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Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble letting music speak for itself

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Emily Porter
Flutist Lindsey Goodman

Sometimes the music is more than enough, even for Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. The group's third program of the season is an exception to its general programming practice, except for the presence of a world premiere.

“There's no theatrical concept. No arching theme. Just nice, complementary pieces,” artistic director Kevin Noe says.

Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble will perform concerts July 25 and 26 at City Theatre, South Side. The program is “First Lines” by Amy Williams, “I will learn to love a person” by Christopher Cerrone, and the world premiere of “Album for Guitar” by Ryan Francis.

“Album for Guitar” will be the fourth piece by Francis that Noe has programmed. The ensemble presented “Consolations” in 2005, Etudes in 2008, and “Wind Up Bird Preludes” in 2011.

“He's wicked-smart. This looks like nothing else by Ryan Francis, without him being a new-complexity guy,” Noe says. “He's so intellectual he can ratchet it down to emotions. There's almost nothing to play in this music. I look at the score, and I see footballs,” the term musicians use for whole notes, one note per measure.

“The guitar plays little gestures, troubadour refrains. In some way, this is a piece of cake, technically. That's the part I'm most excited about. It looks outside his thing.”

“Album for Guitar” was commissioned by the Augustine Foundation in New York City, and includes the cost of bringing in guitar soloist Mattias Jacobsson, for whom the piece was written.

The concert will open with Williams' “First Lines” for flute and piano, with flutist Lindsey Goodman. It is a set of 11 miniatures, each one using the first line of poems by 11 women.

Noe programmed it without knowing that the ensemble's new executive director Pamela Murchison is completing his doctoral dissertation on Willliams' 2006 composition.

“Each movement uses a compositional method to bring each poem to life by exploring different tone colors and different methods of playing both flute and piano,” says Murchison, who is a flutist. “They are the sort of techniques “where the pianist plucks the strings and the flutist sings and plays at the same time.”

She notes that Williams, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh whose main instrument is piano, studied flute with extended-technique master Robert Dick.

“She's exceptionally good at the different ways you can use the instrument to make different sounds,” Murchison says. “It makes a lot of sense.”

The concert includes Cerrone's “I will learn to love a person.” The song's text by New York City based-poet Tao Lin is like nothing Noe's seen before.

With no discernible emotion and no discernible lack of emotion, Noe says the poetry “flows like as open a canvas as I've ever heard.”

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

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