Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Riddles Word Cloud

Riddle me this --
What's soft yet subtle, delicate yet fine, fragile yet tender, and gently sensitive through every bar?

zart -> found in all 3 pieces this weekend, in one form or other...
1. Zoroastrian
2. Mozart
3. Zarathustra

zart, in German can be translated to English in any of these ways...
  1. soft
  2. tender
  3. delicate
  4. fragile
  5. subtle
  6. fine
  7. gentle
  8. sensitive

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Honeck pre-concert chat - Mozart Requiem

John Lithgow in the post-concert chat:

> 'The Requiem Mass was a thing of great and terrible beauty.'

It was and is a thing of great beauty. I've heard the Requiem before, but I have to say, that this time somehow I heard it with much more clarity. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Mendelssohn Choir and Heinz Hall account for much of that. And now, with this first experience with a live concert of the Requiem, I find that much of it was simply brilliant musically, it was pleasing to my ear, and I found it eminently joyous, with little hint of sadness. It was only those haunting notes near the end that seemed to allude to the kind of emotion perhaps associated with death and loss. The genius of Mozart is the overwhelming sense of emotion that is invoked by such simple musical phrasing, and an enormous wealth of classical development.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mozart's Requiem

Manfred Honeck's personal version of Mozart's Requiem was more than an experience, it was a search for one's very own soul. Honeck created a canvas, covered with sounds and sights and spoken words. He painted an artistic masterpiece upon that canvas, and I am glad I was there to experience this artistic creation, and to see it unfolding and hear the majesty. Could we imagine what the Mass of Mozart's funeral could have been like? This was a fantastic version of that hypothetical idea. The Requiem, complete with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conductor Manfred Honeck, John Lithgow as narrator, Chen Reiss soprano, Lauren McNeese mezzo-soprano, Alek Shrader tenor, John Relyea bass, and the wonderful choral sounds of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, Betsy Burleigh director, and even Gregorian Chant, conjured this image and sound.

One of my favorite parts was Lithgow's reading of Mozart's letters to his father, Leopold Mozart. This letter is revealing in that it shows several themes which I took to heart. One, that Mozart himself may have been ready to accept life and death: "death is the true ultimate purpose of our lives." But what did he mean by that? I see it this way: life after death, and does it exist. My take is yes: I envision an image of my father, who has passed away, and that image is somewhat blurry; then beyond that is an image of myself, slightly less blurry, and beyond that further still is an image of my daughter, quite sharper in image quality, and the caption: Yes, there is life after death, and somehow, with this image, I don't fear death, I can easily, when the time comes, whenever it comes, and with God's grace, accept death. I finally see that this life after death is generational, and I see perhaps what Mozart meant in his letter to his father.

With the sights I could almost imagine Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral, the place where Mozart's funeral mass was actually performed; only then they did not play his Requiem. I believe Mozart himself never heard or experienced the complete orchestration and choir perform his magnificent piece. What a shame, but it was not a shame that it is his legacy and that we were able to experience it this night, and it was: beautiful! I'm still hearing the haunting sounds of the violins left play their two notes upward, and the violins left play their two notes downward, this melodic music flows in tuneful ways that bring both melancholy and joy, simultaneously, that is the genius that was Mozart.

I'll blog some more on this concert, but for now, I wanted to share a few thoughts and photos.

John Lithgow, narrator, Mozart Requiem

I would have preferred a different poem than Sachs, something more contemporary to or preceding the death of Mozart; perhaps this, and would that Lithgow could speak the speech, I pray thee, as I present it to you, trippingly on the tongue, and it would have been as this:


COME away, come away, death,
   And in sad cypres let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away, breath;
   I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
   O prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
   Did share it.

Not a flower, not a flower sweet,
   On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
   My poor corse, where my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
   Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave
   To weep there!

   -- William Shakespeare

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Romance and Waltz

Tchaikovsky is one of my favorite composers. I especially like his symphonies, and his first piano concerto is equally a favorite, it is without a doubt a sublimely romantic composition. Therefore I was eminently pleased to experience this concerto with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and pianist Sa Chen. The PSO has invited several new and upcoming soloists this year, and they have all given such wonderful performances.

Sa Chen was simply amazing. She sat before the grand piano, her hands delicately arrayed upon the keyboard, with a glint of anticipation in her eyes. Soon conductor Manfred Honeck began with a sweeping arc of his arms and baton, and the orchestra commenced, bringing the first four descending notes from the English Horns, da dat dat da, leading into the a flourish of similar notes from the whole orchestra, and finally to the full hands and fingers of the pianist thundering their harmonic knell strokes upon the keys three times from the very lowest octaves, to the middle tones, and all the way to the right with the high notes, as the orchestra played one of the most recognizable of all romantic themes in unison.

