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Phillip Thompson launches the Pittsburgh New Music Net

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Whether you call it "20th- and 21st-century composers" or "contemporary classical," there's been a recent New Music upswing in Pittsburgh, with young ensembles establishing themselves. Avant-garde jazz and improvisation performances have also penetrated institutional venues more often. But unless you carefully scan the newspapers, how would you know?

You couldn't until Nov. 22, when Phillip Thompson launched Pittsburgh New Music Net online as his private project. "It came out of conversations I had, talking about how nice it would be to have a central location for what's going on in the city," says Thompson, a composer who also manages the Pitt Department of Music's calendar. "I sent an e-mail to all the university faculties saying, 'I'll do this if you think it's a good idea.'"

So far, the site has plenty of informative, basic content, set up like a blog at www.pittsburghnewmusicnet.com. It links to all the major local academic institutions (Chatham, Pitt, CMU, Duquesne) but also recognizes independent and underground efforts, filed for now under "Improvisation." All local New Music seasons -- Music on the Edge, PNME, Alia Music, Ion Sound -- are represented, as are classical institutions that foray into contemporary waters, such as the Pittsburgh Symphony and Chamber Society.

One glance at the events page shows that January is packed with performances, from HiTEC on Jan. 9 (this week's music feature) and Music on the Edge bringing Elliott Sharp and the Sirius String Quartet to The Warhol on Jan. 10, to the Symphony feting John Adams and Alia Musica at Frick Fine Arts. The site had 200 unique visitors last month, and provides RSS feeds, alerting subscribers to a new post in their browser. "It's better than an e-mail list -- most people are tired of clogged inboxes," says Thompson.

Besides linking to relevant articles in local papers, Thompson envisions original features for the site. "When nationally known artists come through town, we can do interviews. We could focus on improvisers like Dave Bernabo or [new arrival to Chatham] Michael Boyd." He also would like to see features on new releases and related news, such as when Pittsburgh resident Patrick Burke's NOW Ensemble was given an honorable mention in The New Yorker's "Ten Best Classical-Music Recordings of 2008" list. "We'll stay away from criticism, though," he says.

"The main thing is that it's a tool for the community to use, and the more we use it, the more we raise the profile of concert music in the city," says Thompson. "Anything about New Music that's related to Pittsburgh, we'll claim it."

(Thompson's own compositions are online at www.fishlinphilmusic.com.)

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