October 31, 2012 at 8:51 AM

Chatter 20/21

“Schoenberg, John Adams and Roberto Sierra…”

By Tom Maguire

Culture Vulture

Tom Maguire is a musician, arts supporter and a guy who travels the Southwest in a 13’ Scamp trailer, because he couldn’t figure out how the tent poles went together.

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It has been 100 hundred years since the premier of Arnold Shoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Albuquerque’s Chatter Ensemble has taken the occasion to program this 20th-century masterpiece with two more recent works: John Adams’ Grand Pianola Music (1982) and the World Premiere of Robert Sierra’s Caprichos, a Chatter commission for the New Mexico’s Centennial.

Pamela Michaelis, president of Ensemble Music New Mexico, has this to say about Roberto Sierra, Chatter and the commission of Caprichos:  “When Chatter considered presenting a special concert in celebration of the statehood of New Mexico, Roberto Sierra was the first thought of everyone around the table. Roberto has wonderful connections and friendships with New Mexico… [and] we believe he loves New Mexico as much as New Mexico loves and admires him.”

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire is a landmark composition that was written and premiered 100 years ago, in October 1912—a song cycle based on 21 poems by Albert Giraud in which moonstruck Pierrot sings of love, sex, religion, disappointment, crime blasphemy and, finally, going home to the “old perfume from fabled times.”   

Pierrot Lunaire is a work that contains many paradoxes: the instrumentalists are simultaneously soloists and an orchestra, Pierrot is both hero and fool in a drama that is also a concert piece, cabaret as high art and vice versa, song that is also speech, a male role sung by a woman.  The mezzo soprano singing Pierrot is Meagan Brus, who resides in New York City and holds degrees from the Manhattan School of Music and Oberlin Conservatory of Music. 

The quintet of instruments used in Pierrot Lunaire (flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano) became the core ensemble for many contemporary-music ensembles of the 20th century and became known as a “Pierrot ensemble”. Ensembles such as The Fires of London, who formed in 1965 as "The Pierrot Players" to perform Pierrot Lunaire continued to concertize with a varied classical and contemporary repertory using this basic instrumentation. This group and others like it (Da Capo Chamber Players, eighth blackbird) began to perform works arranged for these instruments and commission new works especially to take advantage of this ensemble's instrumental colors.

While many professional chamber ensembles (such as string quartets and piano trios) continued to focus on musical literature of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Pierrot ensemble became one of the most prominent chamber ensemble formations in classical music of the 20th century, and continues to be popular with composers and performers today.

And so, it is fitting that 100 years after Shoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire premiered, Chatter’s (Pierrot) ensemble asked Sierra to write a centenary composition for this ensemble orchestration.  Chatter’s artistic directors David Felberg and James Shields felt Sierra’s aesthetic and style would beautifully fit the occasion and, especially, Chatter’s Pierrot ensemble.

Scored for a Pierrot ensemble with additional percussion, Caprichos is a five-movement, six-minute work that premieres on November 9 at 6 p.m. in St. Francis Auditorium and serves as the centerpiece of Chatter’s concert celebration of New Mexico’s Centenary.

David Felberg has said, “Roberto Sierra’s Caprichos lives up to its name, as a whimsical, virtuoso, ‘tour-de’force.’ Composed for Chatter’s core group of six, the piece is written with incredible flair and virtuosity, of which Roberto is a complete master. We’ve had an incredibly satisfying time working on it. We…are convinced it will become a staple of the contemporary chamber music repertoire.”

The final piece on the program is one of the most controversially received and bold compositions of John Adams. Often referred to as “America’s greatest living composer”, Adams’ formidable Grand Pianola Music is scored for two pianos, winds, brass, three female voices and percussion (including two well-deployed bass drums).  Adams describes Grand Pianola Music as “dueling pianos, cooing sirens, Valhalla brass, thwacking bass drums, gospel triads and a Niagara of cascading keys.”

This performance is a collaboration between the New Mexico Museum of Art, the New Mexico History Museum and Chatter. Patina Gallery, one of Santa Fe’s premier contemporary galleries hosts a pre-concert reception from 4 to 5:30 p.m., with a portion of sales donated to Chatter.

For ticket information and reservations, contact Chatter at: www.chatterchamber.org.

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