Chicago Stepan Wolpe Festival | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Chicago Stepan Wolpe Festival


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Stefan Wolpe was a guiding force of the prewar German avant-garde. In the 20s he belonged to the Berlin Novembergruppe, an arts collective named after the month in which the German monarchy was overthrown and dedicated to advancing radical views of art and artists. Other members included artists Paul Klee, George Grosz, and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and musicians Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, and George Antheil. The Bauhaus artisans and the Second Viennese School of composers were close allies who often brought their own exhibitions and concerts to Berlin. Wolpe intigated and participated in a number of provocative projects, including the famously controversial "brutist piano experiments." His varied compositions back then, notable for their peculiar instrumentations, reflected the influences of his teacher Busoni as well as Schoenberg, Satie, and Scriabin. As a communist and a Jew, Wolpe believed in political music and wrote straightforward songs of protest. He lived in Palestine in the mid-30s and by the time he settled in the U.S. in 1938, his music had shifted from atonality to an eclecticism colored by Middle Eastern folk strains. An inspiring teacher show shied away from dogmas, Wolpe trained two generations of composers; Morton Feldman and Chicagogans Ralph Shapey and William Karlins are among his disciples. Next week Wolpe's accomplishments will be celebrated and debated in a festival organized by the Goethe Institut, which coincides with the Art Institute's exhibition of works by another key avant-gardist Max Ernst. The events, all free to the public, offer a sampler of the Wolpe legacy. Cube will pay some of his compositions along with works by students Shapey and Karlins in a concert on Tuesday at 8 PM at Ganz Hall, 430 S. Michigan. Wolpe's chamber pieces will be juxtaposed with those of his fellow radicals Antheil and Kurt Schwitters and of Feldman and Nils Vigeland in three recitals featuring flutist Eberhard Blum and pianists Steffen Schleiermacher and Josef Christof on Thursday, next Friday and Saturday, September 24 and 25, at 8 PM, in the concert hall at DePaul University, 800 W. Belden. In the same venue the performers Workshop Ensemble will present a concert-demonstration titled "The History and Future of Political Song" that will include Wolpe's Three Brecht Songs on Saturday, September 25, at 4 PM. 362-8373 or 329-0915.

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