Pittsburgh's rising New Music ensemble Alia Musica is releasing a new CD, Premiere Season, a tantalizing look at the works of young Pittsburgh-area composers who are mostly based at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon. Formed a couple of years ago by Colombia native Federico Garcia and nine other composers, Alia Musica's initial impetus -- much like Philly's Relache and other New Music ensembles in the 1970s -- was to present those composers' works itself. Since then, the group has been primarily devoted to performing music written in the city.
But Alia Musica didn't wait for some fancy, established neo-classical label like CRI or Mode to take notice of it -- it's going DIY with that aspect too, thanks to the efforts of Dave Bernabo and his up-and-coming experimental-music label Abstract on Black. Bernabo engineered the project over three days in the Eddy Theater and the Laughlin Music Hall at Chatham University. The front cover, a photo taken by Jen Gallagher, shows the ensemble rehearsing in Laughlin's splendidly chandeliered main room.
"We did some parts many times to get the best take," says Bernabo. "It was really enjoyable and educational, because I didn't know before how classical music was recorded. I just assumed orchestras did it all in one take."
Highlights of Premiere Season include Kerrith Livengood's spectral, haunting "Enchanted Days" and Mark Fromm's "Chorale and Hyper-dance," a busy piece with lots of kinetic movement and some grandiose, Stravinsky-like passages. Ivan Jimenez's "Burning the Deep Sea" alternates between contemplative sections and eruptions of a dark, romantic nature, while "Centric," by James Ogburn, is a more rigorous, mathematical work with an inescapable techno-like pulse. All share a well-planned-out neo-chamber quality, making them very appropriate to be performed by New Music ensembles almost anywhere in the world.
Bernabo's looking for distribution from dependable avant-rock vendors like Carrot Top and Forced Exposure, though he might want to cross over a bit more into the contemporary classical realm as well. After all, the geezers are the ones who still spend the big money on CDs. "We'll do a solo record of Federico [Garcia]'s pieces in 2009," adds Bernabo, "and if Alia wants to do more, then we could maybe do another CD every two years as part of an ongoing series. This could definitely be a good way to get Pittsburgh's music out into the world."
Alia Musica performs this week at Oakland's Synod Hall at 8 p.m. Thu., March 27, and Tue., April 1 ($10, or $15 for both concerts). For more information, visit www.alia-musica.org or www.abstractonblack.com.