Through its 24th season, the Amici Ensemble has stretched the limits of music; pairing its inspiration with food and fashion. In their 2011/2012 season finale performance, they incorporated artist Lavinia I. Voicu into the concert, having her paint live to the music. Much like her paintings, which were on display in the lobby, the musical programme was abstract and diverse.

Lavinia I. Voicu's painting, completed live during the concert
Lavinia I. Voicu's painting, completed live during the concert

Violinist Benjamin Bowman and Amici cellist David Hetherington opened the set with Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff's Duo for Violin and Cello. This piece was strongly influenced by Czech folk music, along with the sounds and styles of Debussy, Janáček, and other composers Schulhoff met in Vienna. There are many moments of strong dissonance; however, they are complimented by extravagant dance-like motifs. Schulhoff often makes particular use of the extreme high register in this work, and the musicians performed this material sensitively, the high notes singing out, even at a subtle pianissimo. The second movement, with its pizzicato, created the illusion of a race between the two players, reminding me of traditional Chinese music with short, oriental melodies. The duo's ability to take this work's constantly repeated melodies and present them differently each time was remarkable.

The remainder of the first half featured two works influenced by the commedia dell'arte. Cellist David Hetherington and pianist Serouj Kradjian took to the stage to perform Debussy's Sonata for Cello and Piano, original titled Pierrot fait fou avec la lune, after the traditional character. The sonata was the most melodic and tonal work on the program, embracing the comedic style through romantic serenades, energetic plucked melodies and exciting, contrasting motifs.

The second commedia dell'arte-influenced work, Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, originated as a series of poems by Belgian writer Albert Giraud.  Schoenberg was commissioned to compose a cycle for voice and piano based on the settings of these poems by the actress Albertine Zehme for her to sing – but he expanded the accompaniment to a chamber ensemble. The work was one of the first to feature Sprechstimme, a strange cross between speaking and singing devised by Schoenberg. Vocalist Jean Stilwell, dressed in a clown costume, gave a dramatic performance of some extracts from this work. This melodrama features strong dissonance throughout, though the music's atonal harmony frequently seems to suit the intense dialogue of the poems. The ensemble embraced Stilwell's liberal approach, by remaining constantly attentive to the tempo and dynamics of her speech. The impressive musicianship, alongside the dramatic spoken text kept the audience clinging to each stanza, enthusiastically awaiting what came next.

The most anticipated piece in the programme, Leoš Janáček's Capriccio (Defiance) welcomed artist Lavinia I. Voicu to the stage.  Janáček's unique piece was composed for left-hand piano, flute, and brass ensemble. The left-hand piano part was composed for pianist Otakar Hollmann, who lost the use of his right hand in World War I.  At first, Janáček refused the task of composing for left hand, saying: "But, my dear boy, why do you want to play with one hand? It's hard to dance when you have only one leg." But the resulting piece saw a strong collaborative work where the ensemble was expertly used to enhance the sound, all while distinctly drawing out the left-hand piano's melody lines. Kradjian conquered the technical difficulties of playing with one hand with ease. The rich textures of his playing created the illusion of both hands racing up and down the keys. The brass accompaniment sounded full, with a strong trombone bass line underlying frequent piano runs, and the euphonium flourished in its crisp solo passages. Kradjian's concluding arpeggio motif created a dreamy atmosphere, and the eventual major-key ending was extremely memorable.

Voicu’s painting focused on the dissonant motifs drawn from Janáček's piece.  The dreamy, melodic motifs of the first movement saw her paintbrush create twisting S-like shapes in maroon. She embraced the beautiful rising and falling piano motifs of the second movement with bright, vibrant colors. During fierce ensemble passages, she painted with fast, heavy brushstrokes, adding layers to the outline of her painting.  Overall, her painting was more abstract than the music, but it was a remarkable experience to witness for the patrons of Glenn Gould Studio.