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Collaborative 'Clepsydra' depicts flow of past into future

Wednesday, December 29, 1999

By Mary Thomas, Post-Gazette Art Critic

A noteworthy event of the kind that distinguishes Pittsburgh future from Pittsburgh past will debut, appropriately, Friday as part of the First Night Pittsburgh festivities at the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh galleries, Downtown.

Designer Richard Mihm, left, conductor Efraín Amaya, painter Susana Amundarain and videographer Vanessa Briceño are among artists joining talents for "Clepsydra," a performance installation debuting at the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh galleries Friday. (Robert J. Pavuchak, Post-Gazette) 

Enticingly titled "Clepsydra" and enigmatically described as an "installation with 13 performers," it will take place in -- and is a response to -- AAP's large, open, less-than-pristine but moodily emotive, tile-walled first floor.

The work came about through the collaborative efforts of a composer/conductor, writer, filmmaker, painter, designer and stage director. The result is a multidisciplinary piece that consists of paintings, video and an original musical score that will be performed by 11 symphony musicians and two operatic vocalists.

A clepsydra was a water clock -- a device that measured time by the regulated flow of water -- commonly used in ancient Greece. The work is about exploring the concept of time through a synchronization of sound and visual imagery, a task that falls to the conductor, Efraín Amaya, who is also the work's composer.

By facilitating a relationship between the live symphony performance and videos of rehearsals that represent past time, Amaya hopes to blur distinctions between past time and real time, seeing and listening. The goal is for the installation components -- paintings and photographs along with the video -- to enter into the performance time/space.

For the second stage of the work, elements shift. The recorded performance plays in the gallery, which retains its visual artworks. The performers become voices that hover in the space and are occasionally in sync with their video-projected imagery.

The work will remain up through Feb. 11. A second live performance will be given at 8 p.m. on Jan. 22. Artist Susana Amundaraín will lecture on the collaboration at noon on Jan. 20. All events are free.

Amaya, who has been a composer, conductor and pianist for 20 years, is assistant conductor of the Westmoreland Symphony and the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic Orchestra, and the music director and conductor for the Westmoreland Youth Symphony Orchestra. He has participated in many international music festivals, and his composition "Duo Ami," for flute and piano, premiered at the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Amaya was born in Caracas, Venezuela, where he began his musical training. He earned undergraduate degrees in piano and in composition at Indiana University and completed a master's degree in orchestral conducting at Rice University, Houston.

A visiting faculty member in painting at Chatham College, Amundaraín has participated in numerous performance and multidisciplinary exhibitions. She studied at the Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, Venezuela, and the University of Denver.

Videographer Vanessa Briceño, now a graduate student in film at Temple University, Philadelphia, received a bachelor's degree in film studies, and the College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Merit Award, from the University of Pittsburgh.

Richard Mihm, who organized the exhibition, is a designer who studied at Carnegie Mellon University, the Corcoran School of Art and Pennsylvania State University. He also facilitated two other recent, far-reaching AAP exhibitions, "Chrome/osome: Art, Design and Technology" and "Garner Tullis: The Art of Collaboration."

Performance soloists are mezzo soprano Jeanne Wentworth, who performs regularly with the Dayton Opera, and tenor Douglas Ahlstedt, who has sung 189 performances at the Metropolitan Opera, New York. Wentworth's awards include the Liederkranz Vocal Competition and being selected a Metropolitan Opera National Finalist. Ahlstedt, who has performed internationally, is the only American tenor featured in a leading role in the CD set "James Levine 25th Anniversary Collection" of notable scenes from 25 seasons of Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts.

The gallery is at 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. A reception begins at 7 p.m. Friday, followed by the performance at 8:30 p.m. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. The CD of the performance is for sale at the gallery.

First Night Pittsburgh starts at 3 p.m. with a series of children's events. At 6 p.m., the People's Procession parade starts. At 10:30 p.m., the countdown to 2000 begins with The Clarks playing at the Roberto Clemente Bridge and a Zambelli Fireworks Internationale display at midnight. The entertainment schedule is subject to change: For the latest updates, visit the Web site or call 412-201-7380.

Anyone planning to go to First Night needs to purchase a First Night Pittsburgh 2000 button, which serves as admission to all of the events. Children 5 and younger will attend for free. Buttons can be purchased at Giant Eagle, Kaufmann's, Carnegie Library and other locations throughout the region.

On the heels of First Night comes "Millennium Pittsburgh," a Jan. 1 celebration at Station Square, with live music and entertainment capped by fireworks. The fun starts around 4 p.m., with fireworks at around 8:30 p.m.

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