Ryan Anthony Francis's "Album for Guitar."

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

One of our talented interns, Eric Boodman, interviewed composer Ryan Anthony Francis ahead of the premiere of his "Album for Guitar" at the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble shows this weekend, at City Theater on the South Side. Eric has written up a short preview about the composer's ideas for the commissioned work. More information is available at

From Eric Boodman:

Imagine a Mark Rothko, the way the rough swatches of color seem to shimmer.

That is the effect composer Ryan Anthony Francis was going for in his suite “Album for Guitar," which premiered Friday night in a performance by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and guitarist Mattias Jacobsson. Mr. Francis wanted to move away from the structure that many classical pieces have. Instead of the movements being linked by a narrative arc, he wanted each one to stand on its own, as a track on a recorded album might.

“It’s like a series of paintings. The canvases would be four inches by fours inches. You can’t really focus on the whole series at the same time,” he said. “You come up close, and there’s a sense of intimacy.”

The composer, who is based in Portland, Oregon, has been in Pittsburgh all week, rehearsing the piece with the ensemble. Although “Album for Guitar” is written for a soloist and ensemble, Mr. Francis wanted a more fluid relationship between the guitar and the other instrumentalists -- less back-and-forth, and more blending. “Guitar is the center of gravity of this piece, and the rest of the ensemble orbits around it,” he said.

He was surprised to find that PNME’s performance will not have a conductor, given that each instrument’s line often has its own pulse. “I was pretty amazed they were able to keep it together,” said Mr. Francis.

The program also includes pieces by Christopher Cerrone and Amy Williams.

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

21+ Night at Carnegie Science Center to feature PSO

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Looks like a neat event! More from the Carnegie Science Center ( or 412-237-3400):

PITTSBURGH, July 23, 2014 – Carnegie Science Center is teaming up with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for a special adults-only evening, featuring symphonic sounds with a scientific twist. "The Sounds of Science" is the theme of the Science Center's next 21+ Night on Friday, Aug. 1, from 6 – 10 pm.

Throughout the evening, musicians will demonstrate their instruments, including a double bass and a bassoon. They'll even hook up instruments to the Science Center's Rubens' Tube, which visually demonstrates an instrument's sound waves and pressure by shooting flames into the air.

Visitors can dance on a giant floor piano and play a tune with Boomwhackers, hollow percussion tubes. Stations throughout the building will offer the materials for DIY musical instruments, including a one-note harmonica.

Guests can test their musical knowledge at a live action Trivial Pursuit game, complete with a prize giveaway. Visitors can pose with a Mozart-cut out – and enter to win a Mozart prize pack.

Fiddlesticks, the orchestra's "fiddlin' feline" ambassador, will make a special appearance.

As always, 21+ Night features music, cash bars, and the chance to experience four floors of hands-on exhibits – with no kids!

Participants get a discount on Omnimax films and laser shows that evening.

The cost of the event is just $10 with advance registration before noon on the day of the event or $15 after noon at the door. Guests will receive a voucher for $15 in free slot play at the Rivers Casino when they arrive, while supplies last.



Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

"The Cage Variations" by Ted Hearne

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

A leopard went around his cage from one side back to the other side; he stopped only when the keeper came around with meat; A boy who had been there three hours began to wonder, "Is life anything like that?" —text from "The Cage" by Charles Ives

I had a super-interesting conversation today with composer Ted Hearne, who is in town this week for the world premiere of his work, "The Cage Variations." It was commissioned by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, which opened its summer-only season last weekend. 

The piece can stand on its own, but for the PNME concert, "The Cage Variations" is an evening-length production, said Mr. Hearne. The music is 12 variations on Charles Ives' "The Cage," a short song for voice and piano. Mr. Hearne's variations are based on shards of pieces written by other composers. They'll be layered on top of each other (both in live performance and through electronic samples); threaded throughout for this performance are whole and complete versions of those works.

