With three concerts at Penn museum, Relache begins revival

This weekend, one of Philadelphia’s most prominent new music ensembles will perform the first of three concerts at the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania.


Relache, one of the oldest continually operating nonprofits that commission and premiere new music, was founded 34 years ago under the French word for a darkened theater.

It is coming out of its own dark period.

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As the global economy took a dive in 2008, the octet, which relies on grants and donations, saw the writing on the wall.

“It was obvious for us — before many ensembles — that we were going to have a hard time,” said Lloyd Shorter, artistic co-director and bassoonist. “We jettisoned our office space and rehearsal space, eliminated a lot of staff. Just kind of hunkered down for the last few years.”

Relache went from residency to residency, performing occasional gigs drawing from its deep repertoire of commissioned music. In 2010, it even released a CD of music commissioned from Kyle Gann, “The Planets.”

The three-concert series at the Penn Museum (Nov. 24, Feb. 9 and June 1) will feature live scores for silent films and the release of Relache’s newest CD “Comix Trips.” It is an attempt to regain its footing.

“One of the things we weren’t able to do was have a space we could use regularly, that we’re comfortable with, and that is affordable,” said Shorter. “Penn Museum is having a ‘Year of Sound,’ which fits right into what we’re doing.”

The Year of Sound is a campuswide initiative to encourage sound-related events and projects across all University of Pennsylvania departments.

The concerts will take place in the Widener Hall, the museum’s original 250-seat lecture hall that had become inaccessible.

“When the original part of the building was constructed in 1899, this space was once of the first and largest lecture halls on Penn’s campus,” said Melissa Smith, the museum’s chief operating officer. “Then it was off public view for decades, as it was used as office space for the department of anthropology. Then it was a woodshop for the exhibitions department.”

The Penn Museum just spent $3.5 million bringing Widener Hall back to its original condition, reopening last April. This Relache concert series allows Penn to show off the acoustics of the restored hall.The concert will take place Sunday at 3 p.m. at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 3260 South St., Philadelphia.

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