It's by design that the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble limits itself to a handful of instruments. The ensemble's small makeup would present a challenge to anyone seeking to offer a wide variety of programming across four concert cycles.
But then again, who doesn't like a good challenge?
At the first concert of PNME's annual summer season, the instrumentation will be even more spartan than usual, with just two pianists and two percussionists.
"For the opening performance, I suppose I tried to use restraint, for starters, in instrumentation," said artistic director Kevin Noe.
Despite the self-imposed constraints -- or perhaps because of them -- the PNME is able to go in another thematic direction. The first concert is meant to be reminiscent of the time from dusk to dawn, reversing a standard temporal (and musical) logic that moves from morning to night, Mr. Noe said.
It starts with the percussion-only "Table of Contents" by David Lang, followed by all four musicians in "Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III)" and ending with the "Hallelujah Junction," a piano duo by John Adams, thus finishing with what Mr. Noe terms a "trajectory toward the brilliance of the morning."
The centerpiece of the second concert is a commission by local composer and University of Pittsburgh professor Mathew Rosenblum. The piece, "Falling," is named after a James Dickey poem of the same name, which is based on the true story of a flight attendant who died after falling out of an emergency door.
The piece begins with a recording of Dickey reading the 15-minute poem. Fragments of the recording play during the sound piece, working parallel with soprano voice. The piece also features flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion.
While the PNME often draws upon visual effects for its performances, Mr. Noe says he plans to treat the work "like a radio piece."
"We wanted to create a world in which the audience could experience it almost with their eyes closed," he said.
The concert's other pieces, by Timothy Andres and Pierre Jalbert, were selected to prepare the audience to experience the commissioned work.
The third concert cycle features works by Randall Bauer, David Liptak, Mr. Jalbert, Martin Bresnick, Kieren MacMillan and Dan Viscount; the final weekend includes pieces by Sean Neukom, Steve Reich, Vicki Ray, Nico Muhly and Kevin Puts.
"And Legions Will Rise" by Mr. Puts will feature clarinetist Kevin Schempf, who is leaving after this season, new guest percussionist Mike Compitello on marimba and Nathalie Shaw on violin.
In addition, flutist Lindsey Goodman will perform a solo recital, "The Electroacoustic Flutist," which will include two Pittsburgh premieres and a to-be-announced "fan favorite" chosen by concertgoers on Facebook.
With an exciting season ahead, PNME will likely continue to be a fan favorite for concertgoers, too.
Elizabeth Bloom: email@example.com and 412-263-1750. First Published July 11, 2013 4:00 AM