Good weekend for contemporary music lovers in Balitmore

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It's not all "Messiah" and "Nutcracker" around here these days. I spotted a few events featuring contemporary music that will provide considerable contrast to the preponderance of holiday fare.

The Baltimore-based Lunar Ensemble, a group founded in 2010 with strong Peabody Conservatory roots, will present a two-part "Pierrot Centenary Project" this weekend.


One of the biggest anniversaries observed this year was the centennial of Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire," a wild and brilliant work that had its first performance in Berlin on Oct. 16, 1912.

That doesn't mean the world was suddenly filled with commemorative performances of the piece -- today's music lovers aren't necessarily any more open to Schoenberg than his contemporaries were.


"Pierrot Lunaire" is a setting of 21 songs that are ...

delivered in "sprechgesang" -- "speech song" -- rather than in conventional melodic fashion. That vocal part remains a formidable challenge; the instrumental writing for an ensemble of woodwinds, strings and piano is no picnic, either. But it all adds up to an fascinating experience, a sort of futuristic cabaret for a future that has never arrived.

The Lunar Ensemble will perform "Pierrot Lunaire" at 7:30 p.m. Friday night at Shriver Hall, conducted by Gemma New. The program also includes recent works that explore the same literary source material -- poems by Albert Giraud -- that inspired Schoenberg and that make use the same instrumentation.

A concert at 3:30 Saturday afternoon, also at Shriver, will continue the theme with another set a new works drawing on the Giraud poetry.

Composers represented in these concerts include Joshua Bornfield, Douglas Buchanan, Faye Chiao, Evan Combs, Sean Doyle, Natalie Draper, Lonnie Hevia and Joshua Pangilinan.

Sunday brings an all-Messiaen recital by pianist Matthew Odell, who did undergrad studies at Peabody now teaches at the Bard College Conservatory of Music and Juilliard.

Odell, a specialist in Messiaen's prismatic, complex, often deeply spiritual music, will focus on some of the lesser known repertoire, including the Préludes, the great composer's first published piano work.

Odel will also play the "Quatre études de rythme" and Messiaen's transcription of his orchestral work "Les offrandes oubliées," among other pieces.

The recital is at 2 p.m. Sunday at An die Musik.


PHOTO OF GEMMA NEW: Britt Olsen Ecker Photography