Last week I received a call from the LA Phil’s development office. I was forced to tell them why I don’t give them money anymore. Next year will be the 11th consecutive season without a regular subscription concert with a work by Schoenberg.
Of course, there have been some Schoenberg performances since the big Schoenberg Prism series in 2001-2002. In February 2005, Esa-Pekka Salonen led the orchestra in Gurrelieder, but three of the four concerts were completely bought out by Chorus America for their conference, so that doesn’t really count. And Simon Rattle performed the Brahms/Schoenberg Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, op. 25 and Chamber Symphony No. 1, op. 9 with the Berliner Philharmoniker in November 2009. There have been some non-orchestra performances, including Pierrot Lunaire on a Green Umbrella program in February 2010. And this year, my friend Mitch Newman gave an excellent performance of the String Quartet #3 (which did not get reviewed, unfortunately).
But eleven straight seasons without a regular subscription orchestral performance by the LA Phil of a work by Schoenberg is just not right. And so I told the development office that I felt there must be some ban on Schoenberg at the LA Phil, or else how do you explain it? Every other major orchestra in the world regularly performs Schoenberg, so how is it possible that in the city he called home for his last seventeen years, they play not a note? And how could they ask me to give money to support an organization that has banned my grandfather’s music?
The development people were very nice, and sympathetic. They even suggested that President Deborah Borda or Chairman David Bohnett would love to hear from me about it. I told them that I’d be happy to speak with anyone, but I didn’t think that Borda or Bohnett would want to hear what I had to say. The development person said he would send me an e-mail and introduce me to Bohnett. And that was the last I heard. No e-mail, of course.
One more anecdote on this subject. I remember meeting Deborah Borda for the first time at the LA Phil’s concert during the Schoenberg Prism series where they performed A Survivor from Warsaw, op. 46 with Leonard Nimoy as the narrator. (Incidentally, George Takai recently performed the same role. So when will William Shatner do it?) I was sitting up in the Founders section (this was before the move to Disney Hall) in tickets that the LA Phil had provided to Belmont (as publisher). So I saw Ernest Fleishman and went over to thank him for the tickets (and the whole Schoenberg Prism series, which I believe he had planned with Esa-Pekka prior to Deborah’s arrival in January 2000). He introduced me to Deborah. I said to Ernest that this was the first time I had heard Survivor in a live performance. Deborah was surprised and asked how that could be true. Well, I answered, this was the first performance by the LA Phil of that work in my lifetime (I was 35 years old). Of course, Ernest had been executive director of the LA Phil for 30 of those years. I suppose that is how Deborah learned that it was going to be okay not to program any more Schoenberg.
And a final thought, the LA Phil has yet to perform the Schoenberg Violin Concerto, op. 36. [My mistake: the work was premiered by the LA Phil in 1974 with James Levine conducting and Zvi Zeitlin on violin.] The work was composed in Los Angeles in 1936. Esa-Pekka Salonen, who was the LA Phil’s conductor for 25 years, and who has recorded a ton of Schoenberg, even won a Grammy for his recording of the concerto with Hilary Hahn and the Swedish Radio Symphony. And yet he never performed the piece in Los Angeles. In fairness, the work was programmed during the Schoenberg prism series in 2001-2002, but Viktoria Mullova cancelled in the last minute. On her website, it says
Mullova recalls learning the violin concerto of another Austrian, Arnold Schoenberg, in the late 1980s “and wanting to die, I was struggling so much”. Asked to take it back into her repertoire for the 2001 Schoenberg festival in Los Angeles, she refused. “Despite the perfect circumstances, it wasn’t worth it. The music wasn’t good enough for me to put up with the pain.”
It must be false, because she was in the program and only cancelled the week of the performance. On Norman Lebrecht’s old posting from 2001, it says
As the Looking Glass tour packs her diary, she is busily relearning the Schoenberg concerto, the most refractory piece in the repertoire, which she will play in Los Angeles this year on the 50th anniversary of the great scale-breaker’s death.
My understanding was that she had some sort of nervous breakdown.
In any case, the LA Phil could easily program the work again, with Hilary Hahn or Christian Tetzlaff (who recently performed it at Carnegie Hall) or Ilya Gringolts (most recently in Glasgow) or Nikolaj Znaider. I’d like to hear Midori perform it, since she did a great job with the Phantasy, op. 47. But does the LA Phil really need me to tell them? Shouldn’t they be able to figure this out on their own?