"It's all constructed through a kind of cut-and-paste technique, so each sound comes from one of these other pieces I used as the source material," the Brooklyn-based composer said. Together, his variations are about 20 minutes long, and the preexisting works are about 45 minutes.

Besides the Ives, the pieces that are drawn upon are by Amy Beth Kirsten, Scott Wollschleger, Molly Joyce, Alex Mincek, Anna Clyne, Daniel Wohl, Morton Feldman, Robert Honstein and Mr. Hearne (using another of his works). Aside from Ives and Feldman, "the oldest composer is 10 years older than me, and the youngest is 10 years young than me," said Mr. Hearne, 32.

OK, so lots of questions. Why "The Cage," and why these composers? As you'll see from the language of "The Cage," "it's an ambiguous and evocative text," Mr. Hearne said. "I have so many different interpretations of it, and that's part of the magic of that piece." It's also short and structurally conducive to turning into variations, he said. 

But the work of Ives, who rejected many old traditions, also speaks to Mr. Hearne. "I'm really interested in recontextualizing music" in the genres of classical and pop, he said. He sees the use of sampling in other genres as an inspiration, particularly hip hop and Kanye West's album "Yeezus," which is "full of this kind of dialogue," Mr. Hearne said.

"[Ives] was very ecumenical with respect to some vernacular music or some non-classical music that was going on around him," Mr. Hearne said. The other composers whose works are drawn on for "The Cage Variations" represent diverse styles, but "they're very open listeners and open composers, and the piece is sort of a celebration of that," Mr. Hearne said. Another thread running through the works is a focus on variations in timbre, rhythm and contour. "A lot of these variations don't have to do with pitch," he said.

"It's an experiment," Mr. Hearne. "There are moments that are going to be pretty weird, and there're moments that are going to be less weird."

Sound intriguing? Check out PNME at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at City Theatre on the South Side. More information at 


Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

PSO Statement on Lorin Maazel

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

Lorin Maazel, one of the world's great conductors, died Sunday at the age of 84. The Pittsburgh Symphony, an organization he led as music director for eight years, release the following statement: 

PITTSBURGH— The entire Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra organization was saddened to learn of the passing Maestro Lorin Maazel, who served as the orchestra's music director from [1988] to 1996. Maazel, age 84, died on July 13, 2014 in Virginia from complications following pneumonia.

Maazel was a world-renowned conductor, as well as a composer, mentor, father and husband, who devoted more than 75 years of his life to music-making. He took the baton of the Pittsburgh Symphony during a critical time in its history, following the departure of Andre Previn. The symphony developed an unrivaled international following under his leadership, gathering future stature as he led tours of Europe, Asia and the Americas, added first-rank players to vital positions and programmed season-long retrospectives that appealed to audiences and critics alike.

"I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Maestro Lorin Maazel. There can be no doubt that he had a significant impact on the musical life of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the music world as a whole. I, myself, played many times under his baton and was struck by his prodigious talent and quest for perfection," said Manfred Honeck, current music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony. "He left behind a core of musical leaders that still define the Pittsburgh Symphony today and an incredible standard of playing. As one of his successors, I am deeply indebted to him for creating the ideal culture of musicians and the music-making exemplified in this orchestra. All of us at the Pittsburgh Symphony and our audiences, both here and around the world, continue to benefit from the work he did in Pittsburgh. I would like to express my deepest condolences to his family and his many friends and fans. We have truly lost one of the world's greatest conductors."

Born in Paris in 1930, Maazel began violin lessons at age five, and conducting lessons at age seven. He and his family moved to Pittsburgh so that he could study conducting with Vladimir Bakaleinikoff, who had become associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1939. Between ages nine and 15, he conducted most of the major American orchestras, including the NBC Symphony at the invitation of Arturo Toscanini. In the course of his decades-long career, Maazel conducted more than 150 orchestras in no fewer than 5,000 opera and concert performances. He made more than 300 recordings, including symphonic cycles of complete orchestral works by Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Mahler, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Richard Strauss, winning 10 Grands Prix du Disques.

