Update: Because of a bout of tendinitis, Patricia Kopatchinskaja will play Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto with the Utah Symphony rather than Arnold Schoenberg’s.
Patricia Kopatchinskaja will do some moonlighting in Salt Lake City, in more ways than one.
Two nights before playing the Schoenberg Violin Concerto with the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall, Kopatchinskaja will perform Arnold Schoenberg’s seminal song cycle “Pierrot Lunaire” — usually translated as “Moonstruck Pierrot” or “Pierrot in the Moonlight” — at the nearby SKY SLC nightclub with five Utah Symphony musicians and music director Thierry Fischer.
She won’t be playing the violin in “Pierrot Lunaire,” though.
“I played [‘Pierrot’] several times as a violinist and always longed to do it as a vocalist,” Kopatchinskaja said in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune. She’s getting her chance in Salt Lake City, though she’s already tried out the piece at a private gathering in Switzerland.
The performance is part of the MOTUS After Dark series of late-night club gigs featuring Utah Symphony musicians. Series organizer David Porter, a violinist in the orchestra, promised a “great extravaganza.”
“It will be a full club effect with classical music played by some of the most prominent members of the Utah Symphony,” Porter said. “And there will be lasers. Lots of lasers.”
Fischer and Kopatchinskaja became acquainted when he conducted her 2016 concert tour with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. She mentioned her “Pierrot” ambition to him as they discussed her upcoming concerto appearance in Utah. “Suddenly it made a click in my mind,” the conductor said in a phone interview from his Geneva home. He suggested Porter program the piece on MOTUS After Dark, and Porter immediately agreed.
“She’s a player who makes music we all think we know so well sound new,” Porter said. “It’s a completely fresh experience.”
Kopatchinskaja has been known to perform barefoot — or, if it suits the occasion, dressed as a skeleton. Several publications have dubbed her the “wild child of the violin,” inviting comparisons to ’80s and ’90s bad-boy violinist Nigel Kennedy — only with more artistry, Porter said. “I cannot emphasize enough how musical Patricia is as a performer, how magnetic,” he said. “She is really rooted in the score and music. It’s so different from traditional interpretations, but it’s very thought-out and sophisticated … not just being different to be different.”
“She could be a little surprising if you are expecting a clichéd performance,” Fischer said.
Or, as the violinist herself said, “A grave sin would be to get bored with what you are doing and to bore your public at the same time.”
Just as Kopatchinskaja strips away musical tradition in her performances, Porter said, he hopes the MOTUS After Dark event will shed new light on the music by “taking all the trimmings of the classical music experience away.” Symphony musicians will perform short pieces — Porter prefers to let the specifics be a surprise — before the “Pierrot” performers take the stage, surrounded by video screens on which the words and other video effects are projected. The program will end with Kopatchinskaja playing Ravel’s “Tzigane” on violin, then Gabe Slesinger — a short-term Utah Symphony trumpeter who himself moonlights in an improvisational blues-jazz-rock band called Swantourage — will play an hourlong set of techno music. Porter called it “a full-on club party.”
The score of “Pierrot Lunaire” doesn’t call for singing, exactly, but rather, a stylized hybrid of speaking and singing called sprechstimme. Its text comes from 21 expressionist poems by Albert Giraud in which Pierrot, the archetypal “sad clown” of commedia dell’arte, muses on love, sex, religion, violence, crime and blasphemy before making his way home. In a short essay on the work, Kopatchinskaja described the poems as “absurdly nightmarish, cruel and sometimes almost comedic.”
She said it doesn’t have much in common with the Schoenberg concerto she’ll be playing in Abravanel Hall.
“Schoenberg started in the exuberant romantic tradition of Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler,” she wrote. “ ‘Pierrot’ was perhaps his most significant step towards finding his own musical language. It became a landmark of 20th-century music and an inspiration for many, not yet 12-tone but already very radical.” She noted that the violin concerto, which she’ll be playing for the first time, is “in full 12-tone technique, but like Stravinsky’s violin concerto, it comes a bit back from radical modernism by using neoclassical forms.”
Fischer understands that some concertgoers will approach the Schoenberg concerto with trepidation. “It is beautiful, but of course you have to decide to want to listen instead of, you know, knowing before you’ve heard 10 bars that you’re not going to like it,” he said. “Don’t be too active trying to understand it. … Discover it. Just listen.”
He’s pairing the 20th-century piece with one of the all-time favorites, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 — not just as a ploy to bring listeners into the hall, but because he considers the two composers equally important.
“Beethoven 5 is well-known and also influenced a lot of music after it was first performed,” the conductor said. “I might be in the minority, but I think Schoenberg and some of the masterpieces he wrote are going to have exactly the same known effect in the repertoire in 100 years.” Noting that many critics in Beethoven’s time deemed his music “incomprehensible” and that it took a while to be fully appreciated, Fischer predicted the music of Schoenberg and his pupils “will have its time, and I want to be part of that.”
Playing in a nontraditional setting is nothing new for Kopatchinskaja. “I have performed in a horse carriage, barns, old factories, museums, in the open air, once in a mountain restaurant at 3,000 meters, getting almost no air,” she said.
It might surprise Utah Symphony fans to learn that Fischer, too, has some experience performing in clubs — he sang chansons in cabarets to help pay his tuition. “It was like 30 years ago, 35,” he said. “So, not recently, but I am very familiar with all the cabarets in Switzerland.”
In the club<br>Patricia Kopatchinskaja will headline a MOTUS After Dark event.<br>With • Conductor Thierry Fischer, violinist Madeline Adkins, cellist Matthew Johnson, flutist Mercedes Smith, clarinetist Lee Livengood and pianist Jason Hardink<br>When • Wednesday, Oct. 18; doors at 7:30 p.m., music at 8:30<br>Where • SKY SLC, 149 Pierpont Ave., Salt Lake City<br>Cover charge • $10<br>Information • Facebook or Eventbrite<br><br>In the concert hall<br>Kopatchinskaja will perform the Schoenberg Violin Concerto with the Utah Symphony; Fischer will conduct. The program also includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and selections from Brahms’ “Hungarian Dances.”<br>When • Friday and Saturday, Oct. 20-21, 7:30 p.m.<br>Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City<br>Tickets • $15-$88; utahsymphony.org