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Santa Monica’s Jacaranda Celebrates Revolutionary Music

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jorge Casuso

February 6, 2013 – It’s unlikely there’ll be near riots or that the audience will whistle, laugh and boo when Jacaranda tackles Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” in Santa Monica this month.

A century has turned the revolutionary works, along with the chamber music of Schoenberg’s pupils, Anton Webern and Alban Berg that also will be performed February 23 at the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica, into staples of the classical music repertoire

“Thresholds: The Scandals of 1912-13,” said Patrick Scott, Jacaranda’s artistic director, “will tell the story in music of the most concentrated period of innovation in music history.

“Programming these works together in one concert allows for an unprecedented exploration of the new ideas that shocked audiences one hundred years ago,” Scott said.

The concert will span the two years between the April 1912 sinking of the Titanic and the July 1914 declarations of war, a “tumultuous period” that devastated society’s delusions of grandeur,” Scott said.

For “Thresholds,” 4handsLA, the piano duo of Danny Holt and Steven Vanhauwaert, will perform the first published version of “The Rite” for two pianos that preceded the ballet’s Paris premiere on May 29, 1913.

The score, played by Stravinsky and Claude Debussy shortly after the sinking of the Titanic, led Debussy to remark that it an “extraordinary savage affair…primitive… .” 

The Paris performance sparked a rebellion, with the moderinists and traditionalists in the audience attacking each other and eventually the orchestra, one of whose members recalled that "everything available was tossed in our direction, but we continued to play on."

Half a year before “The Rite” sparked near riots, members of a Berlin audience had whistled, laughed and booed at the October 1912premiere of Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” a setting to music of 21 French poems translated into German.

The speech-singing of the then-blasphemous text and the cutting-edge music that made it a landmark work will be performed by mezzo-soprano Julia Migenes, who recently sang with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and conducted by Jacaranda’s music director Mark Alan Hilt.

“The impact of the poems in English on the audience will allow them to better grasp the original shock, as well as their very weird beauty,” Hilt said.

The chamber works of Webern and Berg were also controversial when they were first performed in March 1913, a performance that “began with hissing and cat-calls, continued with face slapping and duel challenges, and ended in a raging, screaming brawl,” according to Jacaranda officials.

Today, after nearly a century of listening to film scores that employ many of the techniques and tonalities that led to near riots during their premieres, these landmark works seem familiar, though no less fresh and moving.

"Thresholds: The Scandals of 1912-13” will be held at 8 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica, 1220 Second St., Santa Monica, CA 90401. Concert tickets, $40 general; $20 students: Information: (213) 483-0216. 

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