During his career, Maazel served as artistic director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin and general manager of the Vienna State Opera, as music director of the Radio Symphony of Berlin, the Symphony Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic, with whom he made an unprecedented visit to North Korea in 2008. He also was a highly regarded composer, with a wide-ranging catalog of works written primarily over the last 15 years.
"The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra joins the international music community in mourning the passing of a Pittsburgh native who began his music career as a child prodigy and grew to become the most prolific conductor of perhaps all time. He conducted some 150 orchestras during his lifetime and we, in Pittsburgh, benefited from and deeply respected his time with us as music director. We extend our deepest sympathies to the Maazel family," said James Wilkinson, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.

Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh announces upcoming season

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

The Mendelssohn, the go-to chorus of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, announces its upcoming season, including a performance with the PSO at East Liberty Presbyterian Church in October. As Mary Ann Lapinski, the choir's executive director, wrote to me in an email:

"The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is the Mendelssohn Choir's primary artistic partner. Usually this means that the Mendelssohn Choir that performs with the PSO as a 'guest artist.' What makes the October concert so thrilling for us, is that the tables are being turned; we are producing the concert and the PSO is performing for the Mendelssohn as its orchestra under Betsy's baton. This 'role reversal' speaks to the mutual respect that the PSO and MCP have for each other's artistic excellence and vision."

More from the press release:

The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh Announces Its 2014-2015 Season—
A Season of Earthly Delights and Celestial Bliss

The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh’s 106th season entitled “Heaven and Earth” will take audience members on a journey from heavenly bliss to the dramatic depths of despair to sublime tranquility—along with a dash of earthly fun to round it all out!

Our season begins with a special collaboration with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra when the Mendelssohn Choir (MCP) performs Faith & Fate: Beethoven’s Mass in C and Brahms Schicksalslied (Oct. 5 at East Liberty Presbyterian Church). The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Mendelssohn Choir Music Director Betsy Burleigh, will accompany MCP in this musical exploration of a kinder, gentler Beethoven and a blustery Brahms. "I am thrilled to be working directly with the fabulous musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony,” says Burleigh, “and this new collaboration shows the PSO's support of the Mendelssohn, opening the door for more great music making for the city of Pittsburgh." Next the Mendelssohn Choir will present Gioachino Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle (March 22 at East Liberty Presbyterian Church). Called "the last of my sins of old age" by Rossini, this exquisite work for four soloists and chorus was Rossini’s last major work and makes a fitting climax to the life of the “Italian Mozart,” the man then considered the greatest opera composer of all time.

Then the season turns earthward for a delightful evening of song called I Got Gershwin! which will include excerpts from Porgy and Bess, and standards like “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You,” “The Man I Love,” “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off,” and “Love Walked In” (May 2 & 3 at the Hillman Center for Performing Arts). Audiences will hear rarities from Hollywood, solo songs, and some of Gershwin’s own piano arrangements and Preludes.

The Mendelssohn Choir will present its second annual Cabaret Fundraiser (Feb. 14 at Olive or Twist) called quite fittingly Let’s Fall in Love! The Junior Mendelssohn Choir, under the direction of Maria Sensi Sellner, will perform its Fall Concert at Westminster Presbyterian Church (Nov. 9).

Tickets for the above concerts will go on sale August 1 at

MCP performances with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 2014-2015 include: Sci-Fi Spectacular with the PSO Pops Orchestra at Heinz Hall (Nov. 14-16); Music for the Spirit with the PSO, location TBA, (Nov. 20); Holiday Pops with the PSO at Heinz Hall (Dec. 12-21); and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the PSO at Heinz Hall (June 5-7). Tickets for these performances can be purchased at

For more information contact Mary Ann Lapinski at 412.480.4321 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.