A few century-old compositions retain their power to shock. Arnold Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire" is one of them.
"The awesome, revolutionary qualities of the piece have not really been dulled by the past 100 years. It has the ability to move and disturb audiences like no other," said Jason Hardink, artistic director of the NOVA Chamber Music Series, which will present "Pierrot" on Sunday, Jan. 20, along with contemporary composer Jason Eckardt's song cycle "The Distance (This)." Soprano Tony Arnold, whom Hardink called "a megastar in the new-music world," is the soloist in both cycles.
"Pierrot Lunaire" is Schoenberg's setting of 21 expressionist poems by the Belgian poet Albert Giraud, with subject matter including the crucifixion of the sad clown Pierrot. A vocalist presents the poetry in an unusual style called Sprechstimme, a cross between speaking and singing. So influential was the work that its instrumentation piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano, with or without a vocalist became a popular combination known as the Pierrot ensemble.
Performances of "Pierrot Lunaire" often include elements of staging, such as an actor or dancer portraying Pierrot. Hardink opted to keep NOVA's presentation simple. "If you give the audience too much to look at and listen to, it can be hard to stay focused on what's being communicated," he said. He also didn't want to disrupt the balance between "Pierrot Lunaire" and the other work on the program, Jason Eckardt's 2008 song cycle "The Distance (This)," which he said doesn't lend itself to staging.
Eckardt's piece, a setting of six poems by American writer Laura Mullen, is "the kind of music we don't play in Utah often," said Hardink, who will play the piano in both cycles. "The amazing thing about Jay's piece is that he wrote in moods or styles that are polar opposites of each other," he said. "There are long passages of stillness and wild, ferocious passages that really come at you hard."
As he did with the music of Bruce Quaglia earlier this season, Hardink offers the Eckardt cycle as an introduction to the composer's music, so concertgoers will have some familiarity with his style when NOVA gives the world premiere of a major work by him next March.
Hardink said he's grateful for the hard work of his fellow musicians, most of them his Utah Symphony colleagues, on the challenging program. Brant Bayless, in particular, will be playing "some of the craziest stuff I've seen written for viola."
Catherine Reese Newton
The NOVA Chamber Music Series presents Arnold Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire" and Jason Eckardt's "The Distance (This)." Soprano Tony Arnold is the soloist in both song cycles.
When • Sunday, Jan. 20, 3 p.m.
Where • Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $18; free for U. of U. students