Sharla Nafziger (soprano), and Michael Slattery (tenor)

Focus on Schoenberg at the Austrian Cultural Forum

On January19th, the Austrian Cultural Forum presented the first concert in a new lieder series led by virtuoso pianist, Thomas Bagwell.  The focus of this series is–quite appropriately, given the venue–the founder of the Second Viennese School, Arnold Schoenberg and his composition teacher turned brother-in-law, Alexander Zemlinsky.  This first concert was dedicated to Schoenberg and Zemlinsky’s early songs only (all selections on the program were composed between 1889 and 1903).  The fact that Zemlinsky’s lieder were not published until 1995 and that they are so infrequently programmed makes their performance an event in itself.  Nevertheless, they were not the only novelty offered that evening.  In his introduction to the first set of Schoenberg songs, Bagwell dubbed these early works, “some of the best songs that Brahms never wrote.”  A joke perhaps, but few could argue with him.  Even Schoenberg’s better known opus 2 and opus 3 songs (performed during the second half of the program), were a startling reminder of Schoenberg’s less-than-revolutionary compositional beginnings.  It is difficult to imagine that these chromatic, (yet thoroughly tonal) gems of late 19th-Century song literature were penned by the same man famous for Ewartung, Moses und Aron, and Pierrot Lunaire among other atonal masterpieces.  Anyone expecting the music to “sound like Schoenberg” was in for quite a surprise.

Sharla Nafziger (soprano), and Michael Slattery (tenor)

Sharing the stage with Mr. Bagwell were soprano Sharla Nafziger (singing the Schoenberg songs) and tenor Michael Slattery (performing the Zemlinsky songs).  Ms. Nafziger is an elegantly poised performer with a strong middle range.  She had many beautiful moments throughout, particularly during her performance of Warnung and Freihold from Schoenberg’s Sechs Lieder (Op. 3), which she delivered passionately and with powerful expressivity.

However, the star of the show was undoubtedly Mr. Slattery, a handsome Juilliard graduate whose sweet-voiced lyricism, fine acting skills, and flawless diction carried the evening.  From the outset, Mr. Slattery demonstrated exemplary breath control, a breathtakingly crystalline upper register, and a true understanding of the text.  His rendition of Zemlinsky’s Nun schwillt der See so bang was vocally excellent and incredibly touching, and his portrayal of the hapless, unappreciated lover in Maedel, kommst du mit zum Tanz? was brilliantly comic.  Mr. Slattery is certainly a talent to watch.

Maestro Bagwell is as fine a pianist as any singer could hope to collaborate with.  Always musical, his sensitivity and balance complimented both singers perfectly. I would highly recommend the “Bagwell and Friends” series at the Austrian Cultural Forum.  Only two concerts remain:

– February 8, Early Songs and Brettl Lieder with Rebekah Camm, Alex Richardson, and Thomas Bagwell

– March 20, “Book of the Hanging Garden” by Schoenberg and later songs by Zemlinsky with Brenda Patterson, Katharine Dain, and Thomas Bagwell.

These concerts are FREE and open to the public, but reservations are strongly encouraged as the recital hall is quite intimate, and it fills up very quickly!  To reserve your free tickets, please visit:

Lauren Alfano is a New York-based soprano,