Nonsemble 6 - April in Santa Cruz Festival of Contemporary Music

Friday, April 19, 2013 - 7:30pm
Music Center Recital Hall (UCSC)

A bold new interpretation of Schoenberg's revolutionary 1912 work Pierrot Lunaire, and new dramatic works by Santa Cruz composers Tobin Chodos and Alexis Olsen, from San Francisco's distinctive multidisciplinary ensemble.


free admission

Doors open at 7:00 pm

parking $4




Amy Foote, soprano

Justin Lee, flute

Anna-Christina Phillips, clarinet and bass clarinet

Kevin Rogers, violin

Anne Suda, cello

Ian Scarfe, piano



Nonsemble 6 is an innovative San Francisco-based sextet known for interpreting contemporary and 20th-century music with an uncommon attention to theatrical craft. Singer Amy Foote, flutist Justin Lee, multi-clarinetist Anna-Christina Phillips, violinist Kevin Rogers, pianist Ian Scarfe, and cellist Anne Suda have performed in numerous Bay Area venues over the last few years, including on the Noe Valley Chamber Music series, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, at the Switchboard Music Festival, and the California Academy of Sciences (with composer Mason Bates) in addition to performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC; at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon; as artists-in-residence at the Astoria (Oregon) Music Festival; at An die Musik in Baltimore; and on tour to perform and lecture at Western Illinois University and Monmouth, Augustana and Knox Colleges.

In the first half of the 2012-2013 season, N6 focused on returning to their roots in Schoenberg’s expressionist cabaret work Pierrot lunaire. N6 was originally formed to learn this work, and became well-known for their early multimedia performances of Pierrot which included commissioned artwork by Los Angeles artist Mara Elana and projected subtitles. In October 2012, on the centenary of Pierrot’s debut, N6 collaborated with Brian Staufenbiel (of UC Santa Cruz and Ensemble Parallel) to stage a completely memorized performance incorporating costuming, makeup, stage movement, and video projections on the San Francisco Conservatory’s Alumni series. N6 will repeat this performance at Salle Pianos, a gallery-style venue in San Francisco, UC Santa Cruz, and Stanford University in April 2013.

In the 2011-2012 season, N6 made their debut at the Noe Valley Chamber Music Series, and collaborated frequently with the math-punk ensemble Grains and the drums-guitar duo The Living Earth Show in scored and improvisational music, including a performance on the fifth-anniversary Switchboard Music Festival. Nonsemble 6 is a fiscally sponsored affiliate of the San Francisco
Friends of Chamber Music, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the service of chamber music in California.


About the works

Tobin Chodos' three-part work Contrasti is inspired by the commedia dell’arte tradition of semi-improvised comic theater. Commedia dell’arte actors employ a fixed number of character archetypes and improvise around familiar plot formulae.  Creativity in this tradition thus takes place within clearly defined templates.  Rather than attempting to depict these templates in music, Contrasti mimics the stark contrasts that this theatrical tradition produces as a strategy to generate and organize musical materials.


Alexis Olsen's Claro II is in two movements. The pitch content is largely derived from superimposed octatonic sets, with little deviation. The first movement provides numerous textural settings for a few basic and recurring motives, with an ever-ascending bass motion that is constantly interrupted. It culminates in a rapidly pulsing minimalist gesture that eventually bleeds into a triadic cycle that harmonizes the original motive of the piece. The second movement is more economical in means, primarily employing a single octatonic set in all the instruments, each one ascending though the set at a varying metric rate, emulating a simple mensuration canon.

 Claro II is Olsen's second attempt at working with these materials; it was originally performed by a piano quintet on 11/5/11. Olsen writes "The title derives from a conversation I had one summer evening with a fellow in Montpellier, France. Each time I said something obvious or clearly apparent, he replied with an animated and gestured, Claro! I find in the piece multiple moments when rhythmically divergent lines combine to articulate a unified thought, so I thought Claro and apt title."


Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21, is a set of twenty-one of Giraud's poems, arranged into three parts, each of seven poems. Schoenberg chose to have five instrumentalists accompany a singer (asking three of them to double on other instruments): piano, cello, violin/viola, clarinet/bass-clarinet, and flute/piccolo. These instruments are used in an ever-changing combination of solos, duos, trios, quartets, and quintets, lending the music an astonishing amount of sonic diversity. Listeners have often found challenge in Schoenberg's treatment of the vocal part, which is delivered in a half-sung, half-spoken technique, notated in maniacal detail. This "Sprechstimme" technique recalls the wildly melodramatic style of poetry recitations in cabaret theater.


The first part, beginning with the poem "Moon-drunk," is Pierrot's celebration of the mind-altering power of moonlight. The clown Pierrot switches constantly between experiencing and narrating his own life, and as he moves from scene to scene, the tone descends into darker and more horrifying places. The second part, beginning with the poem "Night", finds Pierrot lost deep in frightening hallucinations, some of which he seems to take part in with disturbing pleasure. The climax of these nightmares is poem 13, "The Beheading," in which Pierrot imagines his own beheading. His enemy in this poem is his old friend the Moon, who he sees now in its sickle-shape, glinting like the sword of the executioner. The third part opens with the poem "Homesick," and it begins the process of reassembling Pierrot's shattered mind, in a metaphorical journey home. The closing poem "O Ancient Scent" is a touching return for Pierrot, delivered (after a very rough night) from his "sun-filled window."


Pierrot Lunaire is one of Schoenberg’s most elaborate innovations in the organization of musical materials, across domains of pitch, timbre, formal hierarchy, and dramatic narrative; it might be the most crystalline expression of Schoenberg’s whole impact on our musical world.