minutes from mm 52, field trip to "New Works by Pitt's Graduate Composers"

performed by

IonSound Project (Dept of Music Ensemble-in-Residence)

& The Pitt Graduate Composers


Bellefield Hall Auditorium

Sunday, March, 2015, 7PM


tENT arrives

Brian & Matt (re)arrive

Hyla arrives

Soren & Nick & ? (Sorry, Soren, I've forgotten yr other friend's name) arrive


I wasn't really planning on posting any minutes about this so I didn't write any there but since I called this mm 52 I reckon I'd better say a few words.

The order of the program was changed, possibly b/c Brian's proposed original order had the comedic & straight pieces intermingled rather than, as in the program's ordering, w/ the 2 comedic pieces back-to-back. Therefore, the following order is roughly the way I remember it rather than what the program says but Brian &/or Matt shd correct me on this:


"Laniakea" (2015) - Brian Riordan

Lu-Han Li: pipa, Matt Aelmore: horn, Jonghee Kang: (prepared) piano, Brian Riordan: laptop, Jeff Weston: double-bass

This began & ended w/ lusciously hi-fi wave sounds. In between, it was rare (or never?) that all the instruments played at once. There was a sort of drifting/blending that created a momentum in keeping w/ the framing waves. Brian's samples included a particularly nice moment for me when he had a held bass note & I had to double-check to make sure the bassist wasn't playing. Brian later informed me that all the sounds, except for the opening & closing, were recordings of the players. It seems to me that there were bursts of white noise-ish sound in there too but that might've been a distortion of one of the instruments. All in all, I found the experience highly enjoyable & 'time flew by' - it didn't really seem like 22 minutes. It was somewhat uncategorizable, perhaps most like a Mario Davidovsky piece for electronics & instruments. There was a fair amt of signaling from player to player so it was obvious that players had lee-way for how long soloistic passages cd go on for.

I shd say that I have 'insider's info' here insofar as I know that Lu-Han Li, Matt Aelmore, Brian Riordan, & Jeff Weston are all pals - &, for all I know, Jonghee Kang's a part of that crew too. As such, I was conscious of comraderie that made the experience even more pleasant for me.


"The Fall of Icarus" (2009) - Nizan Liebovich

Peggy Yoo: flute

All the musicianship was excellent. Strangely, I listen to alotof flute music & one of my closest collaborators, Michael Pestel, is an excellent flute player. That sd, I'm often dissatisfied w/ the flute, per se, as an instrument. For me, it's somewhat 'handicapped' by its 'starkness'. As such, I tend to prefer flute à là Robert Dick, w/ phenomenal 'extended' technique, or augmented by electronics. Solo flute, w/o 'extended' technique, is a hard sell for me.

Nonetheless, I can't fault either the composer or the flautist here. There were certainly impressive fast-moving passages that a klutz like myself cdn't play in a million yrs.

[This is the same guy who conducted Ben Opie's "Concerto for Orkestra" - see mmm040]



Matt Aelmore: electric guitar, Brian Riordan: sampler, Jeff Weston: voice

I don't really know Jeff Weston but I'm beginning to be interested in what he does. I know he tends toward the 'conceptual' & that's what I've tended toward for the last 4+ decades so I'm always on the alert for this rare breed, this rara awis. I'm also a big enthusiast for 'Avant-Garde Classical Music Theater' & this concert provided me w/ no less than TWO such pieces wch delights me.

This was definitely fun, &, possibly, the most original piece of all of them. I wdn't, however, credit it w/ being the most well-developed. There were some strikingly entertaining aspects to it & some subtle 'violations' of expectation set-ups. EG: Jeff wd MC-esque pronounce: "Step 1" & Matt wd play a particular thing, then he'd pronounce: "Step 2" & Brian wd play a quick drum-machine burst. This went back & forth & the auditor was, perhaps, intended to expect whatever was done after "Step 1" & "Step 2" to always be the same - as if this were instructional.

HOWEVER, it didn't happen that way, sometimes what Matt did for "Step 1" was different, etc, etc.. It was predictable that these "Steps" wd happen regularly but not what they wd be - even tho the parameters of possibilities were somewhat small. This was SHOW-BIZ & I think Weston has much potential along these lines. There were even nice dance movies. On the downside, it was a bit too repetitious for me but I still think, all in all, it worked.


"darkest grey" (2015) - John T. Petrucelli

Peggy Yoo: flute, Jack Kurutz: piano

This was tumultuous. The program notes reference an approaching storm & the rippling of piano part's arpeggiation was successfully evocative.


"Trio (first movement)" (2015) - Xinyang Wang

Laura Motchalov: violin, Elisa Kohanski: cello, Robert Frankenberry: piano, Roger Zahab: conductor

Ordinarily, a trio wdn't require a conductor. This was, however, a fairly intricate piece & the meticulous dedicated energy of the composer really shone thru. Watching Frankenberry was a particular joy b/c he was so clearly INTO IT as he played - wch isn't to say that the others weren't too, it's just that he was very naturally expressive.


"Some People" (2015) - Lu-Han Li

Robert Frankenberry: voice, Jack Kurutz: piano

I loved this one & I hope I get a chance to talk w/ Lu-Han about it. Matt has introduced me to her but I haven't really had a conversation w/ her. I'd particularly like to know how specific the stage instructions for it were b/c the various hamming-it-ups that Frankenberry, especially, pulled off were over-the-top in just the right way.

Basically, this was a caricature of the interplay between an 'accompaniest' & a vocalist. The pianist started off noodling a bit while the vocalist brought out props. As the pianist went on, the vocalist responded w/ various prods at the pianist's character & implied self-indulgence. This is the 1st work I've witnessed in a long time that cd develop into works that might give Lejaren Hiller's "Avalanche" a run for its money. I very much look forward to witnessing more of Li's work.


Hyla went to CMU w/ Frankenberry so they chatted for awhile & Hyla learned that he's been hired by Pitt to teach Music Theater. Congrats! His performance in Lu-Han Li's piece was excellent so I'm very happy to look forward to more of such.

I've always had a somewhat reserved attitude toward Pitt. Being most definitely a part of the lunatic fringe of what I hope is largely uncategorizable (M)Usic, I feel a distance from the academic scene. That's really started to change recently. I've been to enuf excellent Pitt concerts now to be pretty excited by their music dept. The Microtonal fest was great, hearing the Jack Quartet perform was great, & last night's student work was impressive.

I know from working w/ Matt & Brian that they're very open-minded guys & I've liked both their compositions very much. I'm beginning to wonder: is Pitt's Music Dept truly exceptional? Or are most university music depts this good? I'm no expert on what's happening NOW in academic classical but I at least like to think that Pittsburgh's lucky to have the Pitt Music Dept around. I hope I'm right about that.

My apologies for such skimpy descriptions. I don't mean to neglect any of the composers or performers. It was a great night & I was fortunate to be among the all-too-few who attended.

Finally, Soren gave me a CD from her/his crew called Wire Mother Parasomnia. I haven't listened to it yet but I think I can honestly say: things are happening!

yr pal,





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