Cleveland builds a season around music banned by the Nazis

Franz Welser-Möst, presenting his 18th season as music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, has made Alban Berg’s Lulu the centrepiece of his season, together with works by others composers banned by the Nazis as ‘degenerate.

Franz said this morning:
‘One of the highlights of this next season is the opera, Lulu. It is an intense piece and a challenging work both musically and in its subject matter. Yet this kind of programming is successful in Cleveland because we have such an extraordinary, adventurous, and open audience. Each season, we program to challenge those of us on stage, but also to challenge the audience — to deepen their curiosity and to develop their interest in discovering new things. Just as we did a year ago with Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, we are creating a festival around Berg’s Lulu. Together we will look at the relationship of art and politics in Berg’s lifetime — of how certain music in the 1920s and ‘30s was politically abandoned and prohibited. We are featuring works by Schulhoff, Krenek, and others — works that the Nazis labeled ‘Entartete Musik’ or Degenerate Music. It was a period of autocratic, authoritarian regimes who condemned any artistic expression outside of their narrow view with a heavy hand. Artists and their work were prohibited through censorship. Just as the character of Lulu is abused and abusive in her own way, we will look into how music and art can be abused by a system — and how a system can turn people on one another. These are important topics, not only from the past, but in today’s world.

‘We live in a time where angst is more and more a part of everyday life all over the world. One of the key elements of political populism is that there must always be a scapegoat — there is always someone, a group of people, or an idea to blame. For instance, Berg’s score to Lulu includes jazz elements — and jazz at the time of the 1920s and ‘30s was not widely accepted as ‘real’ art. Jazz musicians, black musicians, and minority composers were too often viewed as not having any value for society. So with this festival we are featuring jazz music, and other music, including a classical piece by the African-American composer William Grant Still. What we are doing is looking at great music, at great art, that was marginalized for all the wrong reasons.’

There will be a strong focus on symphonies by Schubert and Prokofiev and world premieres of commissions by the Israeli composer Oded Zehavi and the Austrian, Bernd Richard Deutsch.


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  • A missed opportunity to stage Krenek’s Jonny Spielt Auf – a much more conspicuous synthesis of opera and jazz idioms. I’m sure Goebbels and Ziegler would have hated it.

    I wonder which completion of Lulu they plan using?

    • I was thinking of one of the Berthold Goldschmidt operas. Nonetheless, I’ve seen orchestras do Wozzeck in concert, but never Lulu, so credit where due. Especially since I’m pretty sure there’s no opera house in Cleveland that would ever do it.

    • Berg v. Krenek: no contest — and I say so having attended two Krenek operas these last eleven months. Besides, a “synthesis of opera and jazz idioms” hardly describes Lulu.

      Cleveland should handle the orchestral score beautifully. Skovhus is excellent as Schön; Hannigan will be good too. Both are real actors, mitigating the concert format. But the orchestra’s website does not answer your vital question, giving more details for “Food & Drink”!

      The last time Franz Welser-Möst ventured Lulu he “offered an unusual and remarkable solution,” returning from Cerha’s perfect completion “to the incomplete two-act version seen at the [1937] premiere. The finale [consisted] of the Variations and the Adagio from the Lulu Suite, which [concluded] the work as a kind of coda.”

      Not an error to repeat.

    • Let’s ask a simple question: who is banning music these days? Donald Trump of the WokeScolds trying to erase Michael Jackson from history?

    • Not like Europe 1939-45, aye.

      If you think you’re doing better than your grandparents on any and all reasonable economic measures stop whining!!

  • There is an irony in this sentence: “…we will look into how music and art can be abused by a system — and how a system can turn people on one another. These are important topics, not only from the past, but in today’s world.”

    One thinks of the US arts funding system and all the orchestras that have declared bankruptcy over the years: Philadelphia, San Diego, Miami, Kansas City, Albuquerque, Syracuse, Tulsa, San Antonio, New Orleans, Denver, San Jose, Colorado Springs, Honolulu, Miami, Sacramento, Oakland, and Nashville.

    Indeed, music and art can be abused by a system. We’re really good at noticing that everywhere but at home.

    • There are irony and meaning for today’s world, particularly the USA, in the entire statement. Funding for PBS has been threatened because the programming doesn’t adhere to the new leader’s goals or taste/tastelessness. The season’s goals couldn’t be more timely and necessary.

      • I guess I have to make the almost obligatory disclaimer that I loathe Trump, but PBS has steadily declined over the last thirty years in its commitment to quality programming and the arts. There are still some exceptions, but it has become relentlessly middle-brow, and sometimes lower middle-brow. I feel sorry for the older generation that might not be comfortable on the net, but I can now get far better and varied arts programming and documentaries through the web. I don’t really need PBS any more. I don’t mind funding it a bit (we send money to our local station), but I can see why a lot of people think its become irrelevant.

      • Just can’t pass up an opportunity to bash the current president, can you? Has PBS ever lived up to what it promised? Under ANY administration? PBS pays it’s management huge salaries in the meanwhile providing virtually nothing that the private sector networks on cable don’t do far, far better and for much less. And, I and a lot of others just don’t think that it’s the Federal Gov’t’s duty to subsidize the arts. If people want to have symphony orchestra in their communities, then they’d better be willing to open their wallets and support it. The US is now $22 TRILLION in debt. There is absolutely no justification for increasing spending on the arts, or PBS, at the federal level. If states and local communities want to do it, that’s their business. In Scottsdale, AZ there is, right now, and astonishing exhibit called Violins of Hope. All funded privately. That’s the way it should be!

