March 30, 2011

John Heiss Leads NEC Contemporary Ensemble in Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, April 12

Heiss Calls the Work “Lyrical, Gorgeous, Beckoning, Astounding”

Concert Also Includes Works of Oppenheimer, Peyton, Ives

Composer-conductor-flutist John Heiss is preparing a sextet of NEC students in a performance of Schoenberg’s epochal masterpiece, Pierrot Lunaire that will highlight an NEC Contemporary Ensemble concert, April 12 at 8 p.m. in NEC’s Jordan Hall.   Also on the program are Albert Oppenheimer’s Attention Deficit, Malcolm Peyton’s Suite for Solo Viola (with violist Emily Deans), and the Ives Fifth Violin Sonata “New England Holidays” in a realization from Ives’ sketches by John Kirkpatrick.

Returning to a work he first performed as a flutist early in his career and has conducted on numerous occasions, Heiss will revisit the Schoenberg at the request of the student group that formed especially for this occasion.  Cellist Emileigh Vandiver ’10, ’12 M.M. (in photo right), the third of three sisters who have studied at NEC, was the animating spirit behind the performance.  Her older sister and fellow cellist Courtenay (now a member of A Far Cry) had participated in an earlier Heiss performance and Emileigh wanted to recreate that same transformative experience. She and Heiss handpicked the other players including: soprano Laura McLean who will perform the Sprechstimme, violinist Tessa Lark, pianist Bretton Brown, flutist Stephen Kim, and clarinetist John Diodati.  The group has been rehearsing with Heiss for twice or three times a week for two to three hours since January.  They will perform the work unconducted. 

Heiss, whose pitch-perfect hearing is so acute that Stravinsky once dubbed him “the pitch doctor,” has been working, among other things, on “tuning the chords and intervals,” which, he says results in a piece that is “lyrical, gorgeous, beckoning, and astounding.” 

Written in 1912 and still controversial, Pierrot (“Moonstruck Pierrot”) is a setting of expressionist French poems by Albert Giraud translated into German by Otto Erich Hartleben. A numerologist’s dream-come-true, it presents three groups of seven or 21 poems, which Schoenberg catalogued as his Op. 21 and which he began composing on March 12, 1912.  The composer made use of seven-note motifs throughout and set the work for seven people (including the conductor). The poems, with their vivid evocation of moonlit white and bloody red, are grouped by themes—love, sex, and religion; violence, crime and blasphemy; and homesickness and the return home. Collectively, they “express all that dwells within us,” said Heiss.  “Playing this piece gives back 10-fold what you put into it. People performing it become different for the rest of their lives.”

Composed before Schoenberg had devised the 12-tone system, Pierrot is what Heiss calls a “pan-tonal work.  It’s still much misunderstood,” he said.  “It’s harmonic in the sense that any notes that sound well together can be played as a chord.  Some notes sound good together; others don’t.”  But despite its reputation, the piece is “not inscrutable, difficult, thorny, or angry.  Once you tune the intervals, it is beguiling, wondrously lyrical, unutterably gorgeous.  Yes, there are challenges, but once you get past the mountains, there are thousands of beautiful gardens.”

The concert is free and open to the public.

For further information, check the NEC Website or call the NEC Concert Line at 617-585-1122.  NEC’s Jordan Hall, Brown Hall, Williams Hall and the Keller Room are located at 30 Gainsborough St., corner of Huntington Ave. Pierce Hall is located at 241 St. Botolph St. between Gainsborough and Mass Ave.


Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 720 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world.  Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars.  Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide.  Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions.  On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, Contemporary Improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Collaboration Programs, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors.  Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music and jazz.

NEC presents more than 600 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, 106-year old, beautifully restored concert hall.  These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz and opera scenes.  Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.

Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Public Relations Manager
New England Conservatory
290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115