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Review: Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble opens with rewarding performance

| Saturday, July 9, 2016, 9:12 a.m.

The opening concert of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble's 2016 season was a thoroughly rewarding experience on July 8 at City Theater on the South Side.

By turns sweetly memorable, stimulating and entertaining, it exemplified the wonderfully unpredictable course of experiences that make this group such an indispensable part of Pittsburgh's music scene.

The music began with the late David Stock's setting of the threefold rabbinic blessing, which has just the right degree of aching harmony. It was beautifully sung “a cappella” by his daughter, mezzo-soprano Sarah Stock Mayo.

Each of the new music ensemble's 2016 concerts will pay tribute to Stock, who founded the group 41 years ago.

The world premiere of Stock's “Five Songs of Solomon” followed, but the title is not a biblical reference. They were written for pianist Nannette Solomon and set to poems by her husband, Jonathan Solomon, which have a Pittsburgh perspective. Soprano Katherine Soroka gave an uncommonly committed performance, finding both lush lines and dramatic intensity in Stock's music, and commanding the stage with the simplest of props — a cap and a scarf which became a shawl.

Steven Bryant's “RedLine” aspires to convey pushing to the limit, such as racing an automobile motor until the tachometer crosses the line into the red zone. Pianist Oscar Micaelsson displayed striking technique in giving the music definition at its rapid pace.

Shahrokh Yadegari's “Earthly Verses” created its own hypnotic world beginning with a haunting and seemingly unending line for solo violin played with precisely defined character by Nathalie Shaw. Later in the piece she was joined by the equally poised and expressive soprano Catherine Noe-Rourke.

Yadegari was the third performer, playing an impressively flexible computer program he devised. In addition to creating an evocative soundscape perfectly suited to the Persian influence of his instrumental lines, Yadegari was able to use the sounds produced by Shaw and Noe'Rourke to create echoes above and below the acoustic pitches, as well as harmonization.

The evening's longest work was Russell Pinkston's nine-movement “Off Leash,” a dog lover's celebration of canine freedom and personality written for the full ensemble of winds, strings, piano and percussion. It's an enjoyable and unpretentious work.

Stock's “Little Lost Girl” followed without pause, though a break before turning to its bluesy language would have been better. It was written with his daughter, who performed it. Glancing at the music after the performance, the vocal line was complete but the piano part was barely sketched out, which made Micaelsson's improvisation all the more impressive.

A newly commissioned artwork in Stock's honor by Val M. Cox, which is open to multiple interpretations, was unveiled Friday night.

This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. July 9 at City Theater, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. Admission is $30, $25 if purchased online. Details: 888-718-4253 or

Mark Kanny is the Tribune-Review classical music critic. Reach him at 412-320-7877 or

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