Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Magic of Gustavo Dudamel with the Pittsburgh Symphony

It's Thursday and it's raining. Raining, never-ending raindrops pounding the pavement and my umbrella. Inside it's dull. So I go back to walk in the rain. At least the birds seem to appreciate with their songs, they are prepping for spring and summer mating season. Inside again I play Chopin's Raindrop Prelude, a version that plays over and over for over an hour. It distills and promulgates my mood, distinctly trickling piano keys pour down on my senses, my spirit is changing. I know I'm going to do research on Beethoven's uplifting Fifth Symphony or anything Wagner, I enjoy it all. Strauss, it's like a landscape far away, and Don Juan is a legendary character with a fitting score.

Yet I'm still brooding. I've already read some of the current events of guest conductor Gustavo Dudamel. I was intrigued to find out that he was the inspiration for the role of the conductor in the show Mozart in the Jungle, for which I've seen all the episodes at least 3 times, they are just that good. It's the music that keeps taking me back. I re-watch the episode with Dudamel's cameo, he's backstage at the Hollywood Bowl as the stage manager. Ironically, he tells guest conductor Rodrigo: " are coming here to conduct. You have to come here. Save us please. We hate our conductor." "Really." "Ugh." And in real life Dudamel is the conductor of the L.A. Philharmonic. I didn't get that the first time I saw the scene. :)

Now it's Friday and I'm at Heinz Hall. Guest Conductor Gustavo Dudamel enters the stage at Heinz Hall to great applause. With raised arms he gestures three curly motions of both hands to signal the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to rise. All throughout the evening we see the same response from Dudamel, he seems less inclined to take the spotlight alone, always immediately bringing the players to their feet. After each piece, he dives deep into the rows of the members to pay tribute to individual players and whole sections. After the Beethoven, he even separates the cellos and violas from the violins, they rise first, right next to the conductor, then the violins last. He steadfastly remains back with the musicians, they all face the audience for their applause together. This seems to be his style. After the final Brahms Hungarian Dance encore, flowers are brought out for Mr. Dudamel. He accepts them, but takes out individual roses and gives them to the female members of the orchestra closest and all the way back to the woodwinds. He even gives a green flower to a male member to great smiles.

At intermission and before the concert I tweet my thoughts: Conductor @GustavoDudamel is exciting, his smile is infectious, and the music, @PSOMusicians play the heck out of Tannhäuser. Awe struck!

Shall we characterize the music of Beethoven as old? Gustavo Dudamel insists that misses the point. "It is new and creative every time we play it," Dudamel says. "Art is alive all of the time."

That gave me an idea. To listen to Ludwig Beethoven's Symphony no 5 played by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall intently searching for those alive variations and enhancements that differ from other performances I've heard and will hear as I try to search for those creative nuances alluded to by the conductor. Whether it be tempo, rhythm or any other colorful accents or artifact that enhance or differentiate, I'd like to glom onto this distinction and bring it to this blog. As I listened, it seemed to me to be distinct from any other Beethoven 5 in that the rhythm seemed different. Parts or sections of instruments seemed to run into each other, as if scurrying around like chipmunks after acorns. But the structure was there, it was intact, the new aspect could be my imagination, but it felt newer, better, brighter somehow.

On the way home I listened to the Pittsburgh Symphony and Manfred Honeck CD I got about a year ago to try to compare. I found it difficult to listen to after hearing it live. The same orchestra, yet in a car the dynamic range either blasts my ears, or is too quiet to hear. At Heinz Hall those range and sound differences are welcomed by my ears and my mind. Bottom line: listen to it live. And while you are listening, be thankful for your sense of hearing.

Today it is Saturday and it is sunny and warm. The music really does make all the difference in the world!

Rodrigo: "I'm about the magic. I'm about the magic, okay?" "Just don't tell me I'm about the glory."

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Deftly Extrapolating the Magic of the Exhibition

Sometimes it seems like musicians, or experts in any field, are riding on the spur of the moment. In reality it is us, the audience, who canter into the orchestra hall with high expectations and are riding toward an emotional crescendo when the concert begins. Many of us are not even musicians by training. We do not spend the countless hours relentlessly practicing and painstakingly mastering the music, the instrument and the art.

Yet certainly we do appreciate their tenacious efforts, and it shows with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. For myself, the spur of the moment translates into my fullest undertaking to be at Heinz Hall and to experience the music, to staunchly record for posterity the encounter with words and pictures and perhaps deftly extrapolate the magic of the exhibition.

Before the concert my friend Robert and I were discussing the Pittsburgh Symphony in the lobby. On the wall, a portrait of William Steinberg reminded Robert of attending as a young child and remembering the performances led by this legendary conductor. We went on to discuss composers like Mussorgsky and Ravel, and the knowledge that he gained from his readings on classical composers. Later, after the performance he reflected on the mastery of Ravel, that he does full symphonic works as well as any composer.

Robert now lives in New York. He asked if I've heard the New York Philharmonic and I confessed that I had not. I should remedy that. The last time I visited him a few months back we went to museums to see the art. Yes, the Pictures at an Exhibition. One of my favorite artists is Vasily Kandinsky, some his works are currently on display at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. I've scattered a few of those works in this post.

With the first gesture of his baton, guest conductor Lionel Bringuier began to unravel the enchantment of Ravel. Mother Goose, a 'ravishing orchestral transcription' of pieces he had written for his friend's young children. Here they come alive, programmatically portraying fairy tales in music.

In my mind I immediately hear the sounds of birds with the woodwinds. It spreads out with the cellos and sweetens with the violins, lazily ambling then all take flight using the full orchestra to great effect. There comes buzzing, twirling and spinning. Many of the sounds seem ethereal, and the pizzicato over the woodwinds is simplicity yet brilliant. Bows drum the strings and other non standard techniques are scattered throughout.

In the Conversations of Beauty and the Beast, the contrast between the deep notes of the horns versus high sounds from flutes and other woodwinds is stirringly dramatic. In fact there is drama all around in this piece, woodwinds versus strings, xylophone versus pizzicato, solo versus orchestra, left hand versus baton, pureness versus dissonance and blending versus striking out.

