George Crumb: Unplugged &
Pittsburgh Chamber Music Project
Tuesday, February 11, 2002
by Margie Romero
Pittsburgh Chamber Music Project makes a pretty incendiary statement about
its concert scheduled for The Andy Warhol Museum theater: "An
unforgettable sonic experience awaits you in a surrealistic battle between
God and the Black Angels - the soul's fall from grace through spiritual
hell and back!"
What 20th Century composer can
deliver music fantastic and incongruous enough to live up to this promise?
The answer is George Crumb-- widely known in musical circles for more than
three decades as an agent provocateur.
The two works by Crumb on the
evening's program are Black Angels
and Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello.
According to Richard Page, Director of the Pittsburgh Chamber Music
Project, Black Angels will be
performed by a quartet, which includes viola, two violins and a cello. The
solo cello sonata will be done by Aron Zelkowicz, a young musician who
sometimes works with the Pittsburgh Symphony where his father, Isaias
Associate Principal Viola.
This connection with the
Pittsburgh Symphony extends to Page, who is a bass clarinetist with the
orchestra, as well as a members of the quartet. Rarely, however, do they
have the opportunity to tackle a work as out there as Crumb's.
"Normally we play acoustic
instruments," Page explains. "But for Black Angels, which is a piece for electrified instruments,
each string player will have a contact microphone. The microphones will run
to four separate amplifiers. "For us to be hooked up like this is
unnatural," he says with a laugh.
The sounds produced by the
electrified instruments are also likely to be somewhat unnatural. "The
compositorial language that Crumb chose is noise-related, atonal and
dissonant with rare moments of sonority," Page says.
In addition to the string
instruments, three of the four musicians will have water goblets on tables
next to them. While it might appear the glasses are there in case of
thirst, Crumb fans will know they are, in fact, part of the show. Tuned by
filling each glass to a precise level to create a different pitch, the
goblets will be "played" at various points in the 25-minute
piece. One technique to get a frequency from a water-filled vessels is to
run fingers around the rim. The musicians will also use their bows to
achieve louder and longer tones. And don't be surprised when gongs, rattles
and other percussion instruments suddenly appear.
"To a large extent we're out
of our element with this," Page admits. On the other hand, he
describes the brief cello sonata as a gorgeous work, beautifully tonal and
melodic. He also promises a surprise bon-bon for the encore.
"We try to offer a diverse
mix of classical, traditional, baroque and contemporary," Page says of
the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Project. Crumb was chosen for this winter
program because his work will take both the musicians and the audience into
new territory. And while Page admits that some people will hate Black Angels, Crumb is a widely
accepted and lauded composer who has been making records since 1967 and has
written more than 50 pieces.
Some of these compositions include
Ancient Voices of Children for
mezzo-soprano, boy soprano, oboe, mandolin, harp, amplified piano, toy
piano and percussion; Gethsemane
for small orchestra; and Star Child
for soprano, antiphonal children's voices, male speaking choir, bell
ringers and large orchestra - which actually won a Grammy Award in 2000 for
Best Contemporary Composition.
Now in his 70's and retired, Crumb
has had a long and successful career as both a composer and teacher. He has
taught theory and analysis at Hollins College, piano and composition at the
University of Colorado, was composer-in-residence at State University of
New York in Buffalo, and Annenberg Professor of the Humanities at the
University of Pennsylvania. He received a Pulitzer Prize in 1968 for Echoes of Time and the River, and
numerous other awards including a Prince Pierre de Monaco Gold Medal, a
Brandeis University Creative Arts Award, and six honorary degrees.
Page believes that performing this
program, which is being called George
Crumb: Unplugged & Connected, is perfect for The Andy Warhol
Museum. "The Warhol has a reputation for being avant-garde, and Crumb
has been on the cutting edge for
many decades," he says.
The Pittsburgh Chamber Music
Project is sponsored by Howard Heinz Endowments. The series media sponsor is WQED FM.
Off the Wall
popular performance series, Off the Wall, at The Andy Warhol Museum begins
the 2003 with events in January and February:
Menopausal Gentleman, by Peggy Shaw
Friday, January 18
First up, Shaw comes to town with the production
that won her an Obie Award in 1999. Developed with Rebecca Taichman, Menopausal Gentleman had European
and American tours, a successful Off-Broadway run, and very positive media
Gentleman, Shaw describes her experiences as a lesbian going through
the change of life. Although now a grandmother in her mid-50s, Shaw's usual
attire of sharp pinstripe suit and tie makes her look more like a man just
reaching middle age. While Shaw's sartorial choice allows her to present
herself to the world in the way she's most comfortable, her clothing and
attitude could not prevent the raging hormones every woman must deal with
as she enters menopause. One of the traditional symptoms of "the
change" is insomnia, and in her solo piece Shaw lets us in on what
goes through her mind in the wee hours she endures alone.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian describes Shaw as,
"A riveting performer with extraordinary comic timing." In Menopausal Gentleman she talks about
dancing in the dark with flashlights up her sleeves and lip-synching to Screamin'
Jay Hawkin's version of "I Put a Spell on You." She also uses a personalized
rendition of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" to discuss her own approach
to living in the world.
"They say a lot of women get like men in
menopause cause they grow a beard and get dried out," Shaw tells the
audience. "I guess that's their definition of man: A hairy, dried-up
woman." According to the Boston Globe, "You don't have to be
going through the change, contemplating the change, or even physically
capable of the change to appreciate what Shaw is going through on the bare
This ability of Shaw's to reach an audience is long
established. An actor, playwright and producer, she founded the lesbian
theatre company Split Britches in 1980 with Lois Weaver and Deb Margolin.
She also received Obie Awards for her performance in Dress Suits to Hire, a collaboration with Holly Hughes, and Belle Reprieve, a collaboration with
the London-based theatre company BlooLips.
by Big Art Group
Friday, February 8; Saturday, February 9
A more recent addition to the performance scene is
Big Art Group, founded in 1998 by Caden Manson. Made up of young actors,
filmmakers, designers and visual artists from all over the United States,
Big Art Group will bring its piece Shelf
Life to the Warhol for two shows. A combination of video projection and
performance, Big Art Group calls its work "real-time film."
Shelf Life features
a quartet of young people: James, Wendy, Max and Frankie. In the story, the
female Frankie becomes the object of desire of the other three characters.
Emoting jealousy, rage and betrayal, the actors work in front of stationary
cameras that project their actions onto a screen. Watching the screen the
audience sees a movie; watching the performers the audience sees the making
of the movie. The Dance Insider magazine
described the troupe's approach as, "A loud, reeling example of pop
culture eating itself. The work delivers the instant gratification of the
contemporary and the commercial?"
in its third season, the Off the Wall series is a collaboration between The
Andy Warhol Museum and New York's P.S. 122, a national pioneer in presenting
performance art. All shows begin at 8 p.m. and are followed by meet-the-artist
receptions. Tickets are $15; $10 for students. The series media sponsor is