Symphony, 1921) U.S. premiere

Tickets start at just $28; call 212.868.9ASO (9276). Group discounts available. All ticket sales are final.

Enjoy an illuminating pre-concert talk with American Symphony Orchestra
Music Director, Leon Botstein, at 1:45 pm in the auditorium of Avery
Fisher Hall.

Learn more about this concert and the rest of the season at or from (212) 868-9ASO (9276).

Details of the ASO’s additional 2008-09 concerts at Lincoln Center follow.

Sunday, January 25, 2009, 3 pm

Hanns Eisler (1898-1962): Auferstanden aus Ruinen, Hymne der DDR (1949)
Rudolf Wagner-Regeny (1903-69): Mythological Figures (1951) U.S. premiere
Paul Dessau (1894-1979): In memoriam Bertolt Brecht (1957) U.S. premiere
Udo Zimmermann (1943- ): Sinfonia come una grande lamento,
in memory of F. Garcia Lorca (1977) U.S. premiere
Hanns Eisler: Goethe Rhapsody (1949) U.S. premiere
Siegfried Matthus (1934- ): Responso (1977) New York premiere

Friday, February 20, 2009, 8 pm
“PERSECUTION AND HOPE: Masterworks of Conscience”

Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-75):
Volo di notte (Night Flight, 1939)
Il prigioniero (The Prisoner, 1948)

Sunday, March 22, 2009, 3 pm

George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931): Rip Van Winkle Overture (1879)
William Grant Still (1895-1978): Darker America (1924)
William Grant Still: Africa (1930)
Edgard Varèse (1883-1965): Offrandes (1921)
William Grant Still: Symphony No. 2 (1937)

Sunday, May 31, 2009, 3 pm
“COMPOSING A NATION: Israel’s Musical Patriarchs”

Erich-Walter Sternberg (1891-1974): The Twelve Tribes of Israel (1938) U.S. premiere
Mordecai Seter (1916-94): Midnight Vigil, Op. 39a (1958) U.S. premiere
Josef Tal (1910-2008): Symphony No. 2 (1960) U.S. premiere
Odeon Partos (1907-77): Ein gev, Symphonic Fantasy (1952) U.S. premiere
Paul Ben-Haim (1907-84): Symphony No. 2 (1948) U.S. premiere

# # #

The American Symphony Orchestra’s 2008-09 season and programs are made
possible, in part, through support from National Endowment for the
Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Department of
Cultural Affairs, and Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer.
Major support is provided by American Express, JP Morgan Chase, Con
Edison, HBO, and Carroll, Guido, & Groffman, LLP. Additional
support is provided by The Winston Foundation, The Faith Golding
Foundation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, The Starr Foundation, Andrew
W. Mellon Foundation, The Fan Fox and Leslie Samuels Foundation, The
Bay and Paul Foundation, Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, DuBose &
Dorothy Heyward Memorial Trust, The Edith C. Blum Foundation, and Solon
E. Summerfield Foundation

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