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New Music Ensemble finales final in more ways than one

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 7:48 p.m.
Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble
Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble

The final concerts of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble's season include a world premiere, not surprisingly. But they also are the last chance to hear the group led by its current artistic director, Kevin Noe, whose resignation was announced on July 25.

“This has been the most extraordinary artistic endeavor I've ever undertaken,” says Noe, who developed his “theater of music” ideas in Pittsburgh.

“I've grown the most as a person, as an artist, as a director, as a conductor, as an actor, as a filmmaker and as a thinker,” he says. “And it has affected every other artistic endeavor that I do in a positive way.”

Noe conducts his final concerts as artistic director of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble on Aug. 2 and 3 at City Theatre, South Side.

The program will open with the premiere of “Analogies” by Sean Neukom, a violinist and composer who also is director of the Symbiotic Collusion music project in Pittsburgh. The commission grew out of the new music ensemble's collaboration in 2012-13 with the Alia Musica ensemble.

The most widely known piece on the program is “New York Counterpoint” by Steve Reich. Written in 1985 for Richard Stoltzman, it is scored for clarinet and tape or 11 clarinets. Kevin Schempf, who is reconsidering his resignation from the ensemble in view of Noe's departure, taped the other 10 parts himself for these performances.

Noe was delighted when he discovered “Juggularling” by Vicki Ray, a composer best known as a pianist for her work playing new music in Los Angeles.

“She was unknown to me as a composer,” he says, “but I found this quirky little piece, very PNME, that is performed with a film she cut of juggling and circus action. I think it is a very cool silent film and the music is right up our alley.”

The ensemble also will give its first performance of music by Nico Muhly, the young American composer who is getting big commissions, including from the Metropolitan Opera. Pittsburgh Opera will present Muhly's “Dark Sisters” in January 2014.

Noe is closing his tenure and the season with Kevin Puts' “And Legions Will Rise.”

“We did this piece nine years ago and Kevin (Puts) wasn't really happy with the performance,” Noe says. “For my own reasons I thought it was important to leave on that.”

The conductor notes that the new music ensemble commissioned Puts' only vocal work, “Einstein on the Beach,” on the strength of which he got a commission from Minnesota Opera for “Silent Night.” Puts' opera was inspired by the film “Joyeux Noel” and won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.

“I thought that was the role PNME should play — discovering people and giving them the opportunity to become famous,” Noe says. “ ‘Einstein on the Beach' was one of our best achievements.”

The departure of Noe, and also Executive Director Chris McGlumphy for family reasons, poses major extra challenges going forward for an organization already trying to cope with shrinking budgets.

“I'm cautiously optimistic that PNME will continue, though the structure that will take will need to be developed in the coming months,” says board President and composer Jeffrey Nytch.

“One thing that's not on the table is lowering our standard of artistic quality and the theater of music philosophy — though it will look different from what Kevin designed — because the musicians and I are committed to it.”

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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