Experiencing ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ in concert for the first time

Photo: 'Pierrot Lunaire' performance by DU studentsI have been a musician all my life and worked in classical music for decades. How is it that I’ve never attended a performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s "Pierrot Lunaire"?

It’s the burning question I asked myself after hearing the “Pierrot” performance Tuesday night in Centennial, presented by student musicians from the University of Denver.

I’ll admit I was a little squishy about going to this performance. Tuesday was really hot. It would have been the perfect time for a dip in the pool instead -- more fun than dressing up and going to a concert.

And then there’s the issue of the music itself. It's an atonal setting of 21 short poems for a small ensemble and a vocalist using a unique speech-singing style. This is not toe-tapping music.

Then I asked myself two questions: “How bad could it be?” and “How good can it be?”

I had really no excuse not to go. It was 10 minutes down the road and wouldn’t cost me a dime.

Any performance of “Pierrot Lunaire” is something of an event. It’s that kind of piece. I knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t go. So I did.

“Pierrot Lunaire” is not for the faint of heart. I worked really hard to follow how the music very specifically illuminated the text, as well as the unusual timbres and instrumentation. I was very tired at the end of the concert. But it was well worth it.

Watching and listening to the students wend their way through such a complex and difficult score astonished me.

And the way Schoenberg's thorny score supported the dark and sometimes grotesque poetry was a very illuminating experience.

How is it that I’ve never ever attended a performance of "Pierrot Lunaire"?

It’s probably because it’s rarely performed. It’s not an audience favorite. The music is challenging. I probably wouldn’t have paid to attend a performance if there was one in my neighborhood.

“How bad could it be?”

It wasn’t.

"How good can it be?”


By the way, Richard von Foerster, the instructor who organized the student performance, told me afterward he gave all his students A’s.