Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble Electrifies Contemporary Composition

Pittsburgh is a city that is proverbially filled to brim with theatre companies and artistic collectives. Which is by no means a gripe—that there are well over twenty theatre companies, a multitude of dance artists and collectives, and a plethora of organizations, troupes, and educational opportunities that support and proliferate the arts is a unique boon to Pittsburgh’s cultural character. In the stupendously dizzying array of arts to consider, it can at times be challenging to find certain arts entities with more nuanced or niche focuses when scouring around for what show or event for which you should be excitedly pre-ordering tickets.

Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble (PNME) is one such astonishing collective that represents a specialized segment of the Pittsburgh artistic community that is unequivocally deserving of rapt attention. The oldest, and easily most storied, continually-running new music ensemble in the United States, PNME is a unique artist collective, comprised of top tier, award-winning artists/musicians from every corner of the world, who congregate in Pittsburgh to showcase commissions and performances every July. Traditionally conducting an average of 10 concerts in their whirlwind of a season, PNME commissions new works, stages and reimagines classic pieces, and urges artists to perform with the admirable aim of unifying audiences and artists alike around music and performance as vessels for broader concepts and ideas.

PNME embarks on their forthcoming season with a staggering 300 commissions already under their belt. Ever-galvanized by the vision of their late Founder, David Stock (who crafted and conducted his own piece for PNME’s 40th anniversary in 2015 shortly before his passing), PNME has commissioned and premiered a breathtaking array of works from artists like John Cage, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, David Lang and Pierre Jalbert. Helmed by Kevin Noe since 2000, who employed his visionary, multidisciplinary ideas to enhance the standards of production for each performance, PNME has enjoyed a deserved, if not jaw-dropping, 600% increase in audience participation since 2002, and boasts five Pulitzer-Prize in Music winners in its all-star list of commissioned artists.

For PNME’s forthcoming July season, the company will present an exhilarating, bold assortment of works that will emphasize a multi-genre, multi-discipline approach to musical performance and composition. The season will be staged in four, tongue-in-cheek parts—Something Old (July 11th-July 14th); Something New (July 12th-July 13th); Something Borrowed; and Something of a Coup (July 24th).

The season will kick off with Something Old—in this case, The Gray Cat and the Flounder Film. A PNME original, the experimental film examines loss, mirth, silliness and grief with an enticing blend of animation, conceptual ballet, and, of course, breathtaking music. Gray Cat is inspired by an original Pittsburgh story, and PNME’s revival of the filmic phenomenon will dismantle the structure of viewership by immersing audiences in an 360˚, headphone-dependent environment. Audience members will each be provided headphones, thus allowing them to relive (or experience for the first time) the film in a manner that is both intensely private and fascinatingly communal. The Gray Cat will play at Row House Theatre in Lawrenceville from Thursday July 11th to Sunday July 14th.

PNME’s Something New promises to be a Tour De Force—quite literally. Declaratively titled A Lime Green Tour De Force (in honor of PNME’s distinctive and emblematic iridescently green logo), the second installment of the season will see five works vivified: Why Was I Born Between Mirrors? by Christopher Cerrone; Techno Parade by Guillame Connesson; Murder Ballades by Bryce Dessner; Hummingbird by Steven Bryant; and Doublespeak by Nico Muhly.

Speaking with Ian Rosenbaum, PNME’s percussion virtuoso Ian Rosenbaum—who is member of Sandbox Percussion, HOWL, Novus NY, Time Travelers and Le Train Bleu in addition to PNME—the uniquely integral role of multimedia and innovation in Lime Green Tour De Force was strikingly apparent. As a percussionist, Rosenbaum has an advantaged perspective that allows him to see the potential of and then incorporate random, banal objects into a stunning musical composition. Rosenbaum notes, “One of the most

Ian Rosenbaum

interesting parts about playing contemporary music by living composers is the collaboration that the performers and composers have. As a percussionist, so much of this has to do with sound. I love working with composers to create the sounds that they dream up – sometimes using standard percussion instruments, and sometimes creating new instruments out of objects that I find lying around or at the local Home Depot.” Lime Green is certainly no different, as Rosenbaum divulged: “one of the pieces in our first program  this summer asks me for a couple very specific pitched flower pots – so this will necessitate a trip to the hardware store with a tuner and a mallet, and I’ll take all the pots down off the rack until we find the right ones!”

The pieces of Lime Green will carry on the exceptional standard of provocative and avant-garde contemporary classical music. Lime Green will run July 12th and July 13th at 8 PM each night at City Theatre in Pittsburgh’s South Side. The performances will be followed by the celebrated, epicurean staple of PNME’s season, the BYO Afterparty—so don’t forget your bottle of wine (or two) when you sett off for your evening of enchantment.

Something Borrowed will offer an introspective study into what inspires and excites the team of PNME in Why I Chose the Life of an Artist. “Borrowed” only in the sense of the pieces borrowing from the strict definition of “new music,” the team of PNME will perform derivative and deconstructed interpretations of some of the works, composers, films, and artists that have been instrumental to their evolution as artists and conductors. Among the luminaries honored will be John Bucchino (by soprano Lindsay Kesselman), Jeff Blumenkrantz (by PNME’s Executive Director Catherine Noe’Rourke) and Igor Stravinksy (by violinist Natalie Shaw). Augmenting the excitement of Something Borrowed will be a composition by guest artist, accomplished steelpan prodigy Andy Akiho, whose piece “NO one To kNOW one” will utilize

PNME Guest Artist Andy Akiho

the majestic power of the full PNME Ensemble.

Why I Chose the Life of an Artist will run July 19th and July 20th at 8 PM, as well as a free Children’s Show (with refreshments and crafts) July 20th at 1 PM at City Theatre.

To conclude the stunningly robust season, PNME will experiment again with the 360˚ soundscape and the audience’s use of headphones in Something of a Coup’s Binaural Workshop led by Steven Bryant. An immersive experience, the Workshop will be a sort of sneak-peak of Steven Bryant’s full commission that will be unveiled in 2020. The workshop is made possible by The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation’s joint program Investing in Professional Artists, and highlights the necessity of collaboration, education, and experimentation in the evolution and survival of contemporary classical music.

The Workshop will run July 24th only at 7 PM at City Theatre.

In addition to the exhilarating season replete with astronomical talent, the crew at PNME is delighted that their film The Gray Cat and the Flounder will enjoy a 25-show run at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August, further substantiating PNME’s incredible reception and reach.

For more information on the team at PNME, the upcoming season, and ticket information, please visit PNME’s site.

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