The SF Symphony journey from Schubert to Berg is coming to an end this week, with a final program combining Berg's Violin Concerto with Schubert's Mass in E flat major. We believe that the whole exercise was only a pretext to make Berg more palatable to the San Francisco audience: by insisting on the roots of his music into a Viennese romanticism, Berg is much less challenging than as a twelve tone music proponent. The connection between both was elusive, but if a little fuzzy marketing is needed to spoon feed Berg's magnificent music to the audience, so be it, and enjoy!
This time around, the similarities in the program are a tad more obvious: both pieces were pretty much the last one written by their respective composer, who died shortly thereafter. Both pieces are anchored not in a Viennese tradition, but further back in Bach. The concerto's second movement lifts a Bach chorale (Es ist genug, I've had enough), while the Mass counterpoints with a Well Tempered Clavier fugue. Yet, rather than these two pieces facing each other as book ends of the romanticism, we found them turning their back to each other. We picture the Mass as the last gasps of the Baroque liturgy, where Schubert weaves in some unexpected harmonic modulations into a traditional contrapuntal fabric, as if figuring out a new way forward. The Berg concerto's use of Bach comes off as an echo from vanished times, soon to be absorbed into the atonal harmonies; as a friendly, comforting, long lost ghost hovering for an instant before fading away again.