Review: Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble starts season on enthralling note
Despite a weak start, the first concert of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble's summer season ended up being an acoustically enthralling experience on July 12 at City Theatre on the South Side.
Two patterns were at play in shaping the program. Artistic director Kevin Noe, who did not conduct, said he wanted a dusk-to-dawn progression. In addition, the program began with two percussionists, who were joined by two pianists for the centerpiece before playing the finale without the percussionist.
Sean Connors and Ian David Rosenbaum opened the concert by playing David Lang's “Table of Contents” set up the way the composer intended — with the percussion instruments on a table, rather than suspended as they often are. The table was placed not onstage but amid the audience — in the center of the fourth row of seats.
Nevertheless, the performance left much to be desired, such as a quicker tempo and dependable ensemble between the two players that is essential for the music's coherence.
Most of the instruments are unpitched, such as small shakers, small tambourine and wood blocks. “Table of Contents” uses only four pitched notes — too few to avoid monotony. And, given the performance, it's no surprise the shortest piece on the program also felt too long.
“Music for a Summer Evening” by George Crumb, which followed, is a large-scale work lasting about 40 minutes. It featured Daniel Spiegel and Conor Hanick, playing amplified pianos, and the two percussionists, who also were amplified.
The composer called the piece a “cosmic drama,” at the center of which is “The Advent (including Hymn for the Nativity of the Star-Child).” The music has sweeping and emotional power which was well projected.
The performance benefitted from a beautifully adjusted sound system. Percussion instruments, which include pianos, all produce sound that fades, but the amplification helped keep the sound alive for a long time — which contributed to the moods of the music.
All four performers reveled in Crumb's sound world. The second movement, “Wanderer Fantasy,” begins with the two percussionists playing slide whistles into the bodies of the pianos. One piano is mainly played normally, with the keys. The strings of the other are plucked by the pianist, and when the keys are used, one hand is inside the piano to dampen the notes.
John Adams' “Hallelujah Junction” brought the concert to a rousing climax. The title is the name of a truck stop in eastern California near the Nevada border. The word “junction” applies to the interlocking style of the two piano parts. The four syllables of Hallelujah provide rhythmic elements.
Spiegel and Hanick gave a mesmerizing performance that made the most of the driving rhetorical grandeur of Adams' final pages, which are dominated by the rhythm hal-le-luh-jah.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Classical music enthusiasts have a variety of choices
- Classical music crisis: Author says schools today aren’t building audiences
- Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra takes different trips with Mason Bates, Valentina Lisitsa
- First, fave and fantasy: Pittsburghers reflect on concerts that made — and would make — them happy
- Top-level jazz shows include Monheit, Branford Marsalis
- Corea’s trio turns a year of touring into a CD ‘Trilogy’
- Mutter’s lustrous performance highlight of PSO gala concert