Pinotage | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Pinotage

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When mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley, violist Claudia Lasareff-Mironoff, flutist Janice MacDonald, and harpist Alison Attar began playing together as Pinotage four years ago, they knew of no pieces for viola, flute, and harp that predated Debussy's 1915 Sonata, and could think of few since. But this dearth of material didn't deter them: they figured they'd make up for it by commissioning their own music or rearranging pieces they liked, since they knew each other's tastes from local gigs they'd shared. And that's exactly what the group has done: its programs this weekend include Pinotage-specific arrangements of Robert Lombardo's Climbing for Tree Frogs (for all four players) and Elizabeth Start's Three Songs (for voice and viola). The ensemble gets its name from a type of hybrid winegrower's grape that, according to Bentley, is "soft, full, sweetish, with a gently spicy character." And at least part of this description fits her singing style as well: since her apprenticeship at the Lyric Opera, she's devoted much of her energy to contemporary music, and despite the often extreme modes of vocal expression employed by her favorite composers (Carter, Berio, Boulez, Crumb), she imbues their work with an emotional heat--a "gently spicy character"--absent from the interpretations of more technically minded singers. Her colleagues in Pinotage can't match her riveting stage presence or authority with new works, though harpist Attar can hold her own with her poised, fluent fingerwork. Four of the pieces on Friday's bill feature Bentley: she'll sing on the Lombardo and the Start, as well as on University of Chicago professor Marta Ptaszynska's delicate, lyrical Un Grand Sommeil Noir for voice, harp, and flute, which has become a signature piece for the singer, and Berio's innovative Folk Songs, arranged for all four instruments. The rest of the program is scored for flute, viola, and harp: Takemitsu's And Then I Knew 'Twas Wind, Northern Illinois University professor Jan Bach's Eisteddfod, and Bernard Rands's ...Sans Voix Parmi les Voix.... (The Wilmette recital omits the Bach and the Takemitsu.) Friday, February 15, 8 PM, Fine Arts Recital Hall, Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N. Saint Louis, and Sunday, February 17, 4 PM, St. Joseph Church, 1747 Lake, Wilmette; 773-442-4636.

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