And that's just what I could think of while on the edge of my seat anxiously awaiting every creatively developed nuance. The Enchanted Garden ending is a recognizable and fitting ending blending ornate natural richness with mellow serenity.

After a few chairs on stage are shuffled to make room for Principle Viola Randolph Kelly, the next piece was about to begin. Before this evening I had never heard the Paganini Sonate per la Grand Viola. Mr. Kelly's Viola instantly came alive in his solo, which began after a few clever introduction bars from the orchestra filled with pizzicato. The sonata reminded me of a symphonic poem form, yet the movements are each distinct and loosely held together.

The sounds from the viola were amazing, crisp, clear and filled with reverb and stunning dynamic range. My favorite were the very low notes, a sound that could only come from a viola. Mr. Kelly received a robust standing ovation, and he turned to applaud the orchestra, sharing the spotlight, and he even pointed to his viola as if to say: hey, don't forget to applaud for the viola as well.

After intermission came the highlight of the evening, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, orchestrated by Ravel. My friend told me that it had been orchestrated by many others, but this is the most popular version and that which is most often heard.

He described to me the brusque nature of Mussorgsky, and contrasted that to the perhaps gentle nature of Ravel. I could almost picture it in my mind, extrapolating from the music itself. Just imagine who would win; Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain or Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé. But tonight we've got both and they both win!

The encore for the evening, presented by Lionel Bringuier is the Farandole from Bizet's L'Arlésienne Suite. I never tire of the full Pittsburgh Symphony, all 101 orchestra members in unison belting out a large amalgamation of sound to bring a smile to my face!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mozart in Pittsburgh with Valcua and Piemontesi

I begin with a poem written while intently listening to The Moldau from Ma Vlast by Smetana. I was surprised that my friend had not heard this composition before. He listens to Classical Music (perhaps not enough), and his father was born in Hungary, close to Czech Republic.

Slowly dancing, sprightly dime,
riddled humored tones unwind.
If left for them to reason,
  pervasive rhyme,
neither amble, losing shame,
  nor winning shine.
Body full unwinding sentiment,
  your time is now,
melodic perforation, exhibition,
  Bohemian brow.
String punctuating tempo,
Horns budding relentlessly,
Harps fluctuate divine.
Beauteous ambling,
weaving surreptitious phrases,
bastion sublime.
Nothing subtle in his ambient clime.
She enthusiastically reaches,
crescendo rolling over.
Harmonics drum laden
  metaphoric cacophony
Climaxing mixed theme,
tempestuously culminating,
pausing as if seeing.
Seeing a serendipitous view,
a view that seems to extend
  beyond space and time
My temporal coefficients procure sight,
  and it's mine.
Light spectral ranging,
redirected heraldic pride,
march and theme, never chide, ever plied.
Blessed as I was, a straight view,
 perfect through and through.

The Dvorak Piano Concerto begins with a very dramatic introduction. Stings, playing in total unison, sidle up to my ears as notes fly from the piano in crisp succinct adhesion to my expectant mind. Francesco Piemontesi masters the eclectic cerebral first movement with preeminent vitality. My ears are attentive to hearing the individual parts. The composition seems somewhat like a pernicious child, as if the piano part wants to do the opposite of the orchestra. Yet they seem to form a more cohesive interplay toward the end with a ranging and articulate conclusion.

The slow second movement is more concise and less complicated, adding a romantic flavor. A recurring three notes seems to compel the development. I like the playful back and forth between the orchestra and the piano, as if the soloist is asking the question: 'Can we talk?' and the answer from the orchestra is an emphatic yes.

The final movement seems more in line with the typical piano concerto that we are most often presented, like a romp or playful jaunt down the line. I hear a succession of first two notes, then four, and Mr. Piemontesi develops that phrase over and over, handing it subsequently back and forth to the orchestra. This entertaining composition aught to be played more often.

Mozart's Symphony No. 38 "Prague" is one of my favorites, especially the first movement wit it's mischievous interplay. It's no coincidence tonight's concert was titled "Mozart in Prague", the genius of this composition seems to overshadow even the hometown composers. The introduction is slow and elaborate, different from the quickly paced Allegro to follow. Live it takes on a more full bodied facet encircling and encompassing my orbit in breathtaking urgency, a force of nature.

Dvorak's Carnival Overture is a fitting conclusion to the schedule selections. It's quickly paced and fluent with rapid strings and pure horn sounds throughout. I vaguely hear some themes I also recall from his New World symphony. Everything is alive and bright, I hear tone transitions and beautiful simultaneous strings so pure as to bring new found delight.

The symphonic encore is Dvorák - Slavonic Dance No. 2. This is the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra led by guest conductor Juraj Valcuha at their best!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I Know You, We've Met Before

Meet the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. 100+ of the finest musicians with skills beyond compare. Tonight they are assembled before us, getting ready to play three selections old and new. They amble in one by one, and begin to warm up.

As I approach my seat I see Charles Lirette, Co-Principal Trumpet, again in the audience showing off what appears to my untrained eye to be a very fine looking fanfare horn. He plays a riff for the folks nearby. Then he graciously poses for a picture. You can see his formal attire, donned as always with tuxedo and bow tie. Even under the poor illumination below the stage he could have been taken as a dignitary or politician, but to me the part he plays here is much more important. His profession being a musician and purveyor of great music. He and the other musicians return to the stage as soon as it becomes time to begin; the lights dim, and hushed sounds come over the hall.

Conductor Manfred Honeck abruptly appears; he strides energetically to the center stage and bows before us. He dons his trademark lighthearted smile and with one purpose instantly ascends the podium, raises his baton, the very apotheosis of his art, and begins. We hear the first few notes of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony.

At this point I must confess, I really like Prokofiev's Classical Symphony. So is this perhaps my favorite symphony? We shall see. So let me try to express this with a mathematical metaphor of sorts.

