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New Music Ensemble builds weekend around 'Cage Variations'

| Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Violinist Nathalie Shaw
Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble
Violinist Nathalie Shaw

The concentrated summer season of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble covers a lot of ground during its four pairs of concerts over four weekends. Part of the fun, in addition to the appeal of the individual compositions, is the creativity with which artistic director Kevin Noe creates a cohesive experience out of often-disparate styles.

The members of the ensemble have their own ideas, of course. Each season, the ensemble showcases one of the players in recital, performing a program they've devised. Consider it a bonus week, when new-music fans and those curious about what today's composers are up to can enjoy two musical feasts.

The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble will perform its second weekend of concerts July 18 and 19 at City Theater, South Side. It also will present its violinist Nathalie Shaw in recital July 23 at the same venue.

The weekend concerts are built around the world premiere of Ted Hearne's “The Cage Variations,” which was inspired by Charles Ives' philosophical song “The Cage.” Hearne built his new piece out of shards of music by other contemporary composers as well as his own “Furtive Moments.”

Noe was not surprised when Hearne's new piece won the Harvey Gaul Competition, which is run by the new music ensemble.

“He's a mega-talent, a super-intelligent person who's been involved in writing music, but also in staging performances,” Noe says. “He's also a great singer.”

The remainder of the concert is comprised of the pieces Hearne used in creating “The Cage Variations,” including Anna Clyne's “Rapture,” Morton Feldman's “Patterns in a Chromatic Field,” Amy Beth Kirsten's “Pirouette on a Moon Sliver” and Scott Wollschleger's “I Is Not Me.”

Shaw will perform a French-American program in her Showcase concert. She was born in London and now lives in Paris, where she is a member of Pierre Boulez' Ensemble Intercontemporain. She also is a university professor of violin and director of Ensemble Stravinsky, based in Alsace.

“I definitely wanted to bring works from Europe,” she says, and chose two composers with whom she has frequently worked. “Alain Celo is a very good friend of mine, the violist of Ensemble Stravinsky and a fine composer. ‘Ame Errante' (Wandering Soul) is incredibly well written for violin because he's a string player.”

The title of Sebastien Baranger's “E(c)roulement” is a French play on words, meaning “crumbling” or “little fragment,” depending on whether the ”c” is used. She premiered the revised version in 2010, which uses a lot of sound techniques she says are not often used by American composers.

“It's a fabulous piece, the most different and most experimental, with electronic tracks and amplified violin,” she says. “At certain points in the piece I set off the electronic track, a very cool effect in a tricky piece.”

The American portion of her program includes two Pittsburgh composers — David Stock's “Chameleon” and Roger Zahab's “Summer Phrases.” It will conclude with Kevin Puts' “Arches.” Noe and the new music ensemble were early champions of Puts, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for his first opera “Silent Night.”

“ ‘Arches' is actually a sentimental choice for me,” Shaw says. “It's the piece I played on one of my audition weeks at PNME seven years ago.”

Her career in Europe is thriving, but she's come back to Pittsburgh every summer since she won the job.

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

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