Charles Ives was the original mash-up artist, according to composer Ted Hearne. Mr. Ives’ song “The Cage,” written for piano and voice, was inspiration for Mr. Hearne’s own mash-up, “The Cage Variations,” commissioned by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble.
Conducted by artistic director Kevin Noe, PNME premiered “The Cage Variations” Friday night at City Theatre on the South Side. It made for an edgy, unapologetically strange and compelling experience. Like a tour of a modern museum of music, it challenged listeners by exposing them to an array of works that had varying degrees of appeal.
Mr. Hearne created 12 variations on “The Cage” that are entirely drawn from the works of other composers, including Amy Beth Kirsten, Scott Wollschleger, Molly Joyce, Alex Mincek, Anna Clyne, Daniel Wohl, Morton Feldman and Robert Honstein. While Mr. Hearne layered “shards” and recorded samples of these pieces on top of each other, the program also weaved in whole versions of the sampled works. Thus, the production was as much a test of Mr. Hearne’s concept as it was an opportunity to experience these new works on their own terms.
It was a sonic trip that made for an ever-changing experience. Some examples:
Ms. Kirsten’s “Pirouette on a Moon Sliver” was theatrically and demonically rendered by Lindsey Goodman, who breathed, laughed and sang into her flute, blending the timbres of voice and instrument.
In the beginning, bass-baritone Timothy Jones acted out the text of “The Cage” and offered pure and fresh perspectives on the song throughout. Most interesting was when his voice was sonically manipulated in Cage 7.
Violinist Nathalie Shaw gave a stirring performance in Ms. Joyce’s “Blue Swell,” tenderness replicated by organ-like melodicas that appeared in Mr. Wohl’s “Fluctuations” and elsewhere.
Mr. Hearne rewarded listeners when works featured in their original form were quoted in later variations.
The production was enhanced by the colorful hues offered by lighting designer Andrew David Ostrowski.
Some aspects were rough around the edges. For instance, the amplification was sometimes grating; the production felt too long; works performed in their entirety were indicated in dizzying supertitles that had a couple of typos.
Still, this was music on the frontier of modern composition and played at a high level. In pushing the boundaries of art, coloring outside the lines is inevitable.
Concert repeats at 8 tonight.
Elizabeth Bloom: ebloom @post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750.