Pittsburgh New Music Net

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Beyond Microtonal Music Festival, Remembering Ezra Sims

This is a terrific weekend for new music in Pittsburgh with Sumeida’s Song already in performances by the Pittsburgh Opera and the Beyond: Microtonal Music Festival ready to be uncorked at the Warhol this weekend. All the details for “Beyond” are in the PNMNet events calendar, so I won’t rehash that here. You can also see Liz Bloom’s in-depth preview in the PG if you want some very useful context. What I do want to do, on the occasion of the Beyond Festival, is to take a moment to remember one of the great proponents of microtonal music. We lost Ezra Sims on January 30 of this year and many times I’ve meant to sit down and write something about what that meant, but feared my inability to do it justice. I probably still won’t do it justice, but here goes.

My encounter with Ezra Sims began in 1996 when I was a first year MA student in composition and theory at Pitt. Like all incoming grad students I had to write a state of research paper for the bibliography class. I chose to write about research in microtonal music, not because it was an area of particular interest, but because I didn’t know much about it. (This, by the way, is not the best way to approach that sort of course.) For my own edification, I decided to listen to as many actual microtonal composers as I could while I was working on the paper, so I listened to Partch, Johnston, Blackwood, Riley, Harrison and many others. One night I was in my study tapping away in Word Perfect 5.1 on my 386 IBM clone and suddenly I had to stop what I was doing and just listen to the music that was coming out of my stereo. It was the second movement of Ezra Sims’ Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet—haunting, poignant, perfect.

A few years later I was ready to start working on my doctoral dissertation and Mathew Rosenblum and Eric Moe had invited Ezra to Pittsburgh for a lecture and performance of his music. As I listened to Ezra speak I realized that no one but him had written about his music and that that could be a fertile subject for the analytical part of my dissertation.

Now keep in mind that I had never written any microtonal music, and didn’t really aspire to do so, but what I had heard in Ezra’s music all those years before had stuck with me. My intuition was that he was the consummate composer and studying his craft would only make me better at my own.

I was right on, I think, both counts. I spent a few days in Cambridge meeting with Ezra, talking with him about his harmonic approach, taping our conversations. I pulled the second movement of Quintet apart, harmony by harmony. What I found in this maverick Just Intonation composer was not only an amazing ear for local harmonic movement, but large scale voice leading that would have been at home in any Mozart sonata. Or as I wrote in the conclusion of my dissertation,

“In his ground breaking book, Personal Knowledge, Michael Polanyi shows that the path to discovery begins with an intuitive grasp of the solution. He writes,

‘…true discovery is not a strictly logical performance, and accordingly, we may describe the obstacle to be overcome as a ‘logical gap’, and speak of the width of the logical gap as the measure of the ingenuity required for solving the problem. ‘Illumination’ is then the leap by which the logical gap is crossed. It is the plunge by which we gain a foothold at another shore of reality… The pioneer mind which reaches across this logical gap deviates from the commonly accepted process of reasoning to achieve surprising results. Such an act is original in the sense of making a new start, and the capacity of initiating it is the gift of originality, a gift possessed by a small minority.’

Ezra Sims’s creative development surely reflects this process of illumination. His discovery is the application of microtonality in a way that affords him the exigencies of local and large scale tonal direction. His development of the twenty-four tone justly tuned scale and the 72 tpo tuning constitute the means by which Sims overcomes the logical gap. His compositional technique represents the logical, coherent articulation of an intuitively grasped solution, and because of this we may regard Sims as a truly original composer whose work is a valuable resource not only to those interested in the possibilities of extended tuning, but to all composers concerned with relating their work to the western concert music tradition.”

I’m very pleased that as part of tomorrow night’s opening concert of “Beyond”, the brilliant cellist Ted Mook will play Ezra’s Solo in four movements, a piece he wrote for Ted. It’s a fitting way to remember a composer who embodied so much of what it is we strive for as we create our own music.

February 26, 2015 at 9:10 pm Comments (0)

Ben Goldberg Trio Sun 3/22 @ Thunderbird Cafe

March 22, 2015
8:00 pm

Thunderbird Cafe
Sun March 22 8 pm 21+ $16 adv/$20 door

West Coast avantjazz & klezmer pioneer, former leader of the New Klezmer Trio.