It seems to me that if one were to divide fervour (how much one likes the music), by duration (how long is the symphony), one would be given a 'measure' of one's favorite symphony.  I call this new measure the 'Fervour Quotient' (TM).

Beethoven's Choral, Brahm's First, Mahler's Titan - all symphonies I love, their fervour is great, but when divided by their duration, the Fervour Quotient isn't  exactly meteoric. 

Many  of Mozart's symphonies, Hyden too, I attribute a splendid fervour divided by a unary duration, ('unary' because I've normalized the duration to theirs) and thus one gets a Fervour Quotient exceedingly cosmic.

But now we get to Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, It too begins with a glorious fervour-numerator, and further dividing it by such a small denominator where the duration is so very minuscule, we find that this four movement masterpiece becomes a celestial supernova, burning so bright, and extinguishing so young, almost before it has begun.

The favorite symphony by this measure would perhaps be this one, based on the newly coined 'Fervour Quotient' (patent-pending). And don't forget, quoting Shakespeare: "Brevity is the soul of wit." Prokofiev wins on that too, with his concise notes and delivery.

If I could transport back in time, with a time mechanism that someone from the future may lend to me today (or tomorrow), then I'd listen to these pieces at their onset, and perhaps I'd adjust my formula, giving more credence to the temporal quandrums existent in dreams imagined back then, but yet to be shepherded into universal reality today.

With all these words perhaps I've conveyed the idea that I like this symphony, and perhaps, at the very least, I've even convinced myself that it's my favorite. But moving on.

The 'new' piece comes next. It's unique, I've never heard a Percussion concerto before. James MacMillan's creation, called "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" was explained to us in great detail in the pre-concert talk by the composer himself, along with soloist Colin Currie. Both are originally from Scotland. It was interesting and fun listening to their accents. In a short introductory film before the concert, Lorna McGhee said it was a great relief to hear someone speaking 'normally', so I guess to them we are the ones with the accents.

The pre-concert talk one hour before the concert was descriptive and illuminating. For instance, the Gregorian chant from which the melody was used as the base for his creative development was characterized as a didactic rhythm, a heart beat or a pulse of life in a sense. And his inspiration became sort of a humanity of the divine in music as it were. I took so many notes, so quickly, It's hard to piece them together, but what I can say is, based on what they were saying, I only got an overall sense of the concert, and when I actually heard it, I experienced something seemingly bigger, broader, with much more modernity and definitely much more alive. I can say it was much different than I expected. What I liked most was the drums, Colin's ability was astounding. You can see in the picture the setup, there were so many percussion pieces, it was hard to take it all in. Mr. Currie was moving briskly back and forth to the sets of instruments, drums on the left and xylophones and others on the right.

What would be really cool would be to hear the concert several more times. Once with just the percussion, another time with just the orchestra, and then finally bring it all together again. That way I could get a better sense of the pieces. As it was they seem to fight each other, and occasionally they came together in unison, but it wasn't easy to partition in my mind. Perhaps more familiarity with the concert would give resolution to my conundrum. But all in all I enjoyed this new (to me) concert very much (first written in 1992).

Ah, now to the 'magic' portion of our show. After intermission we were treated to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty suite. I'm familiar with most of the parts, but there were some played here tonight I've only now heard for the first time. It's another confession of sorts to say that I remember this best in the Disney movie of the same name when I grew up. And even more so when my daughter grew up, we had it on VHS tape, and later I got a version on DVD. We watched it together so many times, I know the music almost by heart, and it definitely brings back great memories. So I just sat back, listened intently, and let the memories roll on.

Most of the music of Sleeping Beauty is just as magical as I recall, and more so, here in a live setting. But there's one scene/movement in particular that I really like, I don't know the name in French, but in the movie soundtrack it is called 'Aurora'a Return/Maleficent's Evil Spell'. I recall it being more syncopated in development and longer in duration. Don't get me wrong, it's got that certain feel, but I guess my memory has expanded it in scope somewhat. I wonder if composers, when they first hear the music in their minds, perhaps envision something far better than what they actually create in concrete musical terms...?

Finally another encore announced by Manfred Honeck. This time another piece by Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet, Death of Tybalt. Now what a wonderful selection! It was full of power with a rapid tempo and plenty of those sumptuous strings I'm always craving.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Midori with the Pittsburgh Symphony

Traveling to Pittsburgh to attend a concert filled with classical music is always like a journey through a magical world filled with spellbinding musical concoctions vividly unwinding before my ears. This evening was no exception, my rendezvous with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck inevitably radiated waves of sanguine optimism reinforced by harmonious orchestral tunes lilting through my soul. My odyssey was just about to begin.

In the lobby, just after I arrived I saw Maestro Honeck himself, coming through the front door just like any other patron, with a beaming smile he spoke to the staff and shook hands with a fan. His enthusiasm for the event and the music acted as bookends to the evening. Hint: there would be an encore the the Brahms.

Mozart's Haffner Symphony is light and airy and always a treat for me to hear. Writing afterwards, it was the first thing I put on when writing for the blog. I particularly like the quickly placed ascending notes. The tempo is fast and the whole orchestra blends seamlessly with the classical style adroitly exhibiting my favorite genre gleaning nothing from chance.

The final movement is very fast with slight slow parts, but it drives the tempo to a vigorous conclusion. I'm sitting on the edge of my seat. The only downside - it's a short symphony, it seems to be over in a flash, and I'm yearning for more. But not to worry, the next selection is just up.

Midori looked fantastic in her dark gray gown with green flora and pink flowers, but I came to hear her play, and when she started right into the concerto it was immediately evident that the sound and style were stunning. My seat was close to the stage on the left, the perfect location to hear her violin, the exquisite stunning tones were unforgettable.

At the beginning she seemed intense in aspect with bent knees and a focused absorption with the music, as if there were no audience at all, just her and the music. Her facial expressions revealed that singular bearing of concentration and expression that confessed an almost flawless exposition where the most obvious form of interpretation was in her movements and the angle with which her violin was facing the audience. Less obvious was the rhythm and concordance with the orchestra, but it was there, hidden in plain sight, but expertly blended with the amalgamation to form a succinct beautiful whole. The galloping march toward the end of the first movement was bridged sonorously by a french horn with one breathlessly held note melding directly into the slow movement.

