Wednesday, July 26, 2017

PNME- Theater of Music...

The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble (PNME) summer season is a wonderful mashup of new music combined with theatrical flourishes.  PNME programs pieces usually played without break.  The concerts are held at Pittsburgh's City Theater near the gritty (and getting grittier all the time) Carson Street corridor.  The auditorium is in black box style, with 254-seats.  Noe takes full advantage of the theater's lighting to add to the character of the music and PNME uses a fine sound system that is used to amplify the sound of the ensemble and to perform electronic compositions or accompaniment.  

AMC attended a July 19 program titled "Got Reeds."  The soloist featured was Eric Jacobs, the Clarinet and Bass Clarinet of the Seattle Symphony, who is also a member of PNME.  The program began with a world premiere of a work by Gabriella Smith.  It featured Jacobs playing in an alcove that is about 10 to 15 feet above the stage.  This was followed by Anna Clyne's "Rapture," a clarinet solo accompanied by a pre-recorded electronic soundtrack of deep growls, swells and percussive effects.  Next was the premiere of Andrew Tholl's "takes all of the breath out of me." In this piece not only did Jacobs play his clarinets, he also sang the work's wonderfully sensual lyrics.  He has a mighty fine voice that demonstrated his interest and training as a singer.  There was also an electronic soundtrack that added to the drama.  This is a heartfelt work played with great passion by Jacobs.  The final work was David Lang's 1991 "Press Release" for bass clarinet.  It’s a work where the soloist plays both main themes and accent notes, almost as if the soloist is accompanying himself. Jacobs is a wonderful musician and he demonstrated both his musical and technical skills in this challenging program.  

On July 21, the PNME concert was title "Eyes and Ears."  It featured works by three composers (David Biedenbender, Jung Yoon Wie, and Rufus Reid) who, in conjunction with the American Composer's Forum, have been commissioned to develop pieces for PNME for the 2018 season.  All works featured spotlighted art works by artists Scott Hunter (www.scothunterfineart.com; see especially the non-representational tab) and Val M. Cox (www.valmcox.com).  Cox had previously been commissioned to create a work in memory of David Stock, the founder of PNME. The program began with Biedenbender's "Red Vesper;" a trippy homage to the setting sun in National Parks of the Western US.  Rufus Reid's jazzy "Pangea" was next, featuring Reid himself on the bass. Next was Wie's "Jindo Blues,"- a sort of jazzy piano nocturne. Biedenbender's "Cold Hard Steel," another eminently likeable piece with outstanding surround sound effects, followed. The next piece was the world premiere of "Almanac" from composer Thomas Osborne, written for PNME Bass-Baritone Timothy Jones.  The work has the soloist singing somewhat anachronistic lyrics above a contemporary musical accompaniment.  The final work was David Garner's "Glasz" for Flute, Violin Piano, and Percussion.  It is a wispy yet energetic piece that's easy to like. Then  It is a startlingly good piece of music.    

PNME and its Music Director Keven Noe never fail to present a compelling evening of music and theater.  Everything is enhanced by the lighting design of Andrew David Ostrowski and the sound design of Christopher McClumphy.  The City Theater setting also enhances the program; it is comfortable, just the right size, and flexible.  Apparently Pittsburgh appreciates PNME, given the size of the audience.  The house was nearly full. Often with new music groups there is a self-conscious need to be hip- a cool (but uncomfortable venue), really "out there" music, and taking start times as mere suggestions rather than commitments.   Much like all of Pittsburgh, PNME is hip and cool, but it is done effortlessly, almost invisibly.  It doesn't need to be world class, it just is. 

 Pittsburgh City Theater exterior
The PNME stage setting

The Musicians

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Festival Opera..

There is a silly squabble going on in Pittsburgh about the new name of the former Opera Theater of Pittsburgh.  It is now the Pittsburgh Festival Opera!  Some think it might be confused with one of the other opera companies in the city, but as Artistic Director, Jonathan Easton says " We are based in Pittsburgh.  We perform in a Festival.  And we do Opera!"  Well, that makes sense.

