Under artistic director Kevin Noe, PNME has for years been a musical initiative that warrants performing in a place like its longtime home, City Theatre's main state. The July 23-24 program went particularly far in utilizing the stage as would a theater company -- one that also performs adventuresome and devilishly complex music.
At the center was pianist Conor Hanick, performing all dozen movements of György Ligeti's "Musica Ricercata." (It's a partly structural work, with the first piece limited to just two notes, and each succeeding section adding one note to the palette.) But between each movement, other members of the ensemble emerged from the wings to perform some other short work, each occupying a different part of the stage in a circle around Hanick.
Some of the pieces were designed to be theatrical. Thierry de Mey's "Musique de Tables," for instance, consists of three performers whose only instruments are one butcher-block of wood each and the hands and fingers they variously slapped, thumped and rapped upon the wood, a marvelous bit of percussive play. More stage-friendly still was Emmanuel Séjourné's "Vous Avez de Feu?" -- four musicians playing cigarette lighters, the noise of the spark-wheel the only sound, the brief little flames dramatically echoing the "notes" on the darkened stage.
(Most of the works, of course, were performed on conventional instruments: violin, marbimba, cello, clarinet.)
Sometimes, PNME's staging can get a little corny or labored, and the visual impact of the third movement of "Tables" was somewhat blunted for being performed way upstage (behind pianist Hanick). But because this show -- like most PNME programs -- was composed of several short works, it was a fast-moving hour whose highlights only began with Hanick's terrific work.
There's one more chance this season to see PNME, whose musicians hail from around the country and the world. (Violinist Natalie Shaw, for instance, lives in Paris, and Noe himself is based in Austin, Texas.)
The fourth and final 2010 PNME program takes place July 30 and 31 (www.pnme.org). The show features five works, including the world-premiere commission "Radiance," by Ned McGowan, and Radiohead's "Like Spinning Plates."