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Celebrating Ernst Toch

November 08, 1987|JOHN HENKEN

Toward the end of his life, Ernst Toch called himself the world's "most forgotten composer." The neglect may be ending, at least for now, with concerts and events worldwide honoring the centennial anniversary of the composer's birth, Dec. 7.

Los Angeles--and in particular, the Toch Archive at UCLA--is a major locus of these activities. The Viennese composer left Nazi Germany in 1933, arriving in Los Angeles in 1936.

According to Lawrence Weschler, the composer's grandson and biographer, Toch immersed himself here "in a frenzy of making money in Hollywood," in order to support financially the departure of relatives from Germany. Ironically, the film industry found the best employment for Toch's efforts in chase scenes and horror movies.

After the war, Toch began to compose for himself again. Following a massive heart attack in 1948, the composer experienced a "tremendous upwelling of music, particularly symphonic," Weschler says. Toch's seven symphonies were all composed after 1948, with the Third Symphony winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1956. He died in Santa Monica in 1964.

Weschler states of Toch's arrival in the U.S. that "the transplant didn't take." The composer came to regard the "situation of exile as metaphorical of the whole human condition," appending a quotation from Goethe to the Third Symphony: "Indeed I am but a wanderer, a pilgrim on the Earth--what else are you?"

A strong sense of humor was also a part of Toch's creative makeup, and some of that will be apparent Friday afternoon, in a free commemorative gala at UCLA. The musical portion of the program includes the chamber opera spoof "Edgar and Emily," the satiric "Valse," and Toch's famous "Geographical Fugue," a highly influential spoken rhythmic fugue, on a text consisting of nothing but place names. Toch regarded it as just a musical joke, but it was published at the insistence of a young Angeleno musician--John Cage.

Also on that program will be introductions and reminiscences by Weschler, Nicholas Slonimsky, Eudice Shapiro, and William Malloch. The latter has produced a two-hour radio documentary which will be aired on NPR-affiliated radio stations in November and December.

On Dec. 11, the Toch Archive and others will present the Mendelssohn String Quartet at UCLA, in a program of Toch's quartets. On Dec. 6 at the Gallery Theatre in Barnsdall Art Park, and Dec. 13 at the Schoenberg Institute, the Unicorn Singers will give programs of the composer's choral music.

For further information about these and other Toch centennial events, call (213) 206-1867.

NEW MUSIC SERIES: "The Green Umbrella" is the title of a new concert series, a joint effort by the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group and the New CalArts Twentieth Century Players. The ensembles combine in the first program, Monday at the Japan America Theatre. Rand Steiger's Double Concerto will have its world premiere, and Donald Martino's Triple Concerto and Frederic Rzewski's "A Long Time Man" will be heard for the first time on the West Coast.

ELECTRONIC OPERA: For its tenth anniversary, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris commissioned an electronic, multimedia opera from Tod Machover, the American composer and cellist who is director of the Experimental Media Facility at MIT, and French environmental and video artist Catherine Ikam. "Valis," based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, unites the French music research center IRCAM, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Festival d'Automne, and MIT. It opens in Paris Dec. 2, and is scheduled to tour the U.S.--including Los Angeles--in 1989.

PEOPLE: Pianist Daniel Pollack, who teaches at USC, has become the first performing artist to receive an honorary doctoral degree from Newberry College, South Carolina.

The noted modern and black dance pioneer Katherine Dunham, has signed an agreement with a St. Louis production company for both a television special and a film based on her life story.

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