Philadelphia's famed New Music ensemble Relâche began in the heady days of the late '70s, when composers were attempting to gain a measure of independence from the universities. According to Relâche co-director Lloyd Shorter, the ensemble's founding by the "three Joe" composers -- Franklin, Kasinskas and Showalter -- was a response to "uptown" snobbiness.
"The Joes wanted more of an avant-garde, anything-goes approach, so they brought in people like [accordionist and composer] Guy Klucevsek," says Shorter. "Kronos Quartet started around the same time, and Steve Reich and Philip Glass had formed ensembles a few years earlier to play their music, rather than just picking up musicians for concerts."
Relâche became a pioneering template for a novel brand of ensemble, one that still challenges young composers (with whom Relâche interacts at various schools) to broaden their perspectives. The group's unique octet of piano, clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, viola, bass and percussion differentiates it from the standard contemporary chamber quintet established by Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire in the '20s.
"I think we still find new harmonic and melodic expressions within the instrumentation we have," Shorter says. "We introduced Philly to a lot of composers, including Glass and Michael Nyman. George Crumb was a friend of ours, and we've continued to work with both lesser-known and better-known composers ever since."
Courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh's Music on the Edge series, Relâche brings a full load of intriguing compositions to its Sat., April 3, gig at the Warhol. The centerpiece is "Comix Trips" by Princeton's Paul Lansky, known for his computer music.
"When we commissioned him," Shorter says, "we hoped he'd write something with the machine, but he decided to go back to his roots as a horn player. So he did four movements based on comic strip characters' sayings, like 'Holy Moly!' and 'What, Me Worry?' And let me tell you, we worry when we play it, because it's so hard! He's capable of writing difficult music that's still fun to listen to -- you don't analyze it, you just enjoy it for what it is."
The rest of the night features music by Klucevsek, Kyle Gann and Pittsburgh composer David Mahler. The group will also perform Pitt prof Eric Moe's "Eight Point Turn," which appeared on an earlier Relâche album. "It's one movement but episodic," explains Shorter. "You travel through this changing terrain, but there's a forward motion to where you're going."
Relâche 8 p.m. Sat., April 3. The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Side. $15 ($8 students). 412-394-3353 or www.proartstickets.org