The premiere of Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck on December 15, 1925 opened to a huge success, the composer receiving the wild adulation of the crowd. You'd thought he'd be pleased with himself, having composed a masterpiece that would go on to be produced 150 times in 28 European cities within ten years of its premiere. But: No. In the book The Rest is Noise, you can read Theodor Adorno's recollection of the events. Instead of being elated by the ovation, Berg was upset. Adorno wrote: "I was with him until late into the night, literally consoling him over his success. That a work conceived like Wozzeck's apparitions in the field, a work satisfying Berg's own standards, could please a first-night audience, was incomprehensible to him and struck him as an argument against the opera." Schoenberg, Berg's composition teacher, was there as well, and Adorno recalls, jealous: "Schoenberg envied Berg his successes, and Berg envied Schoenberg is failures." So there. Berg was (unsuccessfully) successful, but he did not sell out.
Despite Berg's efforts, you'll be swept off your feet by the piece that revolutionized 20th century opera. It is performed, in John Rea's chamber re-orchestration, by the Ensemble Parallele this Saturday night at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (there's also a Sunday 1/31 matinee). It's a strong cast, with Bojan Knezevic as the title role, John Duykers (last seen here) as the captain, and Ensemble Parallele's music director Nicole Paiement at the baton. Nicole is also on the faculty and head of the New Music Ensembles at the SF Conservatory of Music, and kindly took our phone call.