CLASSICAL MUSIC / KENNETH HERMAN : Youthful German Quartet Sparkles on a Soviet Gem

Though the program book was not emblazoned with the now-familiar red logo of the San Diego Soviet arts festival, Saturday evening’s Auryn Quartet concert at UC San Diego’s Mandeville Auditorium did feature a minor treasure of the Soviet Union.

The youthful, visiting ensemble from Cologne, West Germany, opened the 15th season of UCSD’s chamber music series with a compelling performance of Alfred Schnittke’s Third String Quartet.

Born in 1934, Schnittke is considered one of the leading Russian composers from the generation after Shostakovich. At last year’s Soviet arts festival in Boston, Schnittke’s Requiem Mass for chorus and orchestra was one of the major musical performances of that cultural exchange. This UCSD event was not part of the current Soviet Arts festival, but the performance of Schnittke’s work expands the festival’s portrait of contemporary Soviet music.

Schnittke’s three-movement quartet, written in 1983, revealed that the composer is keenly aware of trends in Western European composition. Although his idiom is demanding, it is not daunting. Like Western composers who have taken their cues from Edgar Varese, Schnittke values sound for its own sake and tends to use sonic clusters as motivic building blocks.


Though this approach made the Third Quartet’s droning, modal first movement seem unusually static, the rest of the work was replete with contrasting ideas organized by a recurring dissonant chorale theme. The composer even included an agitated, highly motoric section that sounded like an homage to Shostakovich. If Schnittke’s structure was elusive on a first hearing, surely his dense concentration of feeling was unmistakable.

The Auryn Quartet (violinists Matthias Lingenfelder and Jens Oppermann, violist Steuart Eaton and cellist Andreas Arndt) followed the usual practice and surrounded this unknown contemporary work with two familiar offerings, Beethoven’s A Major Quartet, Op. 18, No. 5, and his F Major Quartet, Op. 135. Neither performance shed new light on these works, although the A Major Quartet was notable for unusually clean delineation and a sunny balance among the players. Beethoven’s Op. 135, however, received a perfunctory and sometimes ill-tuned reading.

All that jazz. Although the surprises in the world of music resulting from glasnost cannot compete with the startling political events unfolding in Eastern Europe, they are worth noting. Tonight at Elario’s in La Jolla, two San Diego Symphony guest soloists in town for the Soviet arts festival will hold a unique jam session. Russian pianist Nicolai Petrov and U.S. clarinetist Richard Stoltzman will play a program of American jazz for 150 friends and supporters of the symphony.

These two soloists can be heard in their usual context Nov. 2-3 at Symphony Hall, when Petrov will play the West Coast premiere of Rodion Shchedrin’s Second Piano Concerto and Stoltzman will perform American composer John Corigliano’s 1977 Clarinet Concerto.


Batting 0 for 2. The San Diego Symphony has not been having any luck thus far importing guest conductors for the Soviet arts festival.

Last week, Soviet conductor Evgeny Kolobov failed to show for the orchestra’s “Alexander Nevsky” production. Now this week, Soviet conductor Pavel Kogan canceled his Nov. 2-4 symphony concerts on account of illness.

Fortunately, Jansoug Kakhidze, San Diego Opera’s guest conductor for its “Boris Godunov” production, was able to fill in for Kogan on short notice. One of the featured works on Kogan’s program is Rodion Shchedrin’s Second Piano Concerto, a work performed only a few times in this country. In an interview before “Boris Godunov” opened, Kakhidze noted that he was well acquainted with Shchedrin’s concerto, and in fact had conducted it last year in Boston as part of that American city’s Soviet arts festival. Kakhidze, creative director and principal conductor of Georgia’s Tbilisi State Opera Theatre, received high accolades for his conducting of the San Diego Opera orchestra in “Boris Godunov.” Local culture vultures eagerly await Kakhidze’s symphony debut here.

Music and the future. In the 19th Century, Richard Wagner immodestly claimed that he was composing the music of the future. Since Wagner’s time, most composers have been content to write for their own era. UC San Diego’s Center for Music Experiment, however, regularly works on the frontiers of tomorrow’s music.

Much of the center’s current research will produce the next generation of musical computers, according to F. Richard Moore, the center’s director.

“These will be the first computers to have their musical capacity built in rather than added on,” explained Moore, who will lecture on these new electronic tools and on the related topic of psychoacoustics (the perception of sound) at the La Jolla Athanaeum Nov. 6 .

“Technology in Music and Art,” the La Jolla library’s current lecture series, began last night with a lecture by UCSD’s Pulitzer Prize-winning resident composer Roger Reynolds. One of the founders of the center, Reynolds has composed many of his works using the center’s computer facilities. On Nov. 13, UCSD art professor Harold Cohen will talk about his computer-collaborated artwork, and all three men will participate in a panel discussion on Nov. 20.

According to Moore, in the last decade--he came to the center in 1979--the most significant thing researchers have learned is how little they really know about musical processes.


“At one time, it was common wisdom that, by analyzing the works of great composers, we could get a computer to write, say, Beethoven’s 10th Symphony. This was one of many early misconceptions,” Moore said. He further noted that breaking down seemingly simple musical expressions into the requisite series of step-by-step instructions needed for programming computers has usually turned out to be much more complex than originally thought.

Though he was a composer before he became the center’s director, composing has taken a back seat to his research and administrative chores. Moore now describes himself as a musical engineer, a term Wagner probably never contemplated when he was looking into the music of his future.