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December 10, 2012

Lunar Ensemble performs 'Pierrot Lunaire' and new, related works

The 100th anniversary of Schoenberg's trail-blazing "Pierrot Lunaire" prompted ambitious commemoration by the Lunar Ensemble.

This impressive group, which draws its talent from the current students and alumni of Peabody Conservatory, launched the Pierrot Centenary Project.

In addition to performances of the Schoenberg score, Baltimore-area composers were commissioned to write works drawing on the same collection of "Pierrot Lunaire" poems by Albert Giraud that inspired Schoenberg.

Over the weekend, I caught the first of the Lunar Ensemble's two Centenary Project concerts at Shriver Hall, this one featuring the original Schoenberg and two of the commissioned pieces. It was a rewarding experience.

What amazing music "Pierrot Lunaire" is -- complex, perplexing, invigorating. In this sound world, the strangely vibrant language of Giraud's verses is delivered not in song, but song-like speech ("sprechgesang" or "sprechtstimme"), against a backdrop of intricately, deliciously dissonant instrumental writing.

On Friday night, conductor Gemma New led a ...

well-honed and absorbing performance of this 20th-century masterpiece.

Sopranos Danielle Buonaiuto and Lisa Perry shared vocal duty, each soloist providing terrific clarity and color.

Highlights included Buonaiuto's wonderful subtlety in "Der kranke Mond" and wistful, sighing delivery of the last word in the concluding "O alter Duft"; Perry's wry, seductive account of "Gebet an Pierrot" and prismatic rush through "Enthauptung."

Admirable technical confidence and expressive sensitivity characterized the work of the instrumentalists: flutist Stephanie Ray, clarinetist Gleb Kanasevich, violinist Katarzyna Bryla, cellist Peter Kibbe, pianist John Wilson.

The program began with two new works for voice and instrumental quintet.

Douglas Buchanan's "Eingang" is a setting of three sensual, highly atmospheric poems with music to match. The slippery string sounds and wild vocal leaps in the opening "Eine Buhne" exerted a strong pull, as did the fugal interlude between the last two songs and, in particular, the lyrical, chordal closing moments that suggested a gentle landing in a tonal zone. Perry was the vibrant soloist.

Buonaiuto was featured in Faye Chiao's "Moments Colores," four songs filled with lush images of nature, antiquity and absinthe and treated in an intriguing, cabaret-inflected style (waltz rhythms are deftly exploited). Buonaiuto handled the assignment, which includes some mild sprechgesang in a nod to Schoenberg, with finesse and charm. Chiao's instrumental writing, often exquisitely misty in coloring reached a Poulenc-like richness at the end.

The Buchanan and Chiao works inspired finely meshed playing from the group. And, as she did throughout this cool concert, New kept her forces on the same tight wave length.


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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