The final performance of a festival for 20th century and contemporary piano repertoire being an ensemble work might seem a bit unusual; then again there is nothing traditional about the Occupy the Pianos festival. Taking place at St John’s Smith Square, this festival, curated by pianist and composer Rolf Hind, was an in-depth exploration of everything the piano is capable of. This included investigating its relationship with other performers as well as itself, so it was perhaps fitting to end on Sunday with a performance of Schoenberg’s seminal melodrama.

 Firstly, though, was a performance of Hind’s Die Unenthüllte, for violin and piano. Performed by the composer and David Alberman, who gave the première of the work in 2002, this was an exploration of performance space, with Hind contrasting the static nature of the piano with a violinist who moves around the auditorium. And yet Hind got the most out of his fixed instrument too; the piece crashed into life with smacking piano lids creating atmospheric harmonics, followed by all manner of percussive sounds from Hind’s prepared piano. Alberman created an ethereal offstage echo, singing in the distance to counteract Hind’s violent machinations, before gaining in strength and entering the arena to share the stage in a disjointed, combative duet. Both performers added extra dimensions, with Hind whistling over the piano, while Alberman hummed to himself as he exited the stage, appearing to have had enough of this battle. As he wandered off, he and Hind occasionally landed on the same note, as if by accident, to show that however far apart things seem, the potential for connection is always there.

Hind and Alberman were then joined by Loré Lixenberg, Zoë Martlew, Nancy Ruffer and Stuart King for the festival finale; a masterful performance of Pierrot Lunaire. From its glittery opening to its sultry nostalgic end, the ensemble made the vast technical challenges look and sound like an impromptu Sunday evening cabaret night. So captivating was the performance that you could feel people wince as they tried to turn over their translations without disrupting the atmosphere. There were moments to savour; a fantastically eerie and disturbing Eine Blasse Wäscherin, a Madonna that lept from sorrow to incandescent rage, Galgenlied dancing to the gallows and a Parodie full of musical knitting needles. Connections to the past also flashed by, with Die Kreuze and Heimfahrt evoking memories of Mahler and Strauss. Overall, however, this performance triumphed on the strength of the ensemble, which judged the balance of each poem perfectly. Lixenberg’s clear diction meant that every word could be heard, and she, along with the rest of the group, clearly enjoyed exploring all the different facets of their instruments while maintaining a sense of Pierrot’s journey. Just one minor quibble; it would have been nice to have had Lixenberg at the front of the group. With Alberman and Martlew on one side and Ruffer and King on the other in the semi-circle, it meant that she had to direct almost all of her dramatic energy to her facial expressions. Fortunately, she was very vivid, and so the complaint is very minor, more a hint that this adroit group could take this work even further.