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Composers of the 20th century revisited at Kennedy Center

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Entertainment,Music,Emily Cary

The successful Pro Musica Hebraica series opens its sixth season featuring the Ariel Quartet and pianist Orion Weiss. The program explores the largely forgotten works of Jewish composers Erich Korngold, Arnold Schoenberg, Ernest Bloch, Paul Ben-Haim and Erwin Schulhoff. Weiss will perform one movement of Ben-Haim's Piano Sonata and Schoenberg's Three Pieces for Piano (Drei Klavierstucke, No. 1). He joins the Ariel Quartet for Bloch's Piano Quintet No. 1.

Schulhoff is the only one of the group who died in a concentration camp, albeit of tuberculosis, after being arrested for communist leanings. Ben-Haim was born in Germany but emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1933. The others moved to the United States well before the Nazi regime took hold. Violist Jan Gruning, spokesperson for the quartet, is enthusiastic about the program.

"Schulhoff was influenced by Russian music, Bach and Schoenberg," he said. "Like Schoenberg, he was into quarter tone music and even was teaching it. He was also interested in jazz and ragtime, which you don't hear in his Quartet No. 1 in that sense, but in his harmonies, which come across more like a dance. He was more jazz-inspired than jazzy. When we play his music in concert, people are off their seats. He really deserves to be rediscovered because hearing him is like seeing a Picasso in 3-D."

Bloch arrived in this country in 1916 and became a citizen in 1924, after being appointed as director of the Cleveland Institute of Music. His next post was as director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He blended romantic influences of the 19th century with Jewish folk music and liturgy.

Onstage
Pro Musica Hebraica
Where: Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, 2700 F St. NW
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Info: $38; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org

"His compositions reflecting the Old World spoke to the huge Jewish community in this country," Gruning said. "In the second movement of the quintet, he caught a Middle-Eastern flavor."

Korngold had a very different kind of experience. He was a child prodigy who collaborated with Max Reinhardt on operas. In 1934, Reinhardt recruited him to come to Hollywood to adapt a film score from Felix Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." He went back to Austria but returned to this country when he was asked to write the score for "The Adventures of Robin Hood." It not only won an Academy Award but also quite likely saved him from being swept up by the war.

"When the war ended, he thought of it as the beginning of a new, safe world," Gruning said. "Like other classical musicians drawn to Hollywood from Europe, he regarded movies as a less than serious medium, although he had been treated well and consulted extensively on all the films he worked on, even to changing the film footage. But he simply had become tired of writing for the screen and decided to concentrate on concert music."

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