In a program entitled The Lost Generation, under the baton of Leon Botstein, The Orchestra Now presented an exciting evening of orchestral music at Carnegie Hall. It was a concert of rarely performed musical works of early 20th-century German and Austrian composers whose music fell under the boot of Hitler’s Germany.
This prompted reflection about the many composers who left Europe for the United States to escape the Nazi regime. While some, like Arnold Schoenberg, continued to compose and work with organizations like the Philharmonic Orchestra in Los Angeles, you’ve seen the names of others in the credits of many films of the era. Film composers include Franz Waxman, Max Steiner, Erich Korngold, Frederick Hollander, and Bernard Hermann. Europe’s loss was our gain in this brilliant era of film scoring heard in movies like Casablanca, None but the Lonely Heart, Citizen Kane, Psycho, Vertigo, and swashbuckling favorites like Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Composing music in the early 20th century presented other challenges. Imagine composing under the immense shadows of Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, R. Strauss, and Schumann. Audience expectations were high, and standards even higher. Thus, expectations and excitement for the coterie of composers whose works were featured in tonight’s program were palpable as we considered how the artistic soul and imagination struggled to discover the means to emerge, express, and survive. Tonight’s works presented just that: the creative products of composers who struggled under a tyrannical, murderous regime determined to silence their creative voices.
The concert opened with Adolf Busch’s (arr. Peter Serkin) Variations on an Original Theme (1944). This delightful work can be nicely defined as a late 19th-century romantic piece. It demonstrated Busch’s compositional skills in writing a quality theme and variations and was masterfully performed by the ensemble. Some might consider the work anachronistic, particularly when compared to works written during this post-Second Viennese School period by Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, Samuel Barber, and Béla Bartók.
Walter Braunfels’ Sinfonia Brevis (1948) provided soaring cinematic sonic landscapes and was almost Wagnerian with its pulses, drama, and dashes of unresolved expressive dissonances. A well-crafted work, the Adagio opened with a marvelous trumpet solo. Principal trumpets were Forrest Albano, Diana Lopez, and Maggie Tsan-Jung Wei. Great solo oboe work was noted as well with principals Shawn Hutchison and Jasper Igusa. Noticeably fine flute work in the Finale: moderato performed by principals Danielle Maeng, Chase McClung, and Jordan Arbus.
Opening the second half of the program, Maestro Botstein graciously thanked the audience for attending, thanked orchestra members who provided introductions for each musical work, and spoke of the provenance of tonight’s selections. His encomium included attribution of the composers’ works as efforts to project “beauty and truth” without feeding the aural appetite of Nazi oppressors who preferred cloying melodious tunes — music contradicting their murderous corporeal vocations. Baton raised, Botstein began the Variations on a Theme by Haydn (1949) by Hans Erich Apostel, a charming and buoyant composition. With this work, the Orchestra achieved rich sonorities and pensive elegiac beauty while masterfully expressing the work’s broad sonorous intones and angular, dramatic, and cinematic textures. Great clarinet work by principal clarinets Mackenzie Austin and Colby Bond.
Hugo Kauder’s Symphony No. 1 (1924) closed the concert. It began with lush, tonal, broad romantic strokes. In the work, many sonic colors and moods were expressed, including a growling rhythmic motif in the 2nd movement and resonant, broad but restrained melodies. Fine work was noted by principal bassoons Han-Yi Huang and Philip McNaughton, and on harps Cheng Wei Lim and Violetta Maria Norrie.
Tonight, Maestro Botstein, The Orchestra Now demonstrated their capacity to express powerful rich intones, frenetic fugatos, and exquisite, intense subtleties. Throughout the evening, the French Horn section honored the traditions celebrated most notably by Richard Strauss in his tone poems like Til Eulenspiegel, memorialized in Robert Schumann’s Concert Piece for Four Horns and Orchestra, or in the rich pathos of the Notturno from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Bravo to the French Horn section consisting of Tori Boell, Zachary Travis, Kwong Ho Hin, Steven Harmon, Emily Buehler, and Kenshi Miyatani.
Maestro Botstein conducted The Orchestra Now with vivacity, accuracy, and commanding expression. Tonight, was a marvelous, adventurous delectation of works rarely heard, packaged with a special treat of the New York premiere of Hugo Kauder’s Symphony No. 1. Finally, it was an honor to celebrate the brilliance of composers who kept their creative spirits alive despite the desperate political conditions in their homelands.
The Orchestra Now
Leon Botstein, Music Director and Conductor
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