        • You’re right 22 TRILLION in debt but Trump still finds it necessary to siphon off the odd TRILLION for himself and his ilk not to mention billions to put children in cages. The man is a tyrant in waiting and should be opposed legally ever day!

          • Er…whatever else Trump has done, there really is no reason to think he is stealing “the odd trillion”, or even stealing the odd million. Neither political party in the US is helping themselves to large parts of the federal budget to enrich themselves.

        • What is poorly understood (or even cared about) is that bashing Trump is the same as bashing 51% of the population who voted for him because they needed the economy boosted and jobs provided (in fly-over country). But, that’s ‘deplorables’ for you; how we all wish they were nearly as good as their inner-urban ‘betters’. What meticulous values, beliefs and ideals the latter have, while the former are just sub-par. It must be very reassuring to know that while your candidate lost the election (for God-knows-what reason!) the rest of the people have the monopoly on virtue!!

          • You are free to express whatever opinions you wish but please check your math and facts. Herr Trump received 46% of the vote in 2016 and won the electoral college thanks to a difference of ~ 70,000 votes. As for deplorable just check his twitter rants.

    • William Osborne, is it this comment that led your wife Abbie Conant to write a missive on Facebook today accusing US military musicians of being immoral, and asserting in some round about way that it is the US military funding that caused these same orchestras to file for bankruptcy? Do you and your vicious wife even care about facts? Where is “at home” for you? Is it Europe, or the US? The verbal terror that you and your wife rain down on the music world is felt on both sides of the ocean. Why don’t you stay focused on writing avant-garde music instead of spouting your ever-ridiculous conclusions? Wasn’t there a video of your wife playing one of your pieces while caged? One can only dream of a world where you both find yourselves inside a cage with no access to a keyboard.

    • Using the Kansas City Philharmonic’s demise an example of lack of public funding is laughable. The Phil. suffered years of bad management and unrelistic union demands. The new orchestra, The Kansas City Symphony, has become a far better operation, mainly through private support and the development of endowments. As well,
      The Kauffman Center was created using private donations. If you are going to try and support an argument with examples, make sure they are correct ones, lest you have no argument.

      • 1) 17 orchestras as examples form a substantial pattern, Kansas City or not.
        2) Our funding system contributes to “bad management” because managers are so burdened with fund-raising they can become distracted from the work they should be doing. 3) Our private system leads to ever-higher salary demands in top orchestras, in contrast to the uniformly defined salaries categories of Europe’s publicly owned and operate orchestras.

  • And here’s what distinguishes a great orchestra from a good one: It’s not the technical execution, but the seriousness of purpose in the programming and music making.

    • There are a lot of the usual audience favorites intermixed with the unusual pieces: Mahler 4&5, Brahms 3, Beethoven 3&7&Violin Concerto&Piano Concerto 3, Mozart 41, Berlioz Symphonie fantastique, Dvorak 9&Cello Concerto, La Mer, Mussorgy/Ravel Pics,

      • If it’s all nicely balanced, then great. I always dread unbalanced programs and it sounded just like that. Thanks for clearing that up.

          • My thoughts exactly. Operas by Schreker, Zemlinsky, Goldschmidt, Krasa, Ullmann… not to mention orchestral works by many other badly neglected “verfemte” composers.

          • “There is more than enough variety in the entartete musik not to have had to add standards.”

            That’s one dumb argument, I’ll give you that. Then why not just Beethoven? Enough variety there. Or 80s pop.

        • It’s almost too balanced; I had to look through the programs a couple times to notice much departure from the norm.

    • I’m thrilled. Will be once again purchase the entire season. 100th was a bit “greatest hits.” 101st has been good, and 102 looks better yet.

  • It’s about time. I think this is the first orchestra to do this. And from a Viennese conductor, it’s all the more meaningful. Bravo. I will stop calling Lesser-Most.

    • I’m fairly certain that other orchestras have done concerts devoted to music banned by the Nazis. I vaguely recall attending a series of concerts I think by the Philadelphia Orchestra ~15 years ago that was just like this: Zemlinsky, Weill, Hindemith, Schoenberg, etc.

  • “For instance, Berg’s score to Lulu includes jazz elements–and jazz at the time of the 1920s and ‘30s was not widely accepted as ‘real’ art. Jazz musicians, black musicians, and minority composers were too often viewed as not having any value for society.”
    Much the same has been said about rap and rap artists. In the Broadway hit Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda ingeniously incorporates rap elements used as recitative. Perhaps it will need to serve as the centerpiece of a symphony season in the future.

  • What courage! How brave! Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945. Why haven’t these pieces become standard concert and classical FM-radio fare since then?

    • Haha indeed!

      In reality it would be more brave to play the almost entirely forgotten great works that were created during Nazi Germany. Great works, that nobody knows. and nobody cares, until someone plays them. Suddenly the works would get branded with all kinds of bullshit adjectives such as antisemitic, nazi-friendly, etc. carrying on the nauseating stupid stigma, that all those that lived during the Nazi-era are bad. Bad by association.

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