NAT 28, a contemporary music ensemble based in Pittsburgh. (credit: Nadine Sherman Photography)

Review: Pittsburgh’s NAT 28 performs richly rewarding repertoire

William Ford | 10 JUN 2019

PITTSBURGH, PA—  NAT 28 is a new music performing group in the Pittsburgh area. It is the resident ensemble at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the tony suburb of Mt. Lebanon. NAT 28 derives its name from its uniquely Pittsburgh identity: NAT is a local colloquialism that is often appended to sentences, for example,” I went to the store to buy some bread, cheese, n’at,” meaning “and that.” Twenty-eight is the number of bridges crossing the three rivers that have influenced so much of the city’s history.

There were four major works on their June 8 program at St. Paul’s. The first was Kati Agócs’ Immutable Dreams, composed in 2007. Agócs is on the composition faculty at the New England Conservatory of music. Dreams is a three section work for a quintet of flute, B-flat clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. The first section, titled “I Feel the Air of Other Planets” is freewheeling and energetic and dissonant. It seemed almost structureless, but not random. The second movement, “Microconcerto – in memoriam Gyorgy Ligeti,” gives prominence to the piano and it provides support upon which the other instrumental parts are layered. The third section, titled “Husk,” is the most reflective of the work, and has a minimalist feel to it, only with a bit more dissonance than is usual in the works of prominent minimalist composers, such as Glass, Adams and Pärt. This is challenging music to listen to, and certainly to play, but it is compelling and thought-provoking. It was beautifully performed by NAT28.


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Next was Survival, by New York-based sound artist Miya Masaoka. It features a string quartet represents the composer’s thoughts and feelings toward the Japanese-American internments during World War II. This is edgy music that uses glissandi that adds a wailing quality to the music, and there are punctuations by high-pitched anxiety-inducing chords. Ms. Masaoka has done a remarkable job of finding sounds that express the horror of lives torn apart and the torment it created for several generations within a short period of time.

In Spite of All This, is composer Missy Mazzoli’s musical reflection on the resilience of humanity; that even in the face of great adversity and turmoil we manage to survive spiritually and psychologically. That even though we experience vulnerability, anger, compassion, and optimism, we endure. The work is written for clarinet, vibraphone, percussion, piano, electric guitar, violin, and cello. It is an upbeat work that sparkled even more brightly because of its contrast to the earlier works on the program.


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The fourth work on the program was Elegy: Snow in June by multi-award winning composer Tan Dun. For this performance, Allyson Huneycutt, NAT 28’s clarinetist and executive director, also served as conductor. The composer says that the image of Snow in June comes from a 13th-century Chinese drama by Kuan Han-Ching, where a young woman is executed for crimes she did not commit. Even nature cries out at this injustice: her blood does not fall to earth but flies upward, heavy snow falls in June, a drought descends for three years. A lone cello plays with and against four groups of to dramatize the pride, horror, loss, and injustice recounted in the drama. Solo cellist Will Teegarden was superb as the narrative heart of the work. All of the percussion players were excellent, and Abby Langhorst was particularly noteworthy for her energy and wide-ranging skill. Elegy: Snow in June is a standout work by a major composer. The percussive effects could be felt in the chest, helped, no doubt, by all of the wood used in the construction of the sanctuary of St. Paul’s.

The members of NAT 28 are highly skilled and enthusiastic about their music. They do not shy away from works that are difficult, either technically or emotionally. Ms. Hunneycutt and Artistic Director and flutist, Zoe Sorell are dynamos and add creative spark and energy to the group. This was a rewarding concert of new music with fine playing in an acoustically rich environment. ■


William Ford is an avid classical music fan and a clinical psychologist based in Atlanta. His reviews and interviews can most frequently be found online at Bachtrack and www.atlantamusiccritic.com


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