The Pierrot Project focused on the music of the early 20th century in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Arnold Schoenberg's ground-breaking chamber work Pierrot Lunaire. On the brink of World War I, the world would never be the same; surrealism was blossoming in the arts and strange risks were being taken in the world of music.
In mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn we had, not only a supremely gifted performer but a charming educator who laid the groundwork for our better understanding of this strange and beautiful work as it relates to the Pierrot character of commedia del'arte. To ease into the work, we heard the highly accessible "Syrinx" by Claude Debussy, in which the luminous playing of flutist Jennifer Grim led us to realize how like the human voice the flute is. Words such as "on the breath", "legato" and "messa di voce" kept coming into our head.
Less familiar to the ear were Alban Berg's "Vier Stücke, Op.5" and "Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, Op.19" by Schoenberg. The pieces are brief and feel unconsummated. The works are atonal but predate Schoenberg's experimentation with the 12-tone system. They were performed by James Johnston the pianist of The Proteus Ensemble, of which Ms. Grim is also a member.
After a brief pause, Ms. Chinn reappeared in a costume that Rudy Gernreich might have designed in the 60's--a loose tent of white net sprinkled with large polka dots and a large floppy white bow in her hair. She looked absolutely adorable as a female representation of Pierrot and gave a most memorable performance of the 21 poems comprising the 1912 work. The work has an interesting history which was explained by Ms. Chinn.
In 1884 Albert Giraud wrote the cycle of poems which were later translated into German by Otto Erich Hartleben. The music was commissioned by the actress Albertine Zehme who performed it in sprechgesang, maintaining rhythm and pitch, giving the work the feel of cabaret. The original piano score was expanded for an ensemble of 5 instrumentalists. Aside from the aforementioned pianist and Ms. Grim who doubled on piccolo, Yuko Naito played the violin and viola, Brian Snow played the cello, and Alexey Gorokholinsky played clarinet, doubling on bass clarinet to fine effect.
But the success of the work rested largely on the slim shoulders of the petite Ms. Chinn who used her large eyes and expressive face along with her flexible voice to paint pictures that danced before our very eyes. We could not imagine a finer performance. The audience was spellbound.
We can barely wait to see what 5BMF comes up with next.
(c) meche kroop
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