New York composer Anthony Coleman hasn't performed in Pittsburgh since the early '90s; he comes to town this weekend for two concerts presented by Pitt's Music on the Edge series (MOTE). It's also a reunion of two high school buddies: In the early '70s, Coleman attended New York's High School of Music and Art with Mathew Rosenblum, now a composition professor and co-director of MOTE.
Currently, Coleman is a faculty member at the NEC in the Contemporary Improvisation department. He's also collaborated with Marc Ribot, Elliott Sharp and Captain Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas; and contributed to John Zorn's discography. He's remained a large part of downtown New York's "Radical Jewish Culture" movement throughout the '90s with the group Sephardic Tinge and a duo with Jazz Passengers bandleader Roy Nathanson.
But Coleman never wanted to be pigeonholed into Jewish-themed music. "My releases came out on [Zorn's label] Tzadik Records because John was interested in my work, but there were a lot of other things I was working on, [such as] free improvising and chamber music. I didn't get to release any chamber music until I was 50, when I suddenly got two records out at the same time [on Tzadik and New World], which was hysterical."
At The Andy Warhol Museum on Friday, listeners will hear different sides of Coleman. An improvised segment is inspired by clashes with free-wheeling titans such as Dutch percussionist Han Bennink. He'll also uncork music from the Tzadik release, Freakish, based on tunes by stride-piano genius Jelly Roll Morton.
On Saturday at the Bellefield Auditorium, the MOTE Chamber Orchestra premieres Coleman's work "Zendegi Va Digar Hich," based on a film by legendary Persian director Abbas Kiarostami. "[The film] is set in the context of the  earthquake in Iran where 50,000 people lost their lives," Coleman says. "It has a significant meaning to me given what I've been going through in the past year, dealing with the catastrophic illness and death of my partner," Suzanne Fiol.
In addition to Kiarostami, the piece is influenced by Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu; both blend the genres of fiction and documentary. "I take the same attitude that these filmmakers take towards their work," Coleman says. "Ozu deals with very small life-changing situations, and everything's underplayed. I don't think of my work as understated, [but] I emulate that by doing things in increments and not having big, dramatic moments."
Anthony Coleman and flutist Lindsey Goodman perform works by Mathew Rosenblum, Arthur Kreiger, Jacob ter Veldhuid and Thea Musgrave. 8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 27. The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Side. $15 ($8 students). 412-394-3353 or www.proartstickets.org
Music on the Edge Chamber Orchestra performs works by Anthony Coleman, Mauricio Kagel, Stefan Wolpe, Roger Zahab and Amy Williams. 7 p.m. Sun., Feb. 28. Bellefield Auditorium, University of Pittsburgh campus, Oakland. $8.50-15 (students $5-10, Pitt students free). 412-394-3353 or www.proartstickets.org
- All in stride: Anthony Coleman