When Bruins attend class or rush off to practice in the music-filled corridors of Schoenberg Hall, not many think back to 1947 when then Professor Arnold Schoenberg completed one of his most compelling and awe-inspiring orchestral compositions, “A Survivor from Warsaw.”
Tonight, the UCLA Philharmonia, University Chorus and UCLA Chamber Singers, under the guidance of Los Angeles Opera’s esteemed music director James Conlon, will remind us just how momentous this occasion is not only for the UCLA community but also for Los Angeles.
“A Survivor from Warsaw” was written in Los Angeles circa 1947 by famous Austrian and later American expressionist composer, Schoenberg. The piece was inspired by a number of reports he had received regarding the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto and concentration camps.
Tonight’s performance will be a contributing event to Ring Festival L.A. ““ Los Angeles’ largest citywide event since hosting the Olympic Games in 1984. The festival includes a number of happenings all over Southern California that in one way or another revolve around the performances of Richard Wagner’s operatic “Ring” cycle.
“I’ve read a great deal about the acclaimed events affiliated with Ring Cycle L.A. in the Los Angeles Times, and I think it’s pretty remarkable that our campus will be hosting one,” said Wafa Azeem, a third-year English student.
Schoenberg will be showcased in the event.
“Schoenberg’s music may be atonal, but it is anything but unemotional,” music Professor Neal Stulberg said. “The music is highly charged emotionally and extremely affecting, just as music to a gripping film would be. Yet, I think it is a very accessible program for anyone.”
“Plus, whenever you have a chorus and an orchestra on stage going full blast, it’s already a thrilling experience ““ just the actual sound it produces in a place like Royce Hall gets your whole body vibrating.”
This piece uses a number of elements to deliver a sometimes jarring, undoubtedly musically remarkable but most definitely a memorable experience. The work harnesses the vocal style developed by Schoenberg known as “Sprechstimme,” which literally translates from German as “speech-voice.”
The role of the narrator, to be performed by Stulberg, assumes two conflicting dialogues delivered in English. The speaker will alternate between the words of a Holocaust survivor and the shouts of a Nazi guard until the eventual alleviation from a male chorus singing the words of an ancient Jewish prayer. It propagates a conflicting atmosphere in that the narrator is constantly in battle with the aggressively atonal, yet unassumingly rhythmic orchestra.
“The combination, in this piece, of jarring orchestral sounds and a harrowing narration makes for an extremely intense and powerful six minutes,” Stulberg said.
Conlon will expound upon the composer of each piece and the composition itself before the performance.
“The program begins and ends with psalm settings by Zemlinsky ““ settings of two very troubling but at the same time inspiring psalms of David, which are absolutely colossal pieces of music featuring the entire chorus,” Stulberg said. “Inside of those two pieces are the very small, gem-like works of Schreker. And inside of those at the very center of the program is “˜A Survivor from Warsaw.'”
Schoenberg’s piece serves as the climax to the approximately 55-minute, uninterrupted concert. According to Stulberg, this concert will showcase the remarkable musical talent of the “recovered voices” of composers ““ whose voices and, in some cases, lives were persecuted and cut off by the Nazi regime ““ and of UCLA musicians.
“I think the audience will be amazed at the power and the lushness of the choir together,” said Tracy Cox, a vocal arts graduate student and event soloist.
The talent and dedication of the 200-plus student musicians ““ all of whom will be on stage for the entire concert ““ cultivates a deep sense of pride for the Bruin community.
“James Conlon is one of the world’s most celebrated conductors, and this will be his first collaboration with the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music,” Stulberg said. “It is a tremendous honor to have a musician of his stature conducting our orchestra and choruses, and it is a measure of my confidence in the quality of our student performers that I have asked him to perform with us.”
“It really is a signature event in the history of the school, so people should want to come to this concert not only because of the music, but because it’s another example of a UCLA team that’s winning.”