The ethereal second movement showed the orchestra and soloist forming various techniques which exhibited forlorn dissonance in an odd sort of harmony, as I've always heard it in recordings, attributed to the composition, but this time up close and personal in the hearing and enjoying. When the orchestra would pause and let her play her solo you could fully hear and appreciate the sublime tones, and see her fingering on the strings. I was like a sponge, hoping to soak up the notes in endless succession.

The final movement started with a sweet introduction, and a flair on the violin, then marched with quick tempo onward with building excitement. Now we see the flair, the interplay between Midori and the orchestra, both parts intertwined to form the whole. The ending was extremely vigorous and afterward the audience quickly rose to applause. We wouldn't let her go without several trips back to the stage in recognition, but alas, there was to be no encore.

After intermission came Brahms Symphony no. 1. The conductor took quite a long time to write his first symphony, and the orchestra, dramatically led by conductor Manfred Honeck, brought the dramatic and magnificent music to our ears for the next 45 minutes. Striking, other than the beautiful music of course, was the way Honeck led the orchestra, The sweeping of his arms and the way he compelled sections in his direction was as if he were part of the whole. Through him I could see the music.

The other part of the bookend arrived, the encore the the Brahms. Manfred Honeck introduced it himself with a broad smile and fervor: "I like Hungarian music, which is surprising because I am from Austria!" They played a vigorous rendition of Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5 and the audience participated eagerly with clapping in tune to the music.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Midori with the Pittsburgh Symphony

Midori with the Pittsburgh Symphony at Heinz Hall - playing the solo of Mendelssohn’s poetic and lyrical Violin Concerto

Monday, January 16, 2017

Conducts with the blood

I wanted to be prepared for my evening at the symphony. Heinz Hall First I listened to several versions of the Sibelius 5. Then I went to the official website for the Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Chief Conductor of the WDR Sinfonieorchester, and guest conductor for this evening's concert with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I also watched a video of him conducting the Sibelius Symphony no. 5 with the Oslo Philharmonic on his own youtube channel. His version was by far better than all the other recordings. Perhaps it was the tempo, or the evenness of the sound, but It was much more appealing to my ears. So I knew I was in for a treat. As Rodrigo would say, he conducts with the blood.

I also listened to Beethoven's 7th symphony in my car on my way to downtown Pittsburgh, a CD I had purchased only about a year ago, featuring Manfred Honeck conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. This way I could compare the PSO to themselves :).

But of course live music is always better than recorded, so it wouldn't be a fair comparison, except that I had seen and heard that performance at Heinz Hall a few years ago with all the microphones placed above and inside the stage. Tonight however, there were only 4 slim microphones, those used by WQED-FM to record the PSO for rebroadcast on their station. The winner was this recent performance, I believe the musicians were more relaxed because this performance wasn't going to be released on CD. Also a performance for CD might be changed in subtle ways to maximize it's sound on the CD, as opposed to making the sound better for the audience. But of course that's just my opinion.

In the lobby various musicians, dressed in black tuxedos, cordially introduced themselves to patrons entering Heinz Hall. Co-Principle Trumpet Charles Lirette was in the audience before the concert started. He was playing 'name that tune' for audience members with his trumpet. Heard were tunes like Flinstones and Raiders of the Lost Arc theme tunes. What was amazing was how softly he could play the trumpet compared to how loudly it is played during the performance, quite a dynamic volume range.

My seat was very close, I'd be able to hear all the intricacies of the music from each of the individual instruments.P1030702 I'm usually way up above so the sound seems to come directly at me and it's not as easy to distinguish, but is more of an even sound. However being close this evening turned out to be quite interesting in that I hear, then see the sound coming from different instruments, I could almost pick out select musicians and hear just what they were playing. So, for instance, the second violin section and the violas would sometimes play a different line not at all like the melody portrayed by the first violins and the cellos. This was fascinating because it was quite new, I heard different parts I wouldn't hear on a CD or even way up in the gallery.

Jukka-Pekka Saraste, conducting the Oslo Philharmonic with Sibelius 5 was a wonderful performance, yet the live music with this conductor and the PSO beats it. It just doesn't seem like the same composition when heard live, it's multitudes better. The maestro maintained a nice tempo, but what was truly amazing was that he had no score, he must have know these two selections by heart. Of course without a stand to support the score, he had more room on the podium to move about.

With his conducting style I could feel compelled, as if I were a musician and needed to play, and even felt compunction for not contributing. His hand gestures, reaching out, necessitated and quietly urged participation. Hands and bow would move in unison, then separately, directing different sections at the same time. Then multi-tasking, the left hand embracing the cellos and his right keep tempo with his baton. His whole body became the baton, well balanced dancing multifaceted movement became the norm.

Stepping forward then back, waving, pivoting to face a section of instruments and coming to straight-backed attention to address the musicians was his particular blend of direction. Occasionally, with his left hand he would be 'playing' pretend piano, then waving, as if to bring in a section or augment a style, perhaps pizzicato. Then wildly moving like a tempest in a teapot (the podium), he would bring it home, the wildly exotic and inevitable transitions to the conclusion of a movement.

Comparing Beethoven's 7th of the CD to the live,Red carpet stairway I realized instantly that it is much better now in person. The strings remind me of a certain subtle sound that surrounds my listening, vibrations with meaning. The first movement glides with much alacrity and ends with three quick notes, foreshadowing the ending of the Sibelius 5 which ends with 5 quick notes. We move to the second, that intense but simple slow movement with a soul of feeling and plenty of pizzicato, goose bumps all around. In the third I relish the sustained violin. And just when you think its over, there is the final movement which gallops beyond the rest to the eventual ending. All the audience rises to applaud!

