Happy Birthday, Pierrot!

Soprano Lucy Shelton, an incomparable Sprecherin in Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, has been in touch with the following suggestions on how to mark the 100th anniversary of this landmark work:

Yes indeed, this Tuesday
is the night to celebrate all things PIERROT!!!!!!! 
Here is my recommendation of activities and thoughts for the whole day…
[repeat as many times as you like]I
1) commune with the moon, (though not a full one tonight) drink wine, giving the moon your toast
2) buy a bouquet of white roses and pull off the petals, strewing them delicately around you
3) wear special Pierrot make-up
4) do your laundry
5) waltz down the street, alone, or with a stranger
6) climb up on a table or piano bench and slide from highest note to lowest (=bass clarinet envy)
7) gaze at the moon for 4’33” of silence
8) make big shadows on the walls by waving your arms
9) laugh so hard that you cry
10) wear something ruby-colored
11) hold a tomato in your hand and squeeze it slowly over a bowl (wear an apron, and wash your hands first so you can eat the mess)
12) gossip as fast as you can for 30 seconds
13) back to the moon, of course.  Use binoculars to see its shape.
14) recite a favorite poem, then give your toast to the poet.
15) all about sighs – voiceless and voiced, all kinds of emotions, but mostly nostalgia.
16) light several candles (in lieu of smoking a pipe)
17) talk “in canon” with a friend (with or without warning)
18) wear something black
19) stand on one leg and say “pizzicato”  (do this more than once)
20) float a boat in the bathtub
21) breathe in the centennial air and salute the moon 21 times
(sorry, Lucy, couldn’t figure out how to get WordPress to print all your colorful fonts…)
Lucy in action:

Expectation in New York

Schoenberg’s Erwartung (Expectation) was the closing work on the New York Philharmonic concert I attended back on the 9th. Like a good deal of Schoenberg, it is music I more respect than love.* Quite unlike Wozzeck, to cite another expressionist opera,  I have no emotional connection with Erwartung.** The piece lacks a compelling shape, something Wozzeck certainly has. (I am not referring to the formal schemes Berg employed – suite, symphony, etc. but to the dramatic contour.) The individual gestures in the Schoenberg are striking – some rather more than others. Unsurprisingly, the moments where the ear can latch onto some sort of repeated pattern are the most telling – for example, the brief bustling spot where the harmony is built up and then quickly dismantled in steady sixteenth note rhythm. The fertility of invention is astounding, but ultimately tiresome. Deborah Voigt’s performance was powerful, with plenty of variety in tone and character. It was a good example of a strong performance selling a difficult piece, as the audience called her back repeatedly. I thought David Robertson was superb here and all through the evening. I have commented elsewhere about sitting at a performance of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth and thinking, “Well, it ain’t Berg”. I’m sorry to say I was thinking the same thing at Erwartung.

The program started with Shostakovich’s first symphony. I had forgotten the piece, but the bits that show up in the orchestration textbooks – the timpani and piano solos, for example – brought it back to me. Even with a piece that early in Shostakovich’s career, the listener is left wondering just how sincere and how ironic the music is supposed to be. After intermission, there were announcements and speeches honoring retiring members of the Philharmonic. Surely there was no playful intent, but it was a little funny to then perform Rachmaninoff’s The Isle of the Dead immediately after a ceremony for retirees!

*Kyle Gann has written about how few pieces by Schoenberg people actually like. I think my list might be longer than his, but it includes the 2nd and 4th quartets, Transfigured Night, Gurrelieder, the first Chamber Symphony, Pierrot, the piano suite, the Serenade, Book of the Hanging Gardens, the String Trio, Ode to Napoleon, Moses and Aron, perhaps a few others I am forgetting. The “respect” list includes a number of other pieces; and then there are the ones I actively dislike. Everyone  I have ever talked to about it (OK, so not that many people) hates the Wind Quintet.

**I also feel little emotional connection with Lulu, but that is a different situation because the music is so gorgeous.

Sunday Afternoon Miscellany

– go here for video on The Crossing, Donald Nally’s splendid new music choir here in Philly. They began their Month of Moderns today.

– first you say, ‘huh?” – but then you say, “of course.” You are reacting to news of The Cleveland Orchestras programs of Bruckner and John Adams at Lincoln Center next month.

– I will be heading up to NYC this week to hear Erwartung with Deborah Voigt and the NY Phil. Rachmaninoff Isle of the Dead and Shostakovich 1st also on the show. The Rachmaninoff and Schoenberg kind of go together; how will the Shostakovich fit?