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Freudian Base for Strings

May 19, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Vienna and its cultural environment provide a critical backdrop to the high-profile exhibition "Sigmund Freud: Conflict and Culture," now at the Skirball Cultural Center in the Sepulveda Pass.

That city's atmosphere of artistic and intellectual energy are presented as decisive factors in Freud's founding of psychoanalysis: the couch as therapeutic tool.

Fittingly, as part of the exhibition's musical agenda, the gifted, Vienna-based Hugo Wolf Quartet makes its West Coast debut at the Skirball on Sunday. The program: music from Vienna during Freud's life there.

Just as Vienna has been a hot spot for new developments in classical music, from Mozart in the 18th century to 12-tone revolutionary Arnold Schoenberg in the 20th, the Skirball program is a wide-ranging one.

The quartet specially designed the concert to include Brahms' Quartet No. 1, written when Freud was 17 and starting his studies in medicine; Anton Webern's Quartet No. 1, written in a post-romantic style before Webern became a disciple of Schoenberg's then-radical serialist method; and Alban Berg's celebrated "Lyric Suite," one of the most lyrical tone pieces in the repertoire.

Berg's work, discovered to be a clandestine musical love letter to Hannah Fuchs (both were married at the time), was written in 1926 when Freud was 70 and the tensions between the wars were mounting.

A decade later, Freud would flee Nazi terror to London, where he died soon after his emigration.

First violinist Jehi Bahk, in a recent phone interview, said, "We chose [the program] to show the change between Brahms, the romantic, and Webern's piece, shifting from romanticism to the Second Viennese School, and then Berg, one of the masterpieces of the 12-tone technique."

Founded in 1993 by four students--violinists Bahk and Regis Bringolf, violist Wladimir Kossjanenko and cellist Florian Berner--at the Vienna University of Music, the Hugo Wolf Quartet took its name from the 19th-century Austrian composer.

Wolf is best-known for his art songs, but his chamber music deserves wider recognition, according to Bahk.

Among the quartet's plans is a recording project of Wolf's string quartet work.

If the quartet is very much rooted in Viennese cultural soil, it came to that musical city from various directions. Bahk is Korean, Bringolf is Swiss, Kossjanenko is from Kazakhstan, and Berner is the token born-and-bred Austrian. "We are very international," Bahk explained, "but we concentrate our repertoire on the first and second Viennese school. Also, we do a lot of contemporary music. We try to do two or three new pieces every year."

The Hugo Wolf Quartet certainly dazzles, as heard on a fabulous live CD released last year, with music of Haydn, Brahms and Ligeti, and news of the group's strengths is spreading. They have performed at Lincoln Center and will perform at the Expo 2000 next fall.

DETAILS

Hugo Wolf Quartet, 8 p.m. Sunday at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 Sepulveda Blvd. Tickets are $15 general, $12 for Skirball members, and $10 for students; (323) 655-8587.

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