At then end of the evening conductor Saraste comes back on stage with a microphone to announce an encore. "It's a pleasure to be in Pittsburgh conducting this wonderful orchestra." He presents "Valse Triste" by Sibelius, and to that they play this wonderful short piece filled with sumptuous strings. On my way to the car, instead of the inventive notes of the Sibelius 5, I'm humming the melody of the Valse Triste.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Pittsburgh Symphony Musicians Return to Stridently Enthusiastic Audience

As the lights strategically dimmed and before music director Manfred Honeck appeared on the empty stage the audience arose in gleeful anticipation and began a strident applause. Conductor Honeck then walked out and addressed the audience: "We thank you for your loyalty, your commitment to this institution and your unwavering support. We will have a night that I am sure will be unforgettable. The music has returned."

The musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony began to enter the stage, reversing the usual order of arrival where conductor comes last. The applause became even more loud and sustained.  No need to sit down, the applause blended into The Star Spangled Banner, the traditional start of the concert season and it sounded like almost everyone sang the lyrics, even me. Click here to see it for yourself, but make sure the volume is down.

The Overture to "Ruslan and Ludmila" by Mikhail Glinka was a fitting beginning to classical music, a rousing orchestral jaunt joined vociferously by every member of the orchestra. Instantly I realize how much I missed the live music in a large hall, with the ability to single out each instrument. And now here it is again, what a treat.

Next, soloist Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida enters the stage to play "Gabriel's Oboe" by Ennio Morricone. Before they start we hear an infant babbling in the audience. The audience laughs when she says "I feel the same way." Soft and smooth sounds roll from her oboe as she seamlessly guides the rest of the orchestra. The selection is not long, but is beautiful. Another audience member tells me the oboe is very difficult and her performance is amazing.

Noah Bendix-Balgley returns to Pittsburgh for the violin solo of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. His style I find distinctive, and with the slower tempo we have a greater chance to savour the sounds of the strings especially during the segments where he plays alone. With the orchestra I hear the double bass to it's fullest. Soft pizzicati augment the give and take between orchestra and soloist. The second slow movement brings subtlety sweet sound almost surreal. The final movement interleaves various sections of the orchestra in well positioned conversation back and forth using full development. Mr Bendix-Balgley has certainly blossomed as a soloist.

At intermission I reflect on the nature of life. To me much of life involves movement. To get to the symphony this evening involves transportation. Leaving my seat to walk to the lobby requires movement.

Music is irrevocably wrapped in all kinds of movement. The composer creates music in his mind by moving thoughts through synapses and neurons. Those thoughts become practices on the piano, and then are scribed as notes on the manuscript to form the musical score. That score is copied countless times and place before the musicians, who, using their minds, bodies, muscles, lips, arms and fingers move their instruments in beauteous professional harmony based on the reading of the score. All this movement is led by the conductor, who with his baton, synchronizes the unanimity of the amalgamation, and with gently sweeping movements ushers forth the sounds from the musicians through their instruments into the very air with brilliant vibrations of molecules which reach out to our eardrums producing signals which move to our brains. And we move our lips - we smile :)  The circle is complete, but the movement never ends.

After moving back to my seat the second half begins. Several days ago I heard Dvorak's Symphony 9 From the New World several times on the radio. At the time I thought to myself (not knowing what was to be played this evening): wouldn't it be great if they were playing this wonderful symphony Friday. Well it turns out they were. Coincidence I'm sure. I've heard this played by the PSO at Heinz Hall before. But tonight it's alive and fresh, in fact, it could never grow old.

Everything about this music is Big! It was written when the composer visited America: A big country indeed. The music itself is big, bold, and loud, but not so that you want to reduce the volume, but rather appreciate it's very vivid character just as it is. The second movement: Largo, I like to think of as a lazy river. The English Horn just screams rustic charm like a steamboat moving down a lazy river. And then there are the sections where we hear all the voices of the string section play in unison, it's the original connotation of good vibrations that transcend my very soul.

The third movement brings genuine goose bumps and reminds me at times of a fugue like that of Bach, but there's plenty of drama as if two parts of the orchestra are having a melodic conversation. In between is a waltz intermezzo which pleases the sweet tooth, but the fugue and drama return. The forth movement proves there's something new around every turn. Here again we feel the aspects of bigness: This Is A Big Country. The movement screams to a stunning and loud conclusion and all the while Manfred Honeck is playing the orchestra like an instrument. It becomes most evident at the end.

Based on complement of instruments not used I knew there would be an orchestral encore. I was right, but this was a premier of "Fanfare for Pittsburgh" by James MacMillen which had been delayed because of the unfortunate strike which had thankfully been resolved. This piece was for full orchestra with lots of percussion. Like a chase scene in any movie with boats screaming down the rivers, and cogs of machinery constantly turning, the music and tones move up and down, and then twice we hear a gong near the end. A xylophone leads a transition to the ending, and then it's over. A fanfare which you probably won't hear again soon unless you come on Sunday for the second show or hear on WQED next week.

One blogger gets his 15 seconds of fame!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

PSO Classical Mixer

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra hosted a summer event called 'Classical Mixer' this last weekend. Since I haven't heard live orchestral music much lately since the conclusion of the regular season, I made sure to attend. I'm glad I did, it was a treat.

During the mixer portion, in the outdoor garden, Carolyn Edwards introduced herself and asked if I'd fill out a form to possibly win a chance to sit with the orchestra for one of the selections. It was very kind of her and the other musicians of the PSO who hosted the events before the concert. The ultimate winner indeed got to sit for the 1812 Overture. In fact, PSO Cellist Mikhail Istomin joked that the winner might need earplugs, or she might go deaf, that's how loud the horns are for the ending.

In the lobby three more members of the Cello section of the PSO played as a trio. The part I like best was the overture to Magic Flute by Mozart. These were Charlie Powers, Alexandra Thompson and Michael DeBruyn. I spoke to Michael after they played and he gave me the name of a few of the selections. All of the musicians are very friendly and gracious.

