Saturday, October 06, 2012
Pierrot lunaire at the Conservatory
Everybody who was anybody, including Sid Chen above, was at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on Thursday evening for a concert by Nonsemble 6. The sextet formed the group four years ago while students at the school to perform the infamous, daunting Arnold Schoenberg work, Pierrot lunaire, a setting of 21 deranged poems about Pierrot and The Moon for singer/speaker and five instrumentalists. Since then, they have toured the piece around the country while also pursuing their own postgraduate musical careers.
Thursday's concert started with two pieces written for the "Pierrot" ensemble of flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, starting with faculty member Dan Becker's 1996 Sensitivity To Initial Conditions, which looked like it would be a bore from the composer's own program notes but turned out to be thrillingly beautiful music. This was followed by Hanns Eisler's 70th birthday tribute to Schoenberg, 14 Ways of Describing Rain, from 1941 that accompanied an arty black-and-white Dutch silent movie of a storm in Amsterdam. I very much liked the music, but the film just about put me to sleep.
Nonsemble 6 returned in costumes and makeup for Pierrot lunaire, which they had memorized, amazingly enough, and which was staged for the occasion by Brian Staufenbiel (above center, surrounded by Anna-Christina Phillips, clarinets; Kevin Rogers, violin/viola; Justin Lee, flutes; Anne Suda, cello; Ian Scarfe, piano; and Amy Foote, soprano). It was a major accomplishment, marred only by low, crappy lighting onstage which was a problem all evening long. The vocal part is meant to be performed in a cross between singing and speaking called sprechstimme, which is trickier than it sounds. Foote tended to sing the part more than declaim it, contrary to the composer's intentions, but the instrumentalists were astonishingly good and moved well on the stage while playing their difficult music. For a rapturous account of the piece and the performance by the newly retired Richard Friedman, check out the link here.