Ensemble season finale a feast for eyes, ears
Parting was indeed sweet sorrow after the last of this summer's Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble concerts, and once again City Theatre on the South Side was jampacked Saturday night.
Artistic director Kevin Noe closed the season with his most-ambitious program to date, creating a continuous theatrical experience that was a feast for the ears and eyes.
The four main pieces were linked both musically and theatrically. Bits of additional music provided aural transitions. The overarching dramatic theme drew upon the title of one of the pieces, Kieren MacMillan's "Little Girl Lost." But the show as whole might even have been titled "The Adventures of Danielle in Wonderland," because of administrative associate Danielle Brewer's portrayal that included acting, dancing, a little hopscotch and light singing. All the performers except Brewer wore white gloves and makeup masks, some with harlequin forms. It was her dream.
The show also featured artful animation by Aaron Kablack that created complementary images that had their own process of observable development.
Associate conductor Brett Mitchell began the program with an immensely appealing performance of Kamran Ince's "Hammer Music." The 15-minute composition was written in 1990, and is a masterful blend of challenging and rewarding elements that makes excellent use of acoustical instruments and synthesizer. Mitchell led a performance that went way beyond technical assurance to create a vibrant world in sound.
Arthur Krieger's "Meeting Places" uses taped sounds along with the live performance, which required Mitchell to don a pair of headphones to coordinate the sounds for the audience. The excellence of the ensemble was also impressive in MacMillan's "Little Girl Lost," both musically and dramatically.
Baritone Timothy Jones' role in David Cutler's "Jabberwocky" was visually anticipated in "Little Girl Lost" in the theatrical setting, but his singing is as dramatic in sound as acting can be in sight. Noe led the fabulous performance of Cutler's music, freeing Mitchell to play percussion -- quite well, actually.
After the applause and cheering died down on Saturday night, many in the audience joined composers and performers on stage for chats about the experience just shared and what the artists are doing during the coming concert season.
PNME's new musicians this season were all superb, from the incisive violin playing of Marc Levine to the sensitivity and dynamism of pianist Daniel Spiegel. Substitute percussionist Lisa Pegher, who played the final two weeks of the season, was again a brilliant and polished performer.
Returning cellist Victoria Bass is a remarkable young talent who plays contemporary music with much tonal beauty and expressive assurance. Clarinetist Kevin Schempf's mastery of his instruments is matched by his artistry, while flutist Lindsey Goodman appears to know no fear in tackling the most demanding music. Although percussionist Ross B. Williams did not play the final two weeks because of a schedule conflict, his creativity and stage presence are extraordinary.
PNME's attendance doubled this season, with many more young people checking out the shows -- a lot taking advantage of the group's offer of free admission for first-timers. But significantly, managing director Jeff Nytch reports ticket sales and revenue were up this season.
The ensemble's next tour is scheduled for 2007. PNME should be as well-received in London, Paris and Berlin as New York, Toronto and San Francisco.
But at home we have to wait 11 months before PNME returns. Its expansion plans should include a winter season, too.