Jennifer Orchard and Craig Knox came out between selections to announce one of winners of the evening. It was entertaining and funny. The winning selection was inside Craig's Tuba which at one point he joked weighed 75 pounds as he held it over his head. See the photos I took below...

Ludwig Van Beethoven - Overture to Egmont

Leading off with Beethoven is always a grand idea in my opinion, and usually the audience is very receptive.

Wolfgang Mozart - Symphony No. 38 (Prague), 3rd mov. Presto

Mozart's Prague Symphony is one of his best! The third movement is very rhythmic. Even if you've never experienced this, the first time hearing this charming music brings an instant smile.

Johannes Brahms - Symphony No. 3, 3rd mov. Poco allegretto

This movement elicits moderate tempo and uniquely Brahms style. I like Brahms, but my favorites are the classical styles of Mozart and Beethoven.

Sergei Prokofiev - Classical Symphony (No. 1) 3rd and 4th mov.

We were told that this symphony was composed in an attempt to emulate the style of Joseph Haydn. After this Prokofiev selection, Conductor Andres Franco asked the audience if they have a favorite so far. Not too many responded, but for me, this is it. In fact, I wished they had played they entire symphony. This is the first time I heard it played live by a symphony orchestra. I'll be looking forward to an upcoming performance of the Prokofiev Classical Symphony soon!

Leonard Bernstein - Overture to Candide

Another crowd favorite. American composer Bernstein was at his very best with this Overture. So many elements and wrapped together in a brisk package which seems almost too short, we want more.

James Macmillan - One

Conductor Andres Franco indicated that this composition is a single line of music that is transferred between sections of the orchestra until the end. I liked it very much.

Edward Elgar - Enigma Variations E.D.U. Finale

Elgar Enigma Variations contain themes from two variations are echoed: 'Nimrod' and 'C.A.E.' The one part has a very distinctive and recognizable melody. All in all a very enjoyable selection.

Piotr Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture solennelle

Mikhail Istomin, Cello, introduced this piece. He's from Russia, and apparently he never played this piece over there, yet he joked that it's always played here on the 4th of July and that this piece seemingly has nothing to to with our Independence Day. The beginning is a slow and quiet section of Cellos which is what I like best. But I'm certain the ending with the fireworks and verve might be the crows favorite. I like the begging so much, I use it as an alarm. I hear it every day and never grow tired. But to be sure, to hear this music in person at Heinz Hall with the world famous Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is treat that should never be missed!

As an encore, the PSO played music from  Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld

The "Infernal Galop" from Act 2, Scene 2, is famous outside classical circles as the music for the "can-can" (to the extent that the tune is widely, but erroneously, called "can-can")

Cello trio PSO Classical Mixer
Cello trio PSO Classical Mixer
Cello trio PSO Classical Mixer
Cello trio PSO Classical Mixer
PSO Classical Mixer
PSO Classical Mixer
PSO Classical Mixer
PSO Classical Mixer
PSO Classical Mixer
PSO Classical Mixer
PSO Classical Mixer

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Stepping out of the Silver Screen: Alec Baldwin with the PSO

Entering Heinz Hall last Saturday, I was immediately struck by the array of speakers cascaded around the back of the stage, in captivating contrast of spotless white and black. I realized it was indeed to be used by the organ for Cameron Carpenter's selection to be heard later in the evening. But I had forgotten the effect of deep bases that can be projected along with the symphony in Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra." Indeed, when Maestro Manfred Honeck unleashed the theme upon the audience, there was no mistaking the magnificence and expansiveness the sound can achieve, especially at Heinz Hall. To say that the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra 'nailed it' is an understatement, but with the addition of the deep base played by the speakers it was breathtaking.

After the peak of the music, it ends with much applause from the audience. Alec Baldwin appears onto the stage, his presence seemingly larger than life because of all his silver screen roles, yet in person, friendly and affable. With a smile, he jokingly said he asked for this piece to be played as his introduction. It was almost like a Hollywood entrance as if he were stepping out of the silver screen in style.

One of my favorite movies of late is by Woody Allen "To Rome with Love" where Alec Baldwin interacts with several young people he meets on the streets of Rome. He's there, but he's not, as if he is the conscience of one of the others in the movie. It's intriguing in it's appeal. It sort of reminded me of Alec at this concert, as a character to introduce the pieces, as a conscience of the audience, there but not really there, but in his charm and as an addition to the entire evening, he is invaluable.

Mr. Baldwin spoke of his chance to see the PSO perform Beethoven in 2014 while filming a movie in Pittsburgh, and that led to him hosting this concert. As he put it, the advent of his love for classical music came in the 1980s while driving in his car listening on the radio. He spoke of a car-phone and kidded that he actually had to look for paper and pen to write down the selection played or hit the speed dial on his car phone to the station to ask what was played at a certain time. Coincidentally I myself remember doing that myself. With Mr. Baldwin it was Mahler 9. I remember calling in the 1990s to WQED to find out about Mozart's oboe concerto.

He kidded young folks about CDs - "you see it's this round plastic thing you actually put in something to play the music," while discussing his collection of classical music. He spoke of listening to the music in the concert hall - "here nothing can compare the seeing and listening of a performance done live." He said he's never had a bad experience at the symphony.

He went on to say that a few film directors borrow from the classical repertoire, and such was the case with the main title music of "The Shining" based on the Dream of the Witches Sabbath, by Hector Berlioz. After this awe inspiring performance by the PSO Mr Baldwin returned to the stage with a "wowie wow." He asked the audience if we liked the bells. Yes. "I brought those with me on the plane. I did it for you actually."

He spoke of his first role on a soap opera. Apparently his character was killed off by two separate people at the same time, neither knew the other was there; a very funny story the way Mr. Baldwin described it.

He next introduced Tchaikovsky's "Pas de Deux", holiday music beautifully written, that he would never tire of hearing.

Immediately following, Manfred Honeck dove into the Beethoven finale of Symphony no. 7. Alegro con brio. Fast, lively and marvelous, one of my personal favorites.

