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New Music conductor takes on daunting 20th-century classic

| Saturday, Aug. 10, 2002

Gustav Mahler' Second Symphony is more than a century old now, but Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble assistant conductor Brett Mitchell plays it by heart on grand piano on the stage of the Hazlett Theatre after a recent morning rehearsal. He's 23, and he will lead the final performance of the ensemble's season tonight — the classic and daunting "8 Songs for a Mad King" by Peter Maxwell Davies.

"One of the principal reasons I conduct," Mitchell says, "is that as much as I love playing old classics, it is so important to perform new music." His undergraduate degree is in composition, and now that he's working toward his doctorate in conducting, Mitchell makes sure to include new music in every concert he leads.

The Davies piece is one of the classics of the 20th century, Mitchell says, the first piece to open up musical theater at concerts. Though he's quick to add that no one will mistake it for "Oklahoma!"

"'8 Songs for a Mad King' is a schizophrenic piece," he says. "It lives a lot of the time in parody, distortion and transformation. One movement is called 'Spanish March,' but the title has nothing to do with the music."

Mitchell says, "By far the most time-consuming aspect of conducting is studying scores," and he counts himself lucky to have had 10 hours of rehearsal time for a half-hour composition. Yet he says he's not keen to enter the fray of big-time orchestral work.

"I'm using the extra time it will take me to complete my doctorate to figure out what I want to do. At the moment, I'm drawn to teaching, inspired by the example of my teacher Kevin Noe," who is artistic director the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble.

Mitchell is a film buff who loves Baz Luhrmann's 1999 "Moulin Rouge," starring Nicole Kidman, and also enjoys reading, especially Hermann Hesse these days. But he says his favorite reading is musical scores.

- Mark Kanny

Golf-inspired mystery

There are many jokes about doctors taking time from their golf games to see patients. Dr. Roberta Isleib took time from her career as a clinical psychologist to write a mystery novel about golf.

"Six Strokes Under," Isleib's debut, features Cassie Burdette, who is attempting to qualify for the LPGA tour. Of course, complications occur, and not only from illegal equipment.

Isleib will visit Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont at 10 a.m. today as part of the Summer Coffee and Crime Series. Admission: $7. 514 Allegheny River Blvd.

Details: (412) 828-4877.

— Regis Behe

Irwin oldies concert

Oldies band Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners will perform 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Irwin Park Amphitheater in Irwin. The concert marks the end of Irwin's Summer Concert Series.

Penn parish festival

St. Demetrius Parish will hold a festival noon-8 p.m. Sunday at the Penn Rod and Gun Club, Penn. Highlights of the event include games, food and music. Admission is free. Details: 724-523-9389.

Scottdale auditions

Actors and Artists of Fayette County will hold auditions for the September production of "The Selfish Giant," 6-8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at the Scottdale Showtime Theatre. AAFC is looking for 10 performers between the ages of 7 and 18; several roles may be filled by people older than 18. Auditions are open to all, experienced or not. Any one auditioning should be prepared to sing 16 bars of an up-tempo Broadway or Pop song. Each person auditioning will perform a cold reading from the script. Production dates are Sept. 14 and 15. AAFC will also hold auditions for "Moon Over Buffalo," 7-9 p.m. Aug. 18 and 19 at the Showtime Theatre. For this show, AAFC is looking for 8 actors consisting of 4 men and 4 women.

Auditions are open to all. Production dates are Oct. 4-6 and 11-13. For more about either audition, call 724-887-0887.

Johnstown art exhibit

The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Johnstown will present the Allied Artists of Johnstown's 70th Annual Fall Show. The juried exhibition opens Friday and ends Oct. 20. An awards presentation will be given Friday during an opening reception, held 4:30-6:30 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public. The museum also will be hosting a Lunch a l'Art program at noon Oct. 15, which costs $7 for Allied Artists members and $10 for non-members. Reservations are required by Oct. 13 and can be made by calling 814-269-7234. The musuem is inside the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center on the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown campus. Hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays.

Theatre Factory auditions

The Theatre Factory will hold auditions for the December show, "Funny Girl," noon-4 p.m. Aug. 24 at the theater, Cavitt Avenue and Third Street, Trafford.

Men and women ages 16 and older should prepare a ballad and an up-tempo song and be prepared for a brief dance audition.

For an appointment, call 412-373-2881.

