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Finding Rothko

IRIS links music, art for stunning premiere. Composer Schoenberg pays tribute to Rothko, abstract expressionist:

The IRIS Chamber Music Orchestra began its first performance of the new year Saturday night with a resounding world premiere filling the Germantown Performing Arts Centre.

The unveiling of “Finding Rothko,” commissioned by IRIS and composed by Adam Schoenberg, was a stunning tribute to mid-20th century artist Mark Rothko, whose abstract works of rectangles set formally in a colored field are celebrated for, among many things, their luminosity.

Inspired by that, Schoenberg created this piece after choosing four works that specifically resonated with him. Those works, displayed on a screen above the orchestra, linked music and art in a gratifyingly plain and effective presentation.

The composer turned the large, expansive images of Rothko into grand and vivid music. Under maestro Michael Stern, IRIS beautifully conveyed a variety of feelings, from catchy passages to martial themes to moments of anxiety to billows of glorious sound saturating the hall.

Jon W. Sparks, Memphis, TN
January 15, 2007


Atlanta Symphony Orchestra paints the art of music

Adam Schoenberg’s Finding Rothko premiered in 2007 in Tennessee and here opened the concert. Like “Pictures at an Exhibition,” it depicts paintings, one per movement, of four large canvases by the late American painter, who is sometimes described as an abstract expressionist. The ASO thoughtfully projected each painting on large screens hanging over the stage.

Schoenberg starts with a “Rothko theme,” three major tenth chords that seem akin to the large horizontal bands of color that are one of the painter’s signature styles. The theme serves as a bridge between movements and is more fully developed at the end. There’s a stillness in the first section, based on the painting “Orange,” even with thumps from the percussion and a wavy violin line that seems to express the thin wavy lines scrawled on a blood red “belt” that bisects the painting.

“Red” is darker, angrier, with stomping hammer strokes. Unexpected jubilantly jazzy episodes gave the music a psychological component, too, suggesting the complex emotions the artist vented in each of the paintings.

Schoenberg—no relation to abstract expressionist composer Arnold—shows an aesthetic that is open, bold, and optimistic, with a dash of naiveté that combines to somehow sound American in spirit. He displays no world-weary old country or too-cool attitudes to art—a trait he shares with several ASO “Atlanta school” of composers, like Chris Theofanidis and Jennifer Higdon. Finding Rothko was only the second orchestral work by this emerging composer, born in 1980.

Pierre Ruhe, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta, GA
October 3, 2009


Incisive Performance: Lawrence Budmen reports from the New World Symphony’s new season

The highlight of the concert was Finding Rothko, a recent score by American composer Adam Schoenberg (born 1980). Inspired by the visionary abstract paintings of Mark Rothko (1903-1970), Schoenberg has created a musical portrait of four of Rothko’s restrictive formal outlines of color based paintings. A principal Rothko motif connects the four sections (Orange, Yellow, Red, Wine) of this single movement work. In the final part Wine, Schoenberg expands the Rothko thematic thread in a lyrically elongated form that glows with orchestral luster. Rothko’s paintings were projected on a screen behind the orchestra as the musical portraits took voice. Schoenberg is a master instrumental tone painter. The sensuous, multi colored instrumental writing marks Schoenberg’s delightful essay as impressionism for the 21st century. Obviously an enthusiastic advocate for this appealing score, Neale drew gleaming tonal shades and hues from the New World players. Schoenberg was present to acknowledge the audience’s enthusiastic response.

Lawrence Budmen, Music & Vision: The World’s first daily classical music magazine.
October 18, 2009


Spano’s program an enticing taste of the festival’s future?

Adam Schoenberg’s sumptuous “Finding Rothko,” from 2006, played out its four sections with colorful orchestration, rich textures and a sense of power and inevitability similar to that which invests the painter’s work. This was highly listenable music, rewarding to apprehend, especially in the broad outlines of the final section’s glowing climax. Schoenberg, once a student in the festival’s composition program, is now a recipient of several Aspen commissions.

Harvey Steiman, The Aspen Times
Published: July 19, 2011