Preview: Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society stretches out in new concert series

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The Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. But the middle-aged organization is showing no signs of slowing down, introducing "Just Summer," its first summer concert series, to Pittsburgh's growing slate of summer classical music offerings.

"Just Summer" will feature concerts this month by the Harlem Quartet, Brooklyn Rider and bandoneonist Julien Labro with the Spektral Quartet. Two concerts will take place at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty and one at the Absolute Ballroom in Larimer. The series is being presented in conjunction with the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater and the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society 'Just Summer'

Where: At Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty -- Harlem Quartet, pictured right, and Brooklyn Rider; at Absolute Ballroom, 6617 Hamilton Ave., Larimer -- Julien Labro with Spektral Quartet.

When: July 11, Harlem Quartet; July 18, Brooklyn Rider; July 24, Julien Labro with Spektral Quartet. All start at 7:30 p.m. with pre-concert mixer at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets: $20; 412-624-4129 or

"Just Summer's" variegated repertoire -- which covers everything from jazz to Romanian music to tango -- follows a global trend in chamber music performance to broaden musical offerings, according to Annie Mollova, executive director of PCMS.

"It blurs the traditional boundary lines between genres of classical music," she said.

In adding a summer schedule and presenting performances in locations beyond its usual home at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, PCMS hopes to create a more casual concert environment. Tickets to every performance also include a pre-concert mixer, featuring food and drink catered by the Strip District's Bar Marco.

"We wanted to create a series that felt less formal, and that was out of the traditional concert hall setting," she said.

The low-key milieu will likely not come at the expense of quality, as the concerts will feature some of the most exciting and reputable ensembles in chamber music today.

In the first concert, "Take the 'A' Train," the Harlem Quartet will perform jazz and jazz-inspired numbers by composers such as Billy Strayhorn (who spent much of his life in Pittsburgh), Wynton Marsalis and Chick Corea. The critically acclaimed Harlem Quartet, whose mission is to further diversity in classical music, last appeared in Pittsburgh in 2009 for the opening of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

The second concert, "A Walking Fire -- Musical Excursions to Clejani, Budapest and Esfahan," will be the Pittsburgh debut of nationally renowned string quartet Brooklyn Rider. The concert will highlight music from Romania, Hungary and Iran, from the group's well-reviewed latest album, "A Walking Fire."

Rounding out the series is "Five for Tango," a performance by bandoneonist Mr. Labro with the Spektral Quartet, also new to Pittsburgh. The bandoneon, a wooden instrument that looks similar to an accordion, is frequently used in tango music. The concert will be followed by a tango demonstration, after which audience members will be able to try out the dance for themselves.

For an organization getting on in years, PCMS certainly isn't showing it.

Correction, July 7, 2013: Julien Labro's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.


Elizabeth Bloom: or 412-263-1750 or on Twitter @BloomPG.


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