He hasn’t been in Pittsburgh since 1996 (Jews With Horns tour @ Rodef). Rare appearance!

Thunderbird Cafe, 4023 Butler St, Lawrenceville

tickets on sale now at: Sound Cat Records, Caliban Books, Dave’s Music Mine, Acoustic Music Works. Online tickets at http://www.thunderbirdcafe.net

Named the #1 rising clarinetist in the 2011 Downbeat Critics Poll, San Francisco-area musician Ben Goldberg has been around for much longer. He was a member of famed Berkeley klezmer revivalists The Klezmorim (who had releases on important folk labels such as Arhoolie and Flying Fish). With Dan Seamans and Kenny Wollesen (of John Zorn’s Masada) he formed the New Klezmer Trio, right in the thick of the Radical Jewish Culture movement, and released three CDs on Zorn’s Tzadik label with that group in the ’90s (they also reconvened in 2009 with Greg Cohen on bass).

With musical heroes such as Steve Lacy, Thelonious Monk and Joe Lovano, Goldberg also emphasizes a strongly forward-thinking approach to jazz. His trio recording “Plays Monk” won an award in Downbeat in 2007. He has a long-running quartet called Tin Hat which includes Mark Orton and Carla Kihlstedt (of prog-rockers Sleepytime Gorilla Museum). Goldberg has also collaborated on recordings with the likes of Myra Melford, Larry Ochs (ROVA), Marty Ehrlich, Miya Masaoka, Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle/Fantomas) and others on labels such as Tzadik, Cryptogramophone, Knitting Factory, Ryko, Victo, Music & Arts and Songlines, as well as his own label BAG.

Goldberg’s latest releases include “Short Sighted Dream Colossus” (with John Dietrich and Scott Amendola), “Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues” (including Joshua Redman and Ches Smith), and “Unfold Ordinary Mind” (featuring Nels Cline of Wilco, and Ellery Eskelin). He’s also received composer commissions from San Francisco’s De Young Museum and Friends of Chamber Music, and a grant from Chamber Music America.

February 24, 2015 at 9:56 pm Comments (0)

Hypercolor (Ligeti/Maoz/Ilgenfritz) Mon 3/10 @ Howler’s

March 10, 2015
9:00 pm

Monday March 10 9 pm $7 21+
Howler’s Coyote Cafe, 4509 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield

from New York City on Tzadik Records
jazz-rockers HYPERCOLOR

with special guests ((microwaves)) and Billy Castle

review from All About Jazz:
Hypercolor: Hypercolor (2015, Tzadik Records)
By DAVE WAYNE, Published: February 11, 2015

The past few months have seen a stream of truly—and in some cases mind-bogglingly—wonderful guitar-centric power trio albums. Yet, the eponymous debut of the Brooklyn-based avant-jazz-rock band Hypercolor stands out, but not for the reasons you’d think. Sure, the trio consists of musical brainiacs James Ilgenfritz and Lukas Ligeti; genre omnivores whose own work and collaborations draw as heavily from the worlds of free improvisation, contemporary classical, various ethnic musics, and art-rock as they do from jazz. How guitarist Eyal Maoz, best known as one of the most distinctive young musicians in John Zorn’s orbit, has remained an underground sort of figure is beyond me. Like his bandmates, his playing is distinctive and virtuosic, and his recordings to date have been consistently fresh and restlessly eclectic. Take, for example Hope and Destruction (Tzadik, 2009) which successfully fused traditional Yiddish melodies and modern metal with the hyperactive rhythms of 70s disco-funk.

Hypercolor is similarly eclectic. The trio eliminates the overt references to dance music, and replaces them with a punkish sort of old school jazz-rock energy. The album is rife with the sort of strutting attitude that made Tony Williams’ Lifetime (in all of its concatenations) so much fun to listen to. The end result, though, is more along the lines of Fred Frith’s great trio, Massacre, or perhaps the Nels Cline Singers.


Eyal Maoz, James Ilgenfritz, and Lukas Ligeti make up Hypercolor, the NYC- based spastic jazz-rock hybrid whose ridiculous artsong craftsmanship alternately revels in complexity or brazen simplicity, favoring entropy and near-disaster over order or tidiness.

