Five years ago, Alia Musica, the local new-music ensemble co-founded by Federico Garcia, held its first concert. This weekend, the group ramps up its annual spring program, putting together two days of performances by artists and groups from around the country and the world, as well as several from here in Pittsburgh.
The idea for what's being called the Hear/Now Festival of New Sound began around the time of last year's spring Alia Musica concert. "The spring series is usually the big production, with a bigger ensemble," explains Gargia, the group's artistic director. "We want to feature as many composers as we can; usually we have two concerts.
"The problem," he explains, "is that we can't force the audience to sit there for three straight hours of pieces."
The solution: Put together an all-star lineup of musicians playing contemporary compositions and avant-garde work, and hold shorter concerts over two days. This way, spectators can roam in and out, checking out what piques their interest without being glued to a theater seat until they're numb.
The Hear/Now lineup includes: Australian flutist Tim Munro, who's known as a member of the new-music ensemble Eighth Blackbird; Pamela Z, who works largely with processed vocals; and musician and cultural theorist DJ Spooky (Paul D. Miller), who will present new work based on his recent book, The Book of Ice, inspired by time spent in Antarctica.
"I took a studio there and went to several of the main ice fields and wrote a group of compositions about the sound of ice," explains Miller via email. "Most people have never been to Antarctica, and I think that in light of so many of the issues [related to] climate change facing the planet, I wanted to show through music some of the situations facing us."
The biggest sort-of-local name at the festival is Dave Eggar, the internationally known cellist who works regularly with Pittsburgh's Attack Theater dance company. "Dave Eggar was one artist who I knew since the start I wanted to get," explains Garcia. "He was the first artist I talked to [about the festival] who I hadn't already worked with, and he was totally enthusiastic."
Other locals taking part include ELCO, members of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble (PNME), Michael Johnsen and Host Skull.
"I saw this as a way to bridge gaps," says Garcia. "A lot of these groups, we know of each other, and might say, ‘Oh, I see they have a concert coming up, I hope they do well,' but there's not really collaboration there. I've been in touch with PNME, but took this as a chance for us to be on the same team."
Garcia says Alia Musica had been in touch with the Kelly-Strayhorn on and off since executive director Janera Solomon took the helm at the theater. When they began to look at the spring concert this year as a bigger event, they met with Solomon, and the Kelly-Strayhorn became a partner in presenting the festival.
Garcia says Alia Musica is taking a wait-and-see approach to the festival; if it goes well, he hopes to bring it back at least biennially, if not annually.
"I think this festival is both a symptom and a furthering of what a vibrant music scene we have here in Pittsburgh."