Monday, February 15, 2016

Deconstruct serialism

  In the weeklong Focus Celebration for Milton Babbit’s centennial. Click here.

  Juilliard Orchestra tried to illustrate the Serialism composition by showing the logical path to Serialism: from Brahms, to music of early Schoenberg, to Stravinsky’s music, and finally to the Babbit’s Piano Concerto No.2.

  Each piece is carefully selected. In Brahms selection, it was the “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen,”, one of Brahms’s chorale preludes for organ. The melody is so artfully embellished and braided into the harmonic texture. That sort of disconnection between perception and knowledge — between what you hear and what you’ve been told is there — widens exponentially in Serialism, where the logic and elegance of the composition process so often result in music that sounds confusing and random; later, it chose Schoenberg’s achingly chromatic Five Pieces for Orchestra to illustrate a midway stage in weaning audiences from their dependence on melody; in Stravinsky’s “Variations (Aldous Huxley in Memoriam),” a listener is immersed in a dramatic interplay of wind, strings and syncopations; finally, for Babbit’s piano concerto, audience will experience and understand the “disconnection” between orchestra, individual instruments and piano.

  Serialism is always a headache to students because of its forbidden structure. However, in this serial performance of four composers, Juilliard Orchestra tried to de-structure the Serialism by explaining how Serialism come from: from its originality to its mature form. The historical path or evolution path illustrate the underlying principle of Milton Babbits: why he composed this way and what he wanted to show to the audience by this composition strategy. It is like constructing the skyscraper from the scratch: make you understand the complex concept by showing you the simplest idea where the concept grows from.