 Ms. Frauenthal
 Ms. McGill
 Mr. Nemzer
Mr. Moody

On July 16, 2017, the Pittsburgh Festival Opera staged a performance of Handel's 1738 "Xerxes."  This is a somewhat strange work; it begins with the King of Persia singing to a tree, ("Ombra mai fu") and it glides between being serious and comedic. In fact, the work was largely ignored after it was premiered until a revival in 1924. Overall the story and situations tend more toward the comedic, and yet it does have one of those not-so-subtle tales of the power of love.  Today, the title role is often sung by a soprano or mezzo-soprano.  In this performance Xerxes was sung by countertenor Andrey Nemzer and his brother's role was sung by another countertenor, Daniel Moody.  This was a very nice casting by the PFO and it added a bit to the comedic value of the opera. Sitting behind the stage set, the Chatham Baroque provided the orchestral accompaniment on what sounded like period instruments, all under the direction of conductor Walter Morales. The set (designed by Hank Bullington) was spare, but took advantage of projected images to enhance its look and flexibility. The costume (designed by Tony Sirk) were quite well-done.  There were two dancers, Weylin Gomez and Mils James.

Nemzer was outstanding; he commands the stage and his voice is incredibly strong.  Moody also has a fine, if less domineering, voice.  Evan Koons, James Eder and Bonnie Frauenthal were very fine singers with great comedic timing, and they did not need to resorting to slapstick to be funny.  Emily Harmon, playing Xerxes' fiancee, seemed less comfortable with the Baroque flourishes and breath control required by the music.  The dancers were a nice addition, but they were frequently not together.  Mr. Gomez, though, has wonderful extensions and he seemed truer to the music's beat.

Overall this was a great performance and a real tour de force for Nemzer.  The Pittsburgh Festival Opera is a summer delight.  They are tackling the Ring Cycle over the next few years.  Kudos to the company!

(photos:  Patti Brahim)



Monday, July 24, 2017

Sometimes it all comes together....

It can be hot and humid this time of the year in southwestern Pennsylvania, and the pop-up rain showers do not calm it down. But on July 20, 2017, 1974 Unity Chapel, in Latrobe, PA hosted a beautiful respite from the heat- a cool chamber concert, sponsored by the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra, in the stunning foothills of the Laurel Highlands.  The artists were the Duo Cieli (John Marcinizyn, guitar; and Tara Yaney flute) and the Ferla-Marcinizyn Guitar Duo.  The program was quite varied, ranging from the New Age-y "Evening Dance" by Andrew York to the jazz-inspired compositions of Pat Metheny, Django Reinhardt, and Robert Lamm.   The three Piazzolla pieces (Bordello, Cafe and Nightclub) and were written over a 60-year period, and as played by Duo Cieli, were less overtly tango sounding than some of the composer's other works.  There was a particularly strong performance of an arrangement for guitar of Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4," which the Guitar Duo managed to transform a 1960's pop song to a sophisticated and fresh work. The Irish folk-tune, "Si Beheag, Si Mhor" was spellbinding in this flute and guitar version.  The most successful work of the evening was the gorgeous "Sonata in G" by Ferdinando Carulli,  a 1770's  Italian composer who authored an early guide for guitarists.  It was stunning in the warm acoustics of this chapel.  The balance between the flute and the two amplified guitars was nearly perfect.

The three musicians who played as a group, and in varied pairings were masterful.  Ms. Yaney produced a warm, never indulgent tone. Marcinizyn and Ferla are first-rate guitar players.  They were accurate and controlled; they avoided making that sliding sound or finger squeaks that foul many a guitar performance by lesser artists. Overall this was a wonderful concert in an equally wonderful space, attended by about 200 people.  That nice turn-out is a tribute to the Westmoreland Symphony's outreach as well as for the support the community shows for Western Art Music.