Like experimental grafting surgery gone horribly awry, Hypercolor bears limbs borrowed from 80s NYC No-Wave, and early jazz/rock, and orchestral rock textures.

Eyal Maoz is a guitarist, composer, Tzadik and Ayler Records artist and a guest member of John Zorn’s Cobra. His ensembles performed at major music festivals worldwide such as the Montreal Jazz Festival, Red Sea International Jazz Festival, NYC 2007 Winter JazzFest, the New York Jewish Music and Heritage Festival, Florida Music Harvest, The Jewzapalooza Festival in NYC and more.

Transcending the boundaries of genre, composer and percussionist Lukas Ligeti (son of composer Gyorgy Ligeti) has developed a musical style of his own that draws upon downtown NY experimentalism, contemporary classical music, jazz, electronica, and world music, particularly from Africa. Lukas creates music ranging from the through-composed to the free- improvised, often exploring non-Western elements, and has been participating in cultural exchange projects for the past 15 years. Lukas has been commissioned by Bang on a Can, Kronos Quartet, Ensemble Modern, and the American Composers Orchestra, to name a few. He frequently performs solo on the marimba lumina, a rare electronic percussion instrument. As a drummer, he co-leads several bands including Burkina Electric, the first electronica band from Burkina Faso. He has also performed and/or recorded with John Zorn, Henry Kaiser, Gary Lucas, Marilyn Crispell, John Tchicai, Jim O’Rourke, Borah Bergman, Eugene Chadbourne, and many others. He has led or co-led experimental intercultural projects in Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho, and has taught at universities in Ghana and South Africa.

Brooklyn composer, bassist, and educator James Ilgenfritz has been active in creative music since the late 90s. His work has been praised in Time Out New York, All About Jazz, and Downbeat Magazine. Recent performances include work with Pauline Oliveros, John Zorn, and Anthony Braxton. James has received grants and residencies from Issue Project Room, the American Composers Forum, and OMI Arts Center. Notable performance venues include Roulette, The Kennedy Center in Washington DC, Symphony Space, and the New Museum in SoHo. James is on Faculty at the Preparatory Center of Brooklyn College and at Brooklyn Conservatory.

February 24, 2015 at 9:52 pm Comments (0)

Beyond: Symposium Session 2

March 1, 2015
6:00 pmto7:30 pm
6:00 pmto7:30 pm

In addition to three nights of concerts, the Beyond Microtonal Music Festival includes two days of symposium with guest speakers. The second symposium session is an Introduction to Microtonal Music (Historical Issues). Presenters include Frank J. Oteri (Editor, NewMusicBox) and Robert Hasegawa (McGill University).

This section of the symposium will take place at The Andy Warhol Museum Theater and is free and open to the public. All attendees are invited to enjoy refreshments following the session.

February 18, 2015 at 9:16 pm Comments (0)

Beyond: Symposium Session 1

February 28, 2015
1:00 pmto4:00 pm
1:00 pmto4:00 pm

In addition to three nights of concerts, the Beyond Microtonal Music Festival includes two days of symposium with guest speakers. The first session will be a discussion of Ligeti’s Hamburg Concerto and Lamonte Young’s Well-tuned Piano. Presenters will include Charles Corey, Anthony Cheung, Kyle Gann, and Michael Harrison.

The symposium will be held in Music Building Room 132 (at the corner of Fifth Ave and Bellefield Ave) on University of Pittsburgh’s campus on Saturday February 28th, and is free and open to the public.

February 18, 2015 at 9:07 pm Comments (0)

CMU Contemporary Premieres Fromm’s Contrabassoon Concerto

February 15, 2015
7:30 pm

Kresge Theater, Free


Composer Mark Fromm

The Contemporary Ensemble will perform four contemporary concerti featuring 3 CMU graduate students and 1 alum as soloists. In addition, the concert will feature the world premiere of CMU alum Mark Fromm’s lingua cosmica. Lingua cosmica was, in part, commissioned by the School of Music in celebration of the acquisition of a new contrabassoon.