Next Baldwin introduced one of his favorites, the adagio from Mahler's symphony no. 5. But before that he asked Honeck: "How's it going so far Maestro?" "What do you mean" was the response -- smiles all around. Apparently the Mahler composition was intended as a love poem to his wife Alma. Listening to those deep rich strings - it was a beautiful poem indeed.

Next was Prokofiev "The Death of Tybalt". To me it seemed more a comedy than tragedy.

Fascinating Rhythm by Gershwin was played on the organ by Cameron Carpenter with those large array of speakers and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. There was a screen where they projected a close up of the organist's hands on the keyboard with 4 rows of keys. It was amazing the dexterity and adroitness he was able to continually maintain.

There are so many things about this music that I've said before in the blog, because many of the selections are one's that have been played here before, only not just snippets but the full selections. I enjoyed the music very much, although sometimes it was a bit loud. I do miss the entire pieces and not just the excerpts.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Singularly Intimate Ardor Flirtingly Revealed

I start at the end of Friday's concert with the composition freshest on my mind, the Carmen melodies I'm humming outside the concert hall, and all the way home. With the Bizet Carmen Suite we see and hear the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at their very best. They shine in this setting and excel in the undistilled triumphant symphonic form. To me Carmen is a succinct set of voices that reach out and grab the listener, distinctly and clearly telling a story. 

Juraj Valčuha, with his softly waving baton, lead the orchestra seamlessly, and yet I could experience his distinct style, with the way he would single out Balcony single sets of musicians to enunciate a selection, or how he congealed the whole orchestra as a robust amalgamation, it was an enthusiastic highlight to the proceeding. I experienced the complete dynamic extent of the talented orchestra.

The live concert venue reaches more deeply the fidelity of the music. My ears extend their listening capacity, I experience no signal loss, no degradation. Heart, soul, full body - these things no electronic speakers can ever achieve, these are the multiple dimensional aspects I fully hear, see and feel at Heinz Hall with the PSO. 

I also contemplate a certain fascination in the reincarnation of the animate karma of these notes, printed as a score on paper a century before. These talented symphony musicians and conductor simply dust off the old manuscript, imbibe their magic and voilà, the music comes alive. The Carmen was a perfect ending to this fantastic evening. 

Backing up a notch, I consider the Tchaikovsky Romeo & Juliet Suite: The title says it all to anyone familiar with Shakespeare's play, but isn't it a tragedy? Oh that I could forget the programmatic context and re-hear this beautiful composition in a vacuum, but not literally. Like rewinding the clock to the first time, and playing again, without the title, without the intro, without words, only sounds, hearing again for the first time. Then perhaps the emotions could quickly stir, and creativity would spark - further onrushing impressions would be forged without bias or foreknowledge. And I could describe my thoughts in that incubator, with only the pure music to hear. Then, if it were possible, rewind and do it all over again, if only to compare, to heuristically compare notes with myself.

But alas, it cannot be so, I cannot forget all that prior knowledge, yet I allude my impressions in a bottle, a suspension of foreknowledge for only a moment. The sounds are incredible, yet inexorably Tchaikovsky-like, with bits and pieces of 1812 and some Symphonies thrown in for good measure. The melody is amazing. Then the orchestra goes wild as if some tempest is let loose in order to menace the simple melody. And even after recapitulation the tawdry storm takes stronger hold and will not be denied. 

Diverging paths and the masks that we wear
But in the intermezzo a softer part briefly emerges. My favorite part. Its not a melody nor cacophony of storm. Instead, a quiet storm to stir my soul. Whispered oboe sounds juxtaposed to harp, all wrapped in softly speaking strings. The proverbial eye of the storm. Exiting that eye we come full circle; eventually the tempest concludes. I am not sure the extent of devastation. Yet now begins a new aspect, a final tribute unlike the rest. A conclusion of sorts to assure us all of our destined happy ending.

My moment has passed and my suspension of prior programmatic knowledge is over. I suppose the tragic end to the love story of Romeo and Juliet was rewritten in the ending provided by Tchaikovsky. This time maybe it deserves a happy ending.

Now I backup to the beginning of the evening and the opening notes of the first selection. Lush rolling waves of gentle soul, as if breaking in my dreams, enunciate a perfect transference upon my eardrums, eliciting vibrating waves that ramble aimfully through my mind, developing a purely profound union of meaning. Thus begins the Tristin und Istolde Prelude und Liebestod by Richard Wagner.

It is a sturdy cacophony replete with  waving baton, or else a measured gravitational series of waves that roll ceaselessly over my senses, caressing the very depths of my being. Either or, it makes no difference, it is anxiously perceived.

In my minds eye I imagine a subtle smile detected, with long flowingHallelujah hair flung opulently as if to obscure my concentrated view, but not in a direct line of flight to the ensemble, but rather a subtle diversion reaching from within the orchestra's core competency, softly mixing harmonic elegy to show an ardor flirtingly revealed.

A temporal dilemma arises, hitherto redacted prose replete with singularly intimate imbalance replenishes softly my consummate repose. Already scribed with abundance, the text remains. Hearing quiet sounds, the concert continues, no need to amplify, my conscience returns in ample abundance.

The love story is still building, ever longing, building, longing the way it was intended in the opera, the way it has always been. Is it a splendid tragedy? No, it's ever my immortal hearing of a beautiful love told in music which never fails to send shivers through my soul

Next,Guest Artist RoomI find that Dvořák's cello concerto as an interesting juxtaposition.  Exchanges traded between soloist and orchestra act as a subtle diversion to the music. Pausing between phrases, Joshua Roman looks back from his cello in recognition of the well-done part of the players, his head shaking with the rhythm. I perceive the voice as cello, cello voice, as a woman, full bodied, desirable. Rolling, ambling with the flute, loudly vibrating strings, swift and pure, and Interplay with horns accentuate my appreciation for orchestra and soloist.

