Luke Mayernik, left
Blake Ragghianti, right

Thursday, September 22, 2011
By Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

To be a performing-arts group in Pittsburgh is to be celebrating anniversaries, often with large numbers attached. This year alone, the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Series celebrates its 50th, Heinz Hall its 40th, Junior Mendelssohn Choir its 25th and Tiffany Concert Series its 20. And right around the corner in 2012, the Carnegie Mellon University School of Music will hit 100. Fans of classical music locally simply don’t witness many debuts.

But recently, independent performing non-profits (not formed officially by a university) have begun to sprout. Tonight audiences in Heinz Chapel in Oakland will witness the debut of OvreArts. The organization plans on staging two ballet premieres at the Byham Theater in June, but it kicks off with a free concert of chamber music and ballet. “I decided to start OvreArts because, in my experience and observation, audiences for classical music are declining and further pushed away from the classical arts by what seems to be an endless period of atonal music,” says founder and artistic director Blake Ragghianti. “I have a strong passion for connecting with audiences while pushing the envelope on traditional harmony and form in new ways that don’t further alienate these potential audience members from the classical arts. Our model is to do this through engendering a collaborative and collegial artistic atmosphere between the multitude of young, successful organizations and talented young individuals within the Pittsburgh area.” The group also serves as a platform for compositions by Mr. Ragghianti and by Luke Mayernik, both of whom attended Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon universities. (www.ovrearts.org)

One of the first to emerge was Alia Musica Pittsburgh, a composer consortium and performance ensemble founded in 2006. It has premiered around 50 works by Pittsburgh-area composers in an effort to show that art music is alive and well here. Its next concert, 8 p.m. Sept. 30 at Synod Hall in Oakland, features Cliff Colnot, who regularly leads the International Contemporary Ensemble, and several local conductors. $12-$15; www.alia-musica.org.

2006 also saw the debut of Undercroft Opera, founded by mezzo-soprano Mary Beth Sederburg of Squirrel Hill. The volunteer company seeks to grant the invaluable experience of performing leading roles to professional Pittsburgh singers who typically get smaller roles in operas. Its traditional repertory, such as Verdi’s “La Traviata” and Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro,” is contrasted by another local troupe, Microscopic Opera. It focuses on “cutting edge performances of contemporary chamber opera.” Undercroft performs in the summer; Microscopic stages Jake Heggie’s “Three Decembers” at the Pittsburgh Opera headquarters in the Strip District Nov. 17-20. (http://microscopicopera.org and www.undercroftopera.org)

IonSound Project formed in 2004 but came to prominence two years later when it began to collaborate with the University of Pittsburgh, reading and performing works by its students. In 2008 the Music Department appointed it Pitt’s first-ever ensemble-in-residence. The group has performed more than 80 works by 20th and 21st-century composers from the Pittsburgh region and nationally. It next performs at 7 p.m. Nov. 20 at Bellefield Hall in Oakland. $10-$15. 412- 624-4125. (www.ionsound.org)

The newest trend in classical music is indie-classical, a coming together of the art music tradition and indie-pop sensibilities. It’s represented locally by the Eclectic Laboratory Chamber Orchestra, formed in 2008 to present: “post rock meets cutting edge classical music.” The ensemble consists of young professional orchestral musicians collaborating with up-and-coming opera and rock vocalists. (http://elco-orchestra.webs.com)

Just as hot nationally is Classical Revolution, the phenomenon that started in San Francisco and has spread across the country. Classical Revolution events are essentially open-mic nights for classical musicians, offering chamber-music reading sessions in bars and cafes. Classical Revolution Pittsburgh is a local chapter (in a loose sense). Its mission is to expose people to classical music, to provide networking opportunities for musicians and to perform classical music in alternative venues.

“It came to be in Pittsburgh because there are a lot of really great highly trained musicians around all the time who love to play,” says Gino Faracsi, who organizes CR Pittsburgh. While there are often professional musicians and groups that perform, anyone who wants can get up and play. The next jam session is at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Beehive on the South Side. The open chamber-music session is preceded by a short recital by former Pittsburgh Symphony violinist Roy Sonne. (www.facebook.com/classicalrev)

“The problem is a marketing one — a problem of concept and of branding,” says Mr. Ragghianti. “[We want] to help re-brand the concept of classical arts in such a way that young generations are able to relate — that they can start to see the classical arts not as some boring hobby, but as a cool and unique form of self expression.”

Andrew Druckenbrod: adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1750. Blog: www.post-gazette.com/classicalmusings. Twitter: @druckenbrod.

First published on September 22, 2011 at 12:00 am

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