Friday, July 17, 2015


The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble is having a very successful Summer Festival as part of its 40th anniversary.  The first weekend's concerts were sold out.  AMC attended a Wednesday concert that featured Glass' "Metamorphosis For 5," Akiho's "Three Shades Foreshadows:, and Lang's "World to Come."  PNME's performances always have a certain theatricality, thanks to the creativeness of Artistic director, Kevin Noe.  This added touch never is excessive- it supports the music and gives it added drama.  The featured artist for this music was cellist Norbert Lewandowski, who is a member of PNME.  The Glass featured the artist hovering above the stage in an alcove, all of which was covered with a scrim.  A single spotlight focused on Lewandowski.  The piece is written for several cellos, and Lewandowski had pre-recorded all but the part he was playing.  Glass' music was typical of his genre- repeated patterns surrounding the main themes, with repeated chordal progressions.  Lewandowski plays with technical skill, which is very musical at the same time. The performance was beautiful and it enabled AMC to disconnect from thought-filled cognition.  That's a feature of Glass' music that AMC particularly likes.

The Akiho piece utilizes a "prepared cello" that included small clips on the strings and drawing the bow on various parts of the cello's body, among other effects.  It was an intriguing work but seemed a bit anti-climactic after the Glass.

The final work was David Lang's "World to Come."  The piece was originally written for soprano soloist and orchestra.  Here's how Lang describes the work: "A cellist and her voice become separated from each other, and they struggle to reunite in a post-apocalyptic spiritual environment. world to come is a kind of prayer—introspective and highly personal. It is a meditation on hope and hopelessness, asking fundamental questions about the death and life of the soul."  

The version presented here used several cellos.  As is the Glass, all parts were performed by Lewandowski.  There were at several speakers spread across the stage, one for each additional cello. This speaker arrangement supported a broad soundstage, with the live soloist featured in the middle of the speaker array.  The music is absolutely beautiful.  To AMC, it was reflective and somber, but not particularly sad.  It too enabled AMC to dissociate from thinking and move into a sort of reverie.  The 25-minute work seemed to last half that long, it was so engrossing.  Lewandowski had his cello singing as if it was a soprano.  

AMC has reviewed PNME performances for several years.  It has always a satisfying experience, and this was no exception.  The City Theater in Pittsburgh's gritty south side is a perfect venue for this kind of music and it supports Noe's dramatic creativity.  PNME is a top-tier New Music ensemble.


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