Saariaho, Terrestre
Annie Gordon, flute

Stock,  The Philosopher’s Stone
Melissa Stewart, violin

Bermel, Soul Garden
Si Yu, viola

Fromm lingua cosmica (world premiere)
Andrew Genemans, contrabassoon

February 12, 2015 at 12:57 pm Comments (0)

Beyond: Microtonal Music Fest Finale

March 1, 2015
8:00 pmto10:00 pm

mantra2The final night of the Beyond Microtonal Music Festival has a whole slew of performers lined up. Ray-Kallay Duo will perform Enno Poppe’s Rad, as well as works by Eric Moe (premiere), Frank J. Oteri, Kyle Gann, and others. Flux Quartet and Mantra Percussion will premiere Mathew Rosenblum’s Ostatnia runda, dedicated to composer Lee Hyla who passed away in 2014 and written for Flux Quartet and Mantra Percussion together. Pittsburgh’s own Alia Musica will perform Nach-Ruf… ent-gleitend by Georg Friedrich Haas.

The Ray-Kallay Duo is dedicated to expanding the sonic possibilities of the multiple keyboard concert, often using two acoustic grands, two keyboards, or combinations of both. In redefining the 21st century piano duo, they also frequently include live electronics and alternate tuning systems in their programs. Their repertoire ranges from icons of the genre to newly composed works crafted specifically for their unusual and special resources. The duo, comprised of Pianists Vicki Ray and Aron Kallay, has given hundreds of world premieres in Los Angeles and across the country. Mark Swed of the LA Times called them “Exquisite.

Founded in 2006-7 by a consortium of eleven young composers, Alia Musica has created professional opportunities for composers, performers, and conductors of contemporary music from all over the US. Parterships include new-music organizations in New York, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Rochester, and more. Under the leadership of Federico Garcia-De Castro, it has contributed to enrich a more and more lively and vibrant new music scene in Pittsburgh. Alia Musica has collaborated with world-class artists like conductors Cliff Colnot and Jeffery Meyer, soprano Tony Arnold, and the legendary composer-performers Frederic Rzewski and Robert Dick.

For the sake of brevity, check out our Saturday night event post for more on Flux Quartet and Mantra Percussion. Join us at the Warhol Sunday March 1st at 8 p.m. to see all of these groups! Tickets for March 1st, and the rest of the festival are available at http://music.pitt.edu/tickets.

February 11, 2015 at 10:39 am Comments (0)

Flux Quartet and Mantra Percussion

February 28, 2015
8:00 pmto10:00 pm

Flux2013 copyThis February, MOTE is bringing a number of fantastic ensembles to Pittsburgh for Beyond: A Microtonal Music Festival. Night two of the festival features Flux Quartet performing Scelsi’s String Quartet #2 and other works, and Mantra Percussion performing Michael Gordon’s epic hour-long piece, Timber, for six 2 x 4 pieces of wood and light installation.

The FLUX Quartet, “one of the most fearless and important new-music ensembles around” (Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle) “who has brought a new renaissance to quartet music” (Kyle Gann, The Village Voice), has performed to rave reviews in venues from Carnegie’s Zankel Hall and Kennedy Center, to influential art institutions such as EMPAC, The Kitchen, and the Walker Art Center (with jazz icon Ornette Coleman), to international music festivals in Australia, Europe, and the Americas. It has also appeared on numerous experimental series, including Bowerbird, Roulette, and soon Music on the Edge. Their premiere recording of Morton Feldman’s monumental String Quartet No.2 was described as a “disorienting, transfixing experience that repeatedly approached and touched the sublime” (Alex Ross, The New Yorker)

Strongly influenced by the irreverent spirit and “anything-goes” philosophy of the fluxus art movement, violinist Tom Chiu founded FLUX in the late 90’s. The quartet has since cultivated an uncompromising repertoire that follows neither fashions nor trends, but rather combines yesterday’s seminal iconoclasts with tomorrow’s new voices. Alongside late 20th-century masters like Cage, Feldman, Ligeti, Nancarrow, Scelsi, and Xenakis, FLUX has premiered more than 100 works by many of today’s foremost innovators.

