Blake Ragghianti, 31, earned a master’s degree in music composition from Carnegie Mellon University. In addition to writing original music, he sings, plays a variety of instruments—piano, acoutistic guitar, ukelele, ethnic percussion and tin whistle. Still, he couldn’t make a living wage performing; he realized he needed a platform. So he his best friend from their Duquesne University undergrad days, Luke Mayernik, now the organist at St. Anne’s church, shaped a new sort of arts organization: OvreArts.
OvreArts, which held its inaugural concert in September 2011 at Heinz Chapel, is “dedicated to uniting young, successful arts organizations and individuals by creating pioneering works of art within a collaborative and collegial atmosphere,” according to its mission statement. Thank to the co-founders’ shared vision, a grant from the Heinz Endowments and private donations, the nonprofit organization now boasts the OvreArts Sinfonia and Chamber Singers and has been selected by Heinz Memorial Chapel as its first resident contemporary music ensemble, offering a free quarterly concert series in that breathtaking venue.
This month, OvreArts, will premiere two ballets—The Alkonost and Infinity. Written by Mayernik and Ragghianti , respectively, the pair of ballets will be performed at the CAPA Theater, 111 Ninth St., Downtown, at 4 and 8 p.m., Saturday, September 8.
Ragghianti describes the ballets: ”The Alkonost andInfinity utilize two different perspectives to explore a single, over-arching theme: the paradox of mortality versus infinite life. Drawing its life and breath from ancient Russian allegory, The Alkonost expresses the spiritual and almost ritualistic mythology of this paradox through an Eastern storyline viewpoint. Conversely, in a contemporary and more abstract form, Infinity focuses on the Westernized human experience of the mortality paradox and its ensuing lack of a modern mythology from which to proceed.”
Why compose a ballet? ”It’s kind of strange, and I have to confess that [before composing the music]I had seen maybe one ballet and not the whole thing,” says Ragghianti, who lives on McCormick Lane. He points to ballets that became “epics,” such as Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, as their inspiration. In addition, it was a good opportunity to showcase many talented young area performers who are professionally trained but have not yet found a permanent home with a company or ensemble. The ballets feature the 50-member OvreArts Synfonia and Chamber Singers, led by OvreArts Conductor in Residence Ryan Keeling and guest conductor Alejandro Pinzon, as well as dancers/choreographers Alan Obuzor’s and Kelsey Bartman’s Texture Contemporary Ballet and the Pillow Project Dance Company.
“Teresa Heinz said the greatest thing Pittsburgh has going for it is young innovative artist, but [until now] this was not being tapped,” Ragghianti says.
Tickets for the ballets are $27.99 or $39.99, with student tickets (available at gate only) $5. Mt. Lebanon residents who order tickets at www.ovrearts.org and enter the coupon code MTLEBO will receive a 25 percent discount.
OvreArts now has a board of directors, an advisory board and a cadre of devoted followers, largely due to the encouragement of people who heard their music and believed in their mission, Ragghianti says—such as well-known Strip District potter Gary Pletsch, “who stopped by one of our concerts in Heinz Chapel and loved it so much he sort of became our impresario,” and WQED’s Ted Sohier of Mt. Lebanon, who has volunteered to host their Heinz Chapel concert series. The next free community concert at Heinz Chapel, title A Great and Mighty Voice, is Thursday, November 15, at 7:30 p.m.
Ragahianti and Mayernik continue to expand OvreArts’ programming. In addition to the ballet and the concert series, they’re planning to offer live music next summer during the lunch hour at “hotspots” Downtown; they’re starting a coalition of small arts organizations called The Paris Group to share information, resources and artistic talents, and they’re planning an international composition competition in 2013. Check out www.ovrearts.org for information about events.
To hear some OvreArts music from recent events, click HERE.
Written by: Susan Fleming Morgans, Mt. Lebanon Magazine