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Adam Schoenberg: Finding Rothko – American Symphony – Picture Studies
Kansas City Symphony, Michael Stern (Conductor)
Recording: Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts (June 20-21, 2014) – 64’58
Reference Recordings # RR-139 (SACD) – Booklet in English (Distributed by Naxos of America)

If the name Adam Schoenberg gives an impression of being related to atonally-driven Arnold Schoenberg, it’s false. Void of a genetic link to the Viennese, Adam Schoenberg also eschewed his educational curriculum’s modernistic tilts and longed for tonality. In today’s arena, he bucked the trend. Maybe that’s why his music is very approachable, bringing relevancy, respectfulness and resonance in forward drive.

Having affinity towards visual arts and sense of political reflection helps the listener grasp the overall matrix of these three pieces. There is an impenetrable sensitivity with Mr. Schoenberg’s music: it titillates the tympanic membrane and touches us with a golden heart.

Front side and back side, the visual arts facilitate Adam Schoenberg’s intentions. Mark Rothko’s (1903-1970) abstract paintings are vibrantly detailed in each of Finding Rothko’s four movements. Personal viewing of each art work [while listening to Adam Schoenberg] helps bleed away lines, open minds and discover absences of bias or subversive motives. Aaron Copeland is conspicuous in this piece with polite brushes of Zemlinsky and distant nuances of Ravel. Though the movement “Red” is the most disruptive, it is “Yellow” which embraces, alongside a subtle repetitive motif and use of ostinato (which is quasi-hallucinatory) that dodges in and out of the work.

As a joint effort, the Nelson-Atkins Museum and the Kansas City Symphony commissioned Adam Schoenberg to formulate a current view of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Personally [and for this artist], Mr. Schoenberg’s Picture Studies is a definitive benchmark in today’s music. There’s absolute richness in the structure and use of innovative percussive instrumentation that gives the pieces such demonstrative character.

Adam Schoenberg digests Van Gogh’s “Olive Orchard” in dreamy perspective while “Kandinsky” (ref: Rose with Gray) establishes a sense of circular smoothness inside the middle musical prefecture (ref: Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra) that’s otherwise sharply flooded by strident and poignant Stravinsky-like acute and obtuse angles; “Calder” succinctly depicts the simplified flotilla of carefully-balanced objects orbiting above a black tripod…the listener is suspended into calm and eventual niente. The entire construct, with its sudden twists and turns, can’t help but remind one of Modest Mussorgsky’s striking musical parlance.

In closing, it is (without subjectivity) interesting to see the timing of this new CD. Unquestionably, Adam Schoenberg is pensive in his path and the notes he assembles for the staves. It was through Aaron Copeland’s Symphony Nº 3 that helped encourage the young composer to look beyond the horizon with a positive outreach and create the American Symphony which honors, heals, and recapitulates. This Symphony captures so many emotions; the piece is imposing, bringing with it (many times) reminisces of John Williams.

With Inauguration Day of our 45th President of The United States ironically timed on the same day of this review, this should court reflection of Mr. Schoenberg’s work. As his objective outlines, his final message within the American Symphony uplifts our country. Though no one could prognosticate the outcome of the election, the musical missive holds true, without ambivalence: we move forward with hope and optimism. Adam Schoenberg translates beautifully.

Despite its tricky notes, Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony give the right amount of perspective to achieve the challenges set forth by Mr. Schoenberg. Keith O. Johnson and his production crew are to be commended again.

Recently honored as "one of the Top 10 most performed living classical composers by orchestras in The United States", Adam Schoenberg has a winner on his hands, guided by the skills of Reference Recordings in this World Premiere edition.

Christie Grimstad




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