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Gerald Carpenter: CAMA Brings Pianist Peter Serkin to Lobero

Tuesday's recital will include Schoenberg's Opus 11 and two works by Beethoven

The Community Arts Music Association’s “Masterseries” continues with a recital by the awesome pianist Peter Serkin at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 15 in the Lobero Theatre, 33 E Canon Perdido St.

Serkin is the son of another great pianist, Rudolf Serkin, and the grandson of a great violinist, Adolf Busch. He began his studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia when he was 11. He is a committed modernist, and in addition to brilliant renditions of the classic canon of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms and Dvořák, he has also recorded the works of Max Reger, Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg, Olivier Messiaen, Toru Takemitsu, Oliver Knussen, Peter Lieberson, Stefan Wolpe and Charles Wuorinen.

He has premiered or been the dedicatee of many new works by such composers as Takemitsu, Lieberson, Knussen, Wuorinen and Elliott Carter. Ned Rorem said it best: “He approaches contemporary music with the same depth as he does the classics, and he is unique among the superstars in that he approaches it at all.”

Serkin’s program will consist of Schoenberg’s Drei Klavierstücke (“Three Pieces for Solo Piano”), Opus 11 (1909), and two works of Beethoven: the Piano Sonata No. 31 in Ab-Major, Opus 110 (1822) and the 33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli, Opus 120 (1823).

Most music writers consider Schoenberg’s Opus 11 as his “Goodbye to All That,” a final break with tonality and the hyper-romanticism of the Gurrelieder and Transfigured Night. The break was not a violent one, however, and the Three Pieces deliver their revolutionary message almost diffidently. Generally thoughtful and meditative in mood, they are the very opposite of the mathematical abstractions for which they are generally taken. In some places, they even seem to point toward Philip Glass.

Opus 110 is the next to last piano sonata of Beethoven, and for all the air of mystery and solemnity that surrounds it, the music requires no explanation whatever. Beethoven’s music is always broadcast on a universal wavelength; all you have to do is give it your entire attention and you’ll get the point. It is pointless to speculate where it comes from — unless you’re up for tenure somewhere — but whatever you’re looking for, you will find it here.

So much has been written and said about the Diabelli Variations — the work’s reputation among pianists and cognoscenti rivals that of Bach’s Goldberg Variations — that it seems rather odd that the set is not heard more often. (Of course, the technical challenges are formidable.) Since the program begins with Schoenberg, his opinion might be of interest. He said the Diabelli Variations “in respect of its harmony, deserves to be called the most adventurous work by Beethoven.” The eminent music historian Donald Tovey called it “the greatest set of variations ever written.” Not to be outdone in the matter of superlatives, virtuoso Alfred Brendel said it was “the greatest of all piano works.” So, we have quite an experience ahead of us.

For tickets to see Serkin, call or drop by the Lobero Theatre box office, 805.963.0761 or 33 E. Canon Perdido St., or click here to order online.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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