Mantra Percussion has been hailed by The New York Times as “finely polished…a fresh source of energy” and praised by The New Yorker and TimeOut New York for presenting one of the ten best classical performances of 2012. Committed to honoring the deep past and expanding the far-flung future of percussion music, Mantra brings to life new works for percussion by living composers, collaborates with artists from diverse genres and styles, and questions what it means to communicate by making music with and on percussive objects. They devote their collective energy toward engaging new audiences by challenging the standard concert format through evening-length events that look toward a grander artistic vision. Their mantra is to strive for each performance to be a significant moment.

Since forming as an ensemble in 2009, Mantra has been featured at festivals, venues, and universities throughout North America and in Europe including the Brooklyn Academy of Music, MATA Festival, Bang on a Can Marathon, National Public Radio,  and many others. After co-commissioning Michael Gordon’s evening-length percussion sextet Timber, Mantra gave the work’s United States premiere in October 2011 and subsequently toured the work throughout North America.

MOTE cannot wait to bring this work to Pittsburgh on Saturday February 28th, 8 p.m. at the Andy Warhol Museum. Tickets for this show, and the rest of the festival are available at http://music.pitt.edu/tickets.


February 10, 2015 at 9:28 pm Comments (0)

Beyond: Microtonal Music Festival

February 27, 2015
8:00 pmto10:00 pm

mak2This February, MOTE is bringing a number of fantastic ensembles to Pittsburgh for Beyond: A Microtonal Music Festival. The first of three concerts in the festival will feature guitarists Mak Grgić and Daniel Lippel performing Radelescu, cellist Theodore Mook performing Ezra Sims, and pianist/composer Michael Harrison performing his own piece Revelation.

Born in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Mak Grgić has established himself as one of the up-and-coming performers in the guitar genre.” Mak is a passionate advocate for new music and has premiered numerous new pieces. Mak’s versatile career includes solo performances and recordings as well as orchestral performances, and chamber music. He is a co-founder of DC8, Da Camera’s contemporary music ensemble, which strives to expand the definition of what a modern music ensemble can be. Mak has won many guitar competitions and recently took first prize at the Guitar Competition “Luigi Mozzani” in Italy.

Guitarist Daniel Lippel, called an “exciting soloist” (NY Times), “versatile and skillful guitarist” (Time Out New York) and a “modern guitar polymath” (Guitar Review), enjoys a diverse career that ranges through solo performances, chamber music, innovative commissioning and recording projects, and improvising contexts. Based in New York, Lippel has been the guitarist with ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) since 2005 and Flexible Music since 2004. As a chamber musician, he has performed throughout Asia, Europe, South America, and the U.S. He has performed as a guest with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, New York New Music Ensemble, and Either/Or Ensemble, among others.

American cellist Theodore Mook is a versatile performer, comfortable in avante-garde, classical, historical, and commercial styles. He has been a particularly active proponent of new music since 1980. Mr. Mook has played new music at the Library of Congress, the American Academy in Rome, the venerable Monday Evening Concerts at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and many others. Recent concert appearances span the globe: Perth, Brisbane, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Porto, Brussels, Oldenburg, and Bremen. His extensive discography spans over 100 works, including a brand new release on New World records performing the music of Annea Lockwood.

Composer and pianist, Michael Harrison, creates music that is both forward looking and deeply rooted in different forms of traditional music. This perspective, alongside a simple and elegant gift for melody, makes him a composer that can reach audiences of many kinds. As a pianist Harrison has performed his music and received premieres at the Spoleto Festival, Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, Other Minds Festival in San Francisco, in New York City at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, United Nations, Symphony Space, numerous Bang On A Can Marathons at the World Financial Center, among many others. Harrison has produced two albums of his works to critical acclaim: Times Loops and Revelation.

Music critic Tim Page wrote, “Say it plainly — Michael Harrison’s ‘Revelation: Music in Pure Intonation is probably the most brilliant and original extended composition for solo piano since the early works of Frederic Rzewski three decades ago…”

Come and see all of these amazing performers the first night of the festival: Friday, February 27th, 8 p.m. at the Andy Warhol Museum. Tickets for this show, and the rest of the festival are available at http://music.pitt.edu/tickets.

February 9, 2015 at 2:08 pm Comments (0)