In the arts, whether music, painting or literature, sometimes there is an inevitable turning point from which return is impossible. Such was the case with painting in the early 1900s, when a shift from strict representation to abstract forms set the art world on its ear.
Abstract art was born, soon to be followed by Expressionism, with such early movers as Kandinsky, Mondrian and Schiele. The same is true in music. There’s a strong link between Expressionism in painting and in music, and that’s the theme behind two programs featuring renowned pianist Robert Taub on Thursday. They will be in Peter Hall at Bethlehem’s Moravian College.
At 11:45 a.m., Taub will present a free lecture and slide presentation, and discuss the works of Expressionist composers and visual artists.
In the evening program, “Raising the Bar,” Taub will perform masterpieces by Beethoven, Brahms, Scriabin, Schoenberg and Babbitt. The concert is part of the Betty Aierstock Moore Memorial Concert series, which pays tribute to the late Moravian alumna whose gift helped make Moravian an All-Steinway school.
Taub, a Steinway Artist and Princeton pianist, specializes in the music of Beethoven and 20th century composers. He’s performed as guest soloist with the world’s leading orchestras and conductors, and presented solo concerts in the Great Performers Series at New York’s Lincoln Center, and many other major series and festivals.
Taub’s recordings of the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas have been praised for their insight, freshness and emotional involvement. Taub also is a champion of new music. He premiered piano concertos by Milton Babbitt and Mel Powell, and made the first recordings of the Persichetti Piano Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
“What unites the afternoon lecture and the evening concert is the idea of pushing the boundaries,” says Larry Lipkis, professor of music and composer-in-residence at Moravian. “The pieces Taub will perform are works where composers have gone farther than they ever had before, and could never go back to where they had been.”
Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 53,”Waldheim,” is a perfect example. The piece, which musicologists often label as the beginning of Beethoven’s “heroic” period, has “expressive qualities that push to new heights the limits of what could be demanded from the piano. It was with this piece that Beethoven entered into heretofore uncharted compositional musical territory,” Taub says in his program notes.
Scriabin’s break from tonality, though a gradual one, was a turning point for the composer. The transition to his novel harmonic language was a gradual one, and led to the use of his “mystic chord” for the first time in his C Major Sonata, Op. 53. Also called the “Prometheus chord,” it is a complex, six-note collection made up of the notes C, F-sharp, B-flat, E, A and D.
Of course, Beethoven and Brahms no longer shock modern audiences, as they did in their own time. But Schoenberg and Babbitt are still as challenging for many as Kandinsky’s paintings.
Of Babbitt’s piano works, Taub writes, “It is dazzling, highly imaginative pianism — enormous registral leaps, juxtaposition of dynamic extremes, highly complicated rhythms and innovative pedal techniques.” Taub will perform Babbitt’s “Reflections for Piano and Synthesized Tape” of 1974.
Schoenberg was a composer and a painter, whose early works in each medium revel in Classical and Expressionist styles. “He forged his own, unprecedented musical path when he merged melody and harmony in an effort to clarify ambiguous harmonic contexts of late Romanticism,” Taub writes. The Klavierstuck, Op. 33, composed in 1929, is an example of Schoenberg’s monumental technique in employing musical motives without references to tonal keys and their assumed hierarchy.
•Pianist Robert Taub, 11:45 a.m. lecture, 7:30 p.m. concert Thursday, Peter Hall, Moravian College, Main and Church streets, Bethlehem. Admission: $15, general admission; $10, seniors and students. 610-861-1650, www.moravian.edu/music
Satori trios program
Although there are four musicians involved and four works on the program that the chamber ensemble Satori will present on Saturday, three is the magic number of the evening. That’s because the pieces to be performed — by Haydn, Ibert, Von Weber and Shostakovich — are all trios.
The concert is at Hope United Church of Christ in Salisbury Township.
The program features Haydn’s Divertissement No. 6, Op. 100 for flute, violin and cello; Carl Maria von Weber’s Trio in G Minor, Op. 63, for piano, flute and cello; Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 67, and Jacques Ibert’s “Aria” for flute, violin and piano.
A trio version of Ibert’s “Aria” might be the rare bird on the program. Written in 1930 as a vocalise (song without words) for voice and piano, the vocal version is seldom heard in concert. Yet its vocal range and style lends itself well to instruments, and several arrangements and transcriptions were produced by the composer and many others. Of these, the most popular remain the arrangements for flute and piano, and for alto saxophone and piano.
The other three works were scored as trios from their inception. Von Weber’s trio shows off the mellow tones of the clarinet in his elegant, cultivated writing. Haydn’s Divertissement is an enjoyable example of the everyday sort of chamber music he produced in such profusion. Shostakovich’s Piano Trio, written in 1944, is a lamentation for both the composer’s close friend, musicologist Ivan Sollertinsky and the victims of the Holocaust. It is his first work to employ a “Jewish theme” — a musical tribute that uses the scales and rhythms of Jewish folk music as Shostakovich knew it.
Performing are Nora Suggs, flute; Rebecca Brown, violin; David Moulton, cello; and Martha Schrempel, piano.
•Satori, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Hope UCC, 1031 Flexer Ave., Salisbury Township. Tickets: $15; $5 under 12. 610-435-6036, www.satori-chambermusic.org.
Eugene Albulescu piano recital
On Sunday, the L’Archet Concert Group, headquartered at East Stroudsburg University, will feature the second in a series of three piano recitals by Eugene Albulescu, Lehigh University professor of music and director of the Lehigh University Philharmonic.
Entitled “The Romantic Piano,” the series featuring some of the Romantic era’s greatest masterpieces will be performed by a pianist celebrated for his power, intelligence and blazing virtuosity. The program features “Four Pieces for Piano” (“Klavierstucke”), Op. 119 by Brahms, the F Major Piano Sonata by Sibelius, and works by Franck and Scriabin.
Albulescu is a Steinway Artist, a distinction that brings with it a number of perks. Most exciting for audiences is the fact that Jacobs Music will bring a Steinway 9-foot concert grand to each of the performances.
The series concludes May 14, with Schumann’s “Carnaval” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”
•Eugene Albulescu Piano Recital, 2 p.m. Sunday, Cohen Hall, East Stroudsburg University, 200 Prospect St. Tickets: $25; $20, seniors; $15, students. 917-716-9245, www.larchetconcertgroup.com.
The Allentown Band strikes up its season Sunday at Christ Church United Church of Christ in Bethlehem. The program, part of the church’s concert series, features soloists Gregory Seifert, trumpet, and Chet Brown, vocals.
Seifert will solo in an arrangement of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Music of the Night” from “Phantom of the Opera.” Brown, a faculty member of Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts and a frequent soloist in area ensembles, will sing the Cole Porter favorite “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and Lee Greenwood’s patriotic “God Bless the USA.”
Also on the program are popular pieces by Rossini, Wagner, Ponchielli and Brahms, including the latter’s Hungarian Dances Nos. 5, 6 and 17.
•Allentown Band, 3 p.m. Sunday, Christ Church UCC, 75 E. Market St., Bethlehem. Free. 610-865-6565, www.allentownband.com.
Steve Siegel is a freelance writer.