 The encore by Joshua Roman is excellent in its clarity and harmonic form. I believe the composer is J. S. Bach based on the sound and form. Searching youtube, I notice that Mr. Roman likes to perform on rooftops in big cities or in front of a koi pond or similar unique venues. It's a distinguishing characteristic. After searching a bit more I believe his encore may have been Bach Cello Suite no. 1.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Legacy of Stradivarius

Found this in my inbox. Looks rather cool!

 The Legacy of Stradivarius comes to life as never before at the Musical Instrument Museum
On display for the first and only time in the US

PHOENIX (Dec. 8, 2015) – Opening January 16, as part of its five-year anniversary celebration, the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) will bring to Arizona Stradivarius: Origins and Legacy of the Greatest Violin Maker. Violins, an internationally beloved instrument, will be the star of this new exhibition, which showcases 10 exceptional historic and modern examples from the string family, including a 1728 Stradivarius violin on public display for the first time in the United States.

On view only at MIM, this one-of-a-kind exhibition introduces the story of how early violin makers from the modest Italian city of Cremona shaped music from the 16th century onward. These timeless masterpieces were handcrafted by master luthiers, including Andrea Amati, the founding father of the violin; the rogue genius Guarneri del Gesù; and the master himself—Antonio Stradivari. The exhibition includes several modern-day masterworks that demonstrate the continuing influence of early masters.

Stradivarius: Origins and Legacy of the Greatest Violin Maker is presented in partnership with Cremona-based institutions Museo del Violino and the Friends of Stradivari. “Since its inception, MIM has collaborated with prestigious national and international institutions that share a similar vision,” said April Salomon, executive director of MIM. “Now for the first time, MIM has the great privilege to bring this extraordinary exhibition to Arizona, allowing us to share these remarkable instruments with guests from around the world.”

The exhibition, featured in MIM’s Target Gallery, will allow guests to hear and see the instruments on display using audio and video technology that will bring the violin to life as never before. “We have transformed the exhibition space into a multi-sensory experience complete with compelling sound and visuals,” says Kathleen Wiens, PhD, MIM’s curator for Europe. Wiens continues, “When visitors walk into the gallery, they will be taken on a journey from the Fiemme Valley forest, where the early masters sourced their wood, through violin maker’s workshops, European royal courts, science labs and finally to the thrilling concert stage. It will be an experience like no other.”

Visitors to this exhibition will have the rare opportunity to see firsthand the fine craftsmanship of these extraordinary treasures. Similar violins have garnered increased attention on the collectors’ market and most recently the “Lady Blunt” Stradivarius was purchased for more than $15 million US dollars. In addition to appreciating their value, visitors will discover what makes these prized instruments unique, both in design and tone.

Stradivarius: Origins and Legacy of the Greatest Violin Maker will be on display through June 5, 2016, with special opening weekend activities taking place January 16 and 17. To commemorate the exhibition, MIM will host concerts featuring some of the world’s most talented violinists—compelling virtuosa Rachel Barton Pine, foremost jazz violinist of her generation Regina Carter, champion of American music Mark O’Connor, and the incomparable Midori. The concert series will conclude with treasured instruments of the Valley brought to life by members of the exceptionally talented ASU Strings Faculty. As a finale to this special exhibition, MIM will have an “Experience Italy” weekend June 4 and 5 to celebrate Italian music and culture.

$10 for Stradivarius: Origins and Legacy of the Greatest Violin Maker exhibition only
$7 when purchased with general museum admission

The Musical Instrument Museum is located at 4725 E. Mayo Boulevard in Phoenix (corner of Tatum and Mayo Boulevards, just south of Loop 101). For general museum information and a full schedule of events, visit or call 480.478.6000.

About MIM
The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) enriches our world by collecting, preserving and making accessible an astonishing variety of musical instruments and performance videos from every country in the world. MIM offers guests a welcoming and fun experience, incomparable interactive technology, dynamic programming and exceptional musical performances. MIM fosters appreciation of the world’s diverse cultures by showing how we innovate, adapt and learn from each other to create music—the language of the soul.

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Monday, November 2, 2015

Igudesman and Joo: Scary Concert at Heinz Hall

Saturday evening we were treated by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to a highly entertaining concert led by violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-Ki Joo. A Scary Halloween it was, with music ranging from Dance Macabre by Saint-Saens to the hillarious Decomposing Composers by Michael Palin.

It's with out a doubt that they are funny and engaging, yet what really intrigues me is how talented they are in their own right as musicians. Several solo performances by each were mesmerizing and brilliant in the showcase of their abilities. I especially liked "Tango del Diabolo" by Igudesman and "Celebration Polka" by Joo, both pieces they composed are extremely difficult to perform but perform they did to great effect!

The musicians of the PSO were dressed in outfits as well, I noted: Horse Head, Hillbilly, The Incredibles, Pocahontas, A Big Chicken, Race Car Driver, Skeleton with face half Skeleton, Pirate, Taco Bell Taco, Black Cat, Motorcycle Cop, Mummy, Harpo Marx, Dracula, Annie Oakley, Bride of Frankenstein, Stay Puff Marshmallow Man, Howard Stern, Ghost, Toy Soldier, Impaled bloody Horn Player, and various other assorted ghouls and gargoyles.

One of the things they do best are pieces where they mix and match classical music selections with their own flair. At first they took a popular ringtone and mixed it into may selections from composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak and Ravel, while pushing each other off the conductor's podium in order to serve up their own particular flavor of hybrid composition.

At intermission they invited members of the audience who were dressed in Halloween costumes to come up on stage for an impromptu judging of the best costume. The audience applauded most for the declared winners: Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf.

The PSO also took part in the hijinks and festivities throughout the evening. Kelsey Blumenthal dressed as a skeleton danced and bowed with Igudesman at the same time, very impressive. At the end many of the costumed members of the orchestra were up from their seats dancing in ho-down style in the "Zorba the Greek" final selection.

I've seen this talented duo before, and am glad I caught their Halloween special, and such a treat it was done here in Pittsburgh, thanks!. I'll be looking for them to return to Heinz Hall again. And I have to say - undoubtedly this is the best Halloween party I've every attended.