Arts & Culture

Second City Chamber Series plays classical ‘Woman in Gold’ music

Long-time Tacoma resident Peter Altmann, host for the Second City Chamber Series fundraiser, talks in 2012 at Pacific Lutheran University about his family’s history in Austria and their recovery of the world-famous painting, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” by Gustav Klimt.
Long-time Tacoma resident Peter Altmann, host for the Second City Chamber Series fundraiser, talks in 2012 at Pacific Lutheran University about his family’s history in Austria and their recovery of the world-famous painting, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” by Gustav Klimt. Staff file, 2012

You know the painting. You saw the movie (maybe). Now you can hear the classical music that was in vogue in Vienna when Gustav Klimt painted “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.” You also can hear about the connections between Klimt, his model Adele, her niece Maria who fought Austria for the painting and the composers the family befriended, all directly from Peter Altmann, Maria’s son and a Tacoma man. Altmann’s stories will be surrounded with music by Schoenberg, Korngold and more Sunday at “Music for a Golden Lady,” the annual house concert and fundraiser for Second City Chamber Series.

“I see the music as an overlay on the painting,” says Altmann. Her mother Maria — and her eight-year battle to regain the world-famous Nazi-stolen painting — was the subject of the 2015 film “Woman in Gold,” starring Helen Mirren. “All of the composers on the program grew up in Klimt’s era in Vienna, and my mother was good friends with two of them.”

The program for the concert, to be held in a Tacoma home, includes music for soprano and piano by Arnold Schoenberg, Eric Zeisl, Alma Mahler and Erich Korngold. All were born in Vienna around the turn of the 20th century. Zeisl, Korngold and Schoenberg — all Jewish — fled Nazi Germany for America, as did Maria Altmann and her husband. The painting “Woman in Gold” was seized by the Nazis.

“My mother’s debutante ball included Alma Mahler,” said Altmann. “Erich Zeisl and his wife Trudy were my parents’ best friends in Austria and California. I think they found Erich quick-witted, humorous, extremely gifted, honorable, and a good husband and father.”

The Zeisls’ daughter, Barbara, married the Schoenbergs’ son, Randy, who later became Maria Altmann’s lawyer for the fight to regain the painting from the Austrian government. While Schoenberg’s music wasn’t to Maria’s taste, Altmann says, she respected it and was a firm friend of Korngold, who eventually saw great success as a Hollywood composer.

Performed by soprano Christina Kowalski and pianist Keith Ward, the program includes lieder and piano works by Zeisl, three lieder by Mahler (who later gave up composing on marrying Gustav Mahler), Schoenberg’s “Brettl-Lieder” and Korngold’s “Mariettas Lied.”

“The intent … was to capture the unique character of each composer through suite-like combinations of pieces,” said Ward.

As well as music and Altmann’s discussion of the painting — finally regained by the family in 2006, sold for $135 million and now hanging in the Neue Galerie in New York — the concert will include the movie “Woman in Gold” and Austrian-style refreshments. It is the annual fundraiser for the Tacoma-based chamber series, this year celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti

Music for a Golden Lady

When: 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Private home in Tacoma, location given with ticket purchase.

Tickets: $60, includes music, discussion, movie and Austrian-style refreshments.

Information: 253-573-TUNE, scchamberseries.org.

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