The American Symphony Orchestra Performs Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder

The American Symphony Orchestra performs Schoenberg's Gurre-Leider in Carnegie Hall. Photo by Matt Dine
The American Symphony Orchestra performs Schoenberg's Gurre-Leider in Carnegie Hall. Photo by Matt Dine
NEW YORK – The American Symphony Orchestra Performs Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder.

Opulent, Magnificent Masterpiece

With splendid soloists, the American Symphony Orchestra and the Bard Chorale joined forces and filled Carnegie Hall. Packed onto the stage was a magnificently large orchestra crafted to project Schoenberg’s opulent, magnificent masterpiece rarely heard in this prodigious New York venue. Maestro Leon Botstein and the ASO have again marveled an audience with world-class artists and carefully curated musical works well beyond the three B’s (Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms).

Idyllic Adulation

In Gurre-Lieder, listeners enjoy music expressing a range of moods, from moments of idyllic adulation to glorious cinematic soundscapes and sublime operatic dimensions. How delightful that the ASO presented Gurre-Lieder, a work that emerged as a surprise to most people with its opulent 19th-century Romanticism.

Second Viennese School

Particularly notable to most people about Schoenberg’s oeuvre work was his focus on serialism and expressionist subjects. You may recall him as the leader of the Second Viennese School, which included Alban Berg and Anton Webern. Most music fans are better familiar with Schoenberg’s expressionist works where he invoked dodecaphonic structures as he abandoned traditional tonality.

Emotional Tumult

In two of his famed works, “Pierrot Lunaire” (1912) and “Five Pieces for Orchestra” (1909), Schoenberg explored the use of atonal melodies, where traditional notions of key and harmonic resolution were eschewed. This departure from tonality allowed Schoenberg to create music that evoked dissonance, tension, and ambiguity, reflecting the emotional tumult of the Great War era. Other mainstay works of Schoenberg include “Verklärte Nacht” (Transfigured Night), Op. 4 (1899), “Erwartung” (Expectation), Op. 17 (1909), “Die Glückliche Hand” (The Lucky Hand), Op. 18 (1913), and Moses und Aron (Moses and Aron, Op. 7. (1912).

Monumental and Grandiose

Immediately apparent was the immense orchestra required for Gurre-Lieder. Schoenberg, like Mahler, Bruckner, and Wagner, pushed the boundaries of orchestration to create music requiring significant numbers of musicians to perform, resulting in some of the most monumental and grandiose works in the repertoire—indeed, such a work was presented tonight! Thank you Maestro Botstein!

Tragic Love Story  – Another Doomed Couple

In tonight’s concert marking the 150th Anniversary of Arnold Schoenberg’s birth, the monumental Gurre-Lieder was commemorated 100 years after its creation. Gurre-Lieder is based on a Danish legend retold in German by the poet Jens Peter Jacobsen. It depicts the tragic love story of King Waldemar and Tove and their love, betrayal, and inevitability of fate despite defiance against the forces of nature. Audiences love doomed couples, and tonight was no exception. Readers are likely familiar with Prokoiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Verdi’s Radames and Aida, or Tchaikovsky’s Tatiana and Eugene Onegin. 
L-R: Felicia Moore, Soprano. Photo by Gillian Riesen. Hair & Makeup by Madison McLain; Krysty Swann, Mezzo Soprano. Design & Select Photography by Tricia Suriani; Brenton Ryan, Tenor. Photo by Gillian Riesen; Dominic Armstrong, Tenor. Photo by Fay Fox; Alan Held, Bass Baritone. Courtesy alanheld.com; Carsten Wittmoser, Bass Baritone. Courtesy carstenwittnoser.de.

L-R: Felicia Moore, Soprano. Photo by Gillian Riesen. Hair & Makeup by Madison McLain; Krysty Swann, Mezzo Soprano. Design & Select Photography by Tricia Suriani; Brenton Ryan, Tenor. Photo by Gillian Riesen; Dominic Armstrong, Tenor. Photo by Fay Fox; Alan Held, Bass Baritone. Courtesy alanheld.com; Carsten Wittmoser, Bass Baritone. Courtesy carstenwittnoser.de.

Emerging Modern Aesthetic

Rarely performed, Gurre-Lieder stands at the crossroads of late Romanticism and the early modernist movement. It showcases Schoenberg’s masterful grasp of orchestral and vocal writing and hints at the more radical musical directions Schoenberg was to pursue. This work is a testament to Schoenberg’s early genius, bridging late Romanticism’s lush, expressive world with the emerging modernist aesthetic. Its scale, ambition, and beauty make it one of the landmark compositions of the early 20th century.

Massive Orchestral and Vocal Force

The scope of tonight’s musical offering was colossal. On stage was a massive orchestral and vocal force with multiple vocal soloists, a narrator, and a mixed choir.

Leitmotif

The ASO honored Gurre-Lieder’s divergent styles and grand scale. In Part One, Waldemar and Tove expressed their love through song using post-Wagnerian harmonic language, lush and expansive orchestration, and melodically driven lines foreshadowing the leitmotif technique Schoenberg would later refine.

Death and Grief

The ensemble commanded the complex harmonies and orchestra in Part 2 that portrayed emotional intensity driven by a tragic turn of events leading to Tove’s death and Waldemar’s grief.

Ethereal Sunrise

Listeners cringed in Part 3 as Schoenberg’s use of Sprechstimme evoked horripilation and dread with Waldemar’s curse and the march of the dead. A final ethereal sunrise scene concluded the cycle on a note of redemption and accord.
L-R: James Bagwell. Photo by Roy Lewis; Arnold Schoenberg Seated by Richard Gerstl (1906). Public domain; Leon Botstein. Photo by Steve Pyke

L-R: James Bagwell. Photo by Roy Lewis; Arnold Schoenberg Seated by Richard Gerstl (1906). Public domain; Leon Botstein. Photo by Steve Pyke

Enormous Performing Force

Tonight was a spectacular performance by an enormous performing force. The audience enjoyed a rare example of Schoenberg’s early genius, bridging late Romanticism’s lush, expressive world with the emerging modernist aesthetic. Be sure to follow the ASO and watch for their next concert!

The American Symphony Orchestra Performs Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder

Leon Botstein, Conductor Soprano Felicia Moore as Tove Mezzo-Soprano Krysty Swann as Waldtaube Tenor Dominic Armstrong as Waldemar Tenor Brenton Ryan as Klaus Narr Bass-Baritone Carsten Wittmoser as Narrator Bass-Baritone Alan Held as Bauer James Bagwell Leading the Bard Festival Chorale

American Symphony Orchestra

1330 Avenue of the Americas Suite 23A New York, NY 10019 212-868-9276 info@americansymphony.org For tickets and information, go to https://americansymphony.org/current-season/ Readers may also enjoy our reviews of The American Symphony Orchestra performing Dvořák’s Requiem, The American Symphony Orchestra and Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, Peter & the Wolf by Works & Process,  and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2.

The American Symphony Orchestra Performs Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder

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