Choral society concert

The Westmoreland Choral Society will present a free concert 7 p.m. Aug. 25 in St. Clair Park, Greensburg. The concert will feature music from the group's recent New England tour.

Crafts festival

The 9th Annual Pennsylvania Arts & Crafts Colonial Festival will be held 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Aug. 30, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept 2 at the Westmoreland Fairgrounds, Mt. Pleasant Township. Cost is $5 for adults, $1 for children 6-12, $4.50 for senior citizens and is free for children under 6.

Tamburitzan open house

The Trafford Junior Tamburitzans will hold an open house 7 p.m. Sept. 17 and 24 at St. Johns Church, Larimer.

The Tamburitzans are looking for children, ages 5-16, who are interested in learning more about the Eastern European culture. The children will learn to play an instrument, sing ethnic songs and dance.

For more information, call 724-864-6954 or 724-864-5449.

N.Y. trying to woo Oscar

Could Oscar be coming to New York?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a group of New York leaders have been talking about moving part of next year's Academy Awards show to New York City to help the recovery from the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The group of New Yorkers — including Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Miramax Films co-chairman Harvey Weinstein — asked the academy to consider bringing at least part of the March 23 event to New York.

"We'd like to get the Oscars," Bloomberg said at a City Hall news conference Friday. "This is a place for big events. This is a showcase place, and I think we can make a good case."

Bloomberg was joined by Pataki, who echoed the mayor's call for the Oscars in Manhattan.

The academy is seriously considering the idea as a one-time nod to New York, academy president Frank Pierson told The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

An early proposal from Weinstein to move the entire ceremony to New York was "out of the question," Pierson said, because the show is a Hollywood staple and because of the academy's contractual obligations.

But "New York will be a huge presence in next year's show," he said.

Yet to be determined are which segments of the show might be shifted. Events could take place at Radio City Music Hall or at Madison Square Garden.

The Oscars could bring millions of dollars to the city, where tourist-driven industries are trying to recover from the attacks' impact.

Daniel Doctoroff, deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, has been leading the Bloomberg administration's portion of the Oscar pitch as part of a larger push to bolster New York's economy with marquee events such as the Super Bowl and Republican and Democratic conventions.

The Oscars ceremony returned to Hollywood last year for the first time since 1960, to its new home at the Kodak Theatre. For years, the event took place at the Shrine Auditorium and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles.

— The Associated Press

Eszterhas comes clean on smoking

"Basic Instinct" screenwriter Joe Eszterhas has throat cancer after a lifetime of smoking, and is urging Hollywood to stop glamorizing cigarette use the way he says he did.

Eszterhas writes in an op-ed piece in Friday's New York Times that he was diagnosed with the disease 18 months ago. Much of his larynx is gone, he says, and he has difficulty speaking and being understood.

"Smoking was an integral part of many of my screenplays, because I was a militant smoker. It was part of a bad-boy image I'd cultivated for a long time — smoking, drinking, partying, rock 'n' roll," the 57-year-old writes.

"Smoking, I once believed, was every person's right. … I don't think smoking is every person's right anymore. I think smoking should be as illegal as heroin."

Eszterhas says he has trouble forgiving himself for the rampant cigarette use in his films.

"I have been an accomplice to the murders of untold numbers of human beings. I am admitting this only because I have made a deal with God. Spare me, I said, and I will try to stop others from committing the same crimes I did."

The writer of guilty-pleasure movies such as "Flashdance," "Sliver" and "Showgirls" says he has learned there are "1,000 better and more original ways to reveal a character's personality" than with cigarettes.

In 1992's "Basic Instinct," Eszterhas says, smoking was part of the sexual subtext.

"Sharon Stone's character smokes; Michael Douglas' is trying to quit. She seduces him with literal and figurative smoke that she blows in his face," he says. "In the movie's most famous and controversial scene, she even has a cigarette in her hand."

Eszterhas says he has stopped smoking and drinking since his cancer was diagnosed, and now walks five miles a day and attends church on Sunday.

"My hands are bloody; so are Hollywood's. My cancer has caused me to attempt to cleanse mine," he writes. "I don't wish my fate upon anyone in Hollywood, but I beg that Hollywood stop imposing it upon millions of others."

He is receiving treatment at the Cleveland Clinic but is not staying there, a hospital spokesman said Friday.

— The Associated Press

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