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Review: PNME connects with world premiere of 'Falling'

| Saturday, July 20, 2013, 11:08 a.m.

The world premiere of Matthew Rosenblum's “Falling” came as the culmination of a Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble concert at which the edges between pieces were blurred in various ways. The July 19 performance at City Theatre on the South Side thus was designed to give the feeling that everything was related.

The concert began with Pierre Jalbert's 1998 Piano Trio, with Timothy Andres' “Crashing Through Fences” performed between the trio's two movements. Jalbert's opening movement provided a strong entrance, featuring agitation, off-kilter music over march rhythms, and bittersweet, mournful lyricism.

Andres' piece was a complete contrast. Scored clean and high for piccolo and glockenspiel, it is filled with hypnotic lyricism that's interrupted by some loud kick drum exchanges between flutist Lindsey Goodmanand percussionist Michael Compitello.

Jalbert's slow second movement, which is dedicated to Mother Teresa, deepens the first movement's lyricism. The big cello melody was beautifully characterized by Norbert Lewandowski.

The next transition came when a recording of James Dickey reading his poem “Falling” was played over the end of the Jalbert. The poem inspired Rosenblum's piece.

Dickey's poem is prefaced by a few lines from a New York Times story about a stewardess falling out of an airplane's open door. The poem is long and intense but not maudlin as it imagines the thoughts going through the woman's mind as she falls to the earth. It also is challenging because the mind tries to make sense of the whirling fragments of memory, thoughts and feelings in the moment.

Rosenblum's piece begins during the final lines of the poem. It is in 10 sections, which correspond to events in the poem, and uses some of the poem's text. Soprano Lindsay Kesselman sang with beautiful sensitivity.

While preceding the music with a reading of the complete poem has the virtue of making the full context clear, it also means going through the story twice.

Not that Rosenblum mickey-mouses the poem. Far from it. The music has a different pace, more internal variety, and is genuinely poetic but generally cooler and more intellectual in manner than Dickey's work. Rosenblum's piece is a beautifully conceived composition, with arresting ideas and imaginative details of instrumentation. Pianist Conor Hanick plays two keyboards, the second with adjusted tuning that this composer loves and that provides subtle extra colors.

I look forward to encountering Rosenblum's “Falling” again, including its surprise ending – but on its own.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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