The final concert in the Pierrot Project--an ambitious undertaking of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at USC--was daunting to take in, but never less than fascinating. Thursday’s program included world premieres by six living composers and Schoenberg’s “Pierrot lunaire,” all expertly played by SONOR, the resident new-music group of UC San Diego.
The main purpose of the Project was to commission settings of the 29 Albert Giraud “Pierrot” poems that remained unused by Schoenberg in his masterpiece.
The first half was devoted to the premieres. Most impressive was Stephen Mosko’s setting of “Schweres Loos” (Harsh Fate), with its comically grotesque depiction--squeaky violin, airy piccolo, oafish bass clarinet--of the gluttons with empty plates in the poem. Leonard Rosenman gave an urgent underpinning to “Die Estrade” by using a busy, rustling accompaniment in capturing the movement of silk in the wind.
Roger Reynolds framed Schoenberg’s “Nacht” with settings of “Abend” and “Morgen,” atmospherically rendering those different times of day; Susan Blaustein contributed vivid, angular settings of “Kopfe! Kopfe!” and “Harlequin"; and William Kraft added a brief, impressionistic setting of “Harlequinade.” And Leonard Stein, the Institute’s director and conceiver of the Project, offered an appropriately Schoenbergian “Moquerie.”
“Pierrot lunaire” itself concluded the program. Soprano Carol Plantamura ventured the Sprechstimme with controlled expression and graceful phrasing while the ensemble, here led by Keith Humble, lent tellingly colored and technically able support.