IonSound Project may have been around since 2004, but there's a new shine to the local New Music ensemble these days: It's officially going steady with the University of Pittsburgh's music department as its first ensemble in residence. "We've had a relationship -- an informal one," says department chair Matthew Rosenblum. "And now it's on paper."
While Pitt's Music on the Edge series has long brought in top-notch performers from around the world for concerts and workshops with the program's composition students, such opportunities were a bit scattered. "We're not a conservatory, we're not a school of music," Rosenblum says. "We're a liberal-arts university, so most of our [undergrad] students are double-majors in music," he says, "but the composers don't have the same types of opportunities to get their pieces played as they would at these other local universities."
IonSound's residency, he says, will change that. Throughout the year, IonSound will work with student composers, presenting workshops on "new instrumental techniques and different kinds of things that would interest young composers," as well as performing the best student compositions at an annual spring concert. "These guys are out there, really dedicated to New Music of all styles," says Rosenblum. "So composers can hit them with almost anything, and they can deal with it."
IonSound, which got started in Pittsburgh in 2004, consists of Peggy Yoo (flute), Kathleen Costello (clarinet), Laura Motchalov (violin), Elisa Kohanski (cello), Rob Frankenberry (piano) and Eliseo Rael (percussion). Several members play in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and other ensembles in the region. Their concerts, sometimes held at nontraditional venues such as Lawrenceville's Your Inner Vagabond, often feature collaborations with artists in other disciplines, such as Jeff Davis of Attack Theatre.
IonSound's first concert "in residence" takes place on Sat., Sept. 20, at Bellefield Auditorium. Entitled Mirrors and Minimalism, the program includes works by some household names -- relatively speaking -- such as Philip Glass ("Piece in the Shape of a Square"), Erik Satie ("Pieces in the Shape of a Pear") and Steve Reich ("Music for Pieces of Wood").
The concert also includes "Fratres," by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, which combines minimalist ideas with roots in early music and chant. He has described his style as "tintinnabuli," an effect "which evokes the pealing of bells, the bells' complex but rich sonorous mass of overtones, the gradual unfolding of patterns implicit in the sound itself, and the idea of a sound that is simultaneously static and in flux." Pärt created various arrangements of the piece between 1977 and 1992; recently, portions were included in the score for the film There Will Be Blood, by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood.
There's also "In C" (1964), a modular composition by Terry Riley, an American composer with a strong interest in Indian classical music, who later performed with LaMonte Young's Theater of Eternal Music, and has composed extensively for the Kronos Quartet. The PSO's composer-in-residence, John Adams, shows up with "China Gates" (1977) and Pittsburgh composer Efrain Amaya's "Trio for Flute, Violin, and Piano" rounds out the bill. In keeping with IonSound's penchant for including other art forms, the event will incorporate photography by Pittsburgh artist Charles Biddle.
Mirrors and Minimalism is also the first concert of the group's 2008-2009 season, entitled "Upstarts and Icons." Its next concert, on Dec. 15, features works with spiritual inspirations or themes, performed at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church. And in March, IonSound will present music by Pitt's graduate-student composers. The season concludes in July with a concert focusing on Jeremy Beck's chamber music.
All this sounds like good news for fans of New Music in Pittsburgh, in a time when the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble's entire season takes place over a few summer weeks, leaving the rest of the year a bit bare. And what's good news for the concertgoer, in this case, is also good for Pitt.
"We're trying to rev things up a bit, and have more of a presence and attract more folks, and IonSound is a big part of that," says Rosenblum. "They're really young, vital, energetic." Pitt's music department as a whole is undertaking a rebranding this year, attempting to reach audiences outside the University system with monthly "Music at Pitt" events and advertisements.
On Oct. 11, Indonesian dangdut pop star Rhoma Irama ("he's like a god over there") performs at Pitt as part of a conference on Islam and popular culture. And this year, Music on the Edge is partnering with the Andy Warhol Museum for three concerts at the museum, including an Oct. 14 concert featuring a piece by Jonny Greenwood for string orchestra. "We've got a lot of great stuff going on," says Rosenblum, "from world music to contemporary music and more traditional orchestral stuff."
IonSound Project presents Mirrors and Minimalism. 8 p.m. Sat., Sept. 20 (reception to follow). Bellefield Hall, University of Pittsburgh campus, 315. S. Bellefield Ave., Oakland. $10 ($5 students/seniors). ionsound.org