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Music

Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble continues to break boundaries with 5 world premieres

| Tuesday, June 26, 2018, 8:51 p.m.
Members of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble in performance
Alisa Garin Photography
Members of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble in performance

The quest for new expression in music drives the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. It has commissioned more than 300 pieces over its 43-year history. The new season includes five world premieres.

Since 2000 the ensemble has presented music with artistic director Kevin Noe's “Theater of Music” approach, which employs drama, lighting, sound and stage design to create an immersive experience.

The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble's 43rd season runs July 6 to 28 at Pittsburgh's City Theatre. Admission is free to people who are going to the group for the first time.

Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble was founded in 1976 by composer David Stock, who died in 2015. Stock passed the figurative baton to Noe in 2000.

At first Noe felt an enormous weight of responsibility for the group's legacy because Stock was friend and because he cares passionately about the ensemble's mission. He was keenly aware that many organizations do not survive the departure of its founder.

The Theater of Music approach began the ensemble's second phase.

“I feel it's really breathed new life into the organization,” says Noe. “We've ridden that wave for quite some time with terrific success. But for the last five or six years I've felt stuck. I thought, ‘What am I missing? How do we go further?'”

The last of four weekends of concerts this season will begin phase three, which will use binaural recording that uses a special microphone setup to capture sound the way our ears do.

“The binaural approach is not just about putting the audience in headphones,” he says. “It is about exploring the role proximity and location and movement in sound add to inherent properties of expression.”

Three world premieres fill opening weekend, July 6-7, entitled “The Human Experience.” The composers won a competition the ensemble conducted with American Composers Forum. David Biedenbender's “From Across the Table” is an attempt to capture his experience as a parent, inspired by meals with his 2- and 4-year-old children. Rufus Reid's “Remembrance” is a tribute to the 100th anniversary of three musicians who influenced his work as a jazz bassist – Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Leonard Bernstein. Jung Yoon Wie's “Every Bone Has a Memory” is her first attempt to write about her own experiences.

“What I leave behind,” July 13-14, will feature commissioned landscapes by Pittsburgh artists as context for two more world premieres. Composer D.J. Sparr's “Nullipara” explores a difficult path to conceiving a child. Ivette Herryman's “Memorial” examines the human desired to be remembered after death.

“To love and be loved,” July 20-21, is a program created from ten songs by eight composers and will be sung by soprano Lindsay Kesselman.

“The Gray Cat and the Flounder, July 27-28,” is a revival of the 2015 world premiere employing the new binaural recording approach. The piece is based on a series of cartoons about life, loss and the nature of friendship. The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble is booked to performed it 25 times at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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