One of the most influential works of modern music celebrated its centenary this season. Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” an unforgettable atonal song cycle that premiered in October 1912, shattered conventions about how composers treat the human voice. The 21st Century Consort marked the occasion with a performance of the work Saturday at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, for a regrettably small audience.
Soprano Lucy Shelton, who made an excellent recording of the work 20 years ago, gave an authoritative, engaging, even fun rendition of the vocal part, entirely from memory and aided by a microphone. In Schoenberg’s signature Sprechstimme, a rhythmically notated form of recitation, Shelton purred, pattered, hissed, hooted, screamed and growled her way through 21 symbolist poems by Albert Giraud with polished German diction, in a translation by Otto Erich Hartleben. While Shelton mostly sat on a stool, the poetry’s bizarre imagery was acted out by mime Mark Jaster, in Pierrot’s white costume and using a treasure box of props, an arrangement that added little to the performance besides whimsy.