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Rediscovering Weill

The German composer's music is celebrated on the 50th anniversary of his death.

November 17, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the classical world, centennials and historical milestones afford an excuse to burrow into music worth hearing again. This year the centennial spotlight turns on the German American emigre Kurt Weill (1900-50), a composer who traversed serious music and the popular imagination.

Weill was celebrated earlier this year with a performance of songs from the musical "Happy End" at the Skirball Cultural Center.

On Tuesday, across the San Diego Freeway at the University of Judaism's Gindi Auditorium, Weill again comes into earshot of music lovers from the San Fernando Valley, courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Chamber Music Society.

Weill is best known for his uncanny way with creating songs both beautiful and terse, some of which have become popular standards, including "Mack the Knife," "September Song" and "My Ship."

He came out of a classical music background and soaked up ideas from the fledgling world of Modernism early in the century, although he ultimately veered away from dissonance and toward Broadway.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic will continue its "Celebrate Kurt Weill!" series Nov. 30 and Dec. 2-3 with a presentation of "Seven Deadly Sins" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The concert Tuesday will offer glimpses of Weill's instrumental writing, including two movements from his "Cello Sonata" and his "String Quartet, No. 1, Opus 8."

Amid those works will be excerpts from one of his most famous pieces, written in 1928 in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht--"Threepenny Opera."

Violinist Lawrence Sanderling will play Heifetz transcriptions of Weill songs from "Threepenny Opera," and soprano Karen Benjamin will sing "Barbara Song" in English and "Polly Lied" in its original German.

"It feels like an art song, almost," Benjamin said of the latter selection. "It's just not the same in English. It loses some of its attitude."

Benjamin became smitten with Weill's music when she discovered "Surabaya Johnny" from "Happy End" while studying music at Occidental College. "That was my introduction and then I was hooked," she said. "I'm thrilled to death that I'm getting to do this."

In recent years, Benjamin has been one-half of a cabaret duo with her husband, pianist Alan Chapman. They perform at private events and concerts and will appear at Carnegie Hall next month as part of Michael Feinstein's "Now and Then" series.

Chapman, the composer, lyricist, pianist, radio host and educator who can be heard on the morning shift on classical station KUSC, will play piano at the Gindi and offer commentary on Weill at the concert.

BE THERE

Los Angeles Philharmonic Chamber Music Society presents a Kurt Weill tribute concert Tuesday at Gindi Auditorium, University of Judaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. $25. Call (213) 365-3500.

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