Then it was time for Sa Chen to play a solo with the aid of some well place pizzicato, and her fantastic abilities were immediately seen and heard. Throughout the performance she had an amazing capability to effortlessly play the keys, loud or softly as appropriate, and make it look so natural. My recommendation to anyone attending a piano concerto: sit left of center as I did, so that you may see the hands on the keyboard, and where I was I was able to see the reflection as well.

This piece is memorable not only for the momentous introduction to the first movement, and the romantic theme that is prevalent throughout, but for many unforgettable melodies that are fabulously interwoven throughout the whole of the concerto.

If I am not mistaken, and correct me if I am wrong, but many of the solo parts traditionally ascribed to the oboe were this evening marvelously played by a solo piccolo, to marvelous affect. This soloist wasn't listed on the web page, but she did fantastic, I was impressed (there were actually two piccolo, the other being the principle, Rhian Kenny, who did a great job herself). In fact, Maestro Honeck singled out the piccolo player for applause at the conclusion, after the main applause went to Sa Chen, of course. Sa Chen then went on to play an encore, which was very beautiful. I did not hear the name of the composition; if anyone knows, please comment.

After intermission, the theme was Johann Strauss, Jr.: Music by the Strauss Family. Honeck structured the first part of the Strauss evening as a tribute to the women in Strauss family life, including Josef Strauss: Frauenherz (A Woman's Heart) and Johann Strauss: Wein, Weib, und Gesang (Wine, Women, and Song). According to Honeck: "I'm not sure what Johann Strauss thought of this song, but he probably thought that wine, woman and song made for a great combination." All of waltzes and scores played this evening were wonderful, and I'm glad that some of the more obscure pieces were played. Somehow it felt like New Year's Eve at the conclusion of the evening, especially after two 'encore' pieces were played, ending with the Radetzky Marsch by Johann Strauss Sr.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sees but one

Riddle me this --
What's soft yet subtle, delicate yet fine, fragile yet tender, and gently sensitive through every bar?

zart -> found in all 3 pieces this weekend, in one form or other...
1. Zoroastrian
2. Mozart
3. Zarathustra

zart, in German can be translated to English in any of these ways...
  1. soft
  2. tender
  3. delicate
  4. fragile
  5. subtle
  6. fine
  7. gentle
  8. sensitive

The first piece this evening conjured for me the following elements -- Driving, stark, bold, dramatic, charismatic, chordal, hyperbolic, harmonic, melodious: all these words came to mind while listening to the first two movements of the Concerto for Orchestra (Zoroastrian Riddles) by Richard Danielpour. His music was certainly a joy for me to hear, for all the kinds of elements described by my adjectives, and for all the musical ideas that were some how conjured up while I listened. But to be sure, there were only a few moments of gentle tenderness in this particular composition, at least in the two movements that were performed so well by the PSO this night. The two soft moments came during the second movement, and were indeed finely woven feathery fixtures delicately wrapped between the driving rhythmic undertone which sustained the piece so well.

Before the work began, Mr. Danielpour himself introduced his composition, written in 1995, by indicating we would be hearing a series of voices, like a giant forum or committee, and by the end, it would be as if humanity would all be saying the same thing and become one.

Next came one of my favorites, Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5, with the solo being performed by Stefan Jackiw. Mr Jackiw's performance seem only slightly hesitant, yet technically sound during the first movement. But then came the second movement, and the passion was instantly set loose. Now we see the true tenderness and gentle heart that brought to mind my opening riddle (zart). Mr. Jackiw and the PSO instantly flowed together as a sweet amalgamation. Now we finally know the answer to my riddle... What's soft yet subtle, delicate yet fine, fragile yet tender, and gently sensitive through every bar? The PSO with Stefan Jackiw playing Mozart's Concerto No. 5. The third and final movement was again another form of riddle, or a kind of wrapping, which began sweetly and vividly, then suddenly transformed into a kind of driving waltz, a kind of mini-scherzo, embedded withing the main parts of this movement, finally to return to the sound which was as before, to provide a fine ending with a gentle smile. Was this Mozart's riddle, written in music?

Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30. What's there to say... the opening says it all, a huge sweeping sound. We've all heard it in 2001, A Space Odyssy. Now I hear it live, along with the rest of the composition. I have to say, other than the opening, I really only liked the quieter parts of this music (zart). There was one part in particular where the bases started off low, in grand fashion, not something you hear every day, or even every year. Then it gradually transitioned from right to left until the whole orchestra was playing. That was genius! It was definitely Richard Strauss, the sound I could instantly recognize, but on the whole it wasn't as good, in my mind, as his other compostions, especially the one I really like which was the Alpine Symphony as performed last November by the PSO.

And then there was the conductor, Maestro Andris Nelsons, who I really like very much. This is the second time I've seen him conduct the PSO. His style was stunning, with a perfect mix of aspects -- Effervescent yet not overpowering - demanding yet cordial - And his enthusiasm and smile seemed to sweep across the orchestra. His body movements were very animated, but not too much so as to take away from the soloist int he violin concerto. It was as if he was carving a beautiful sculpture, and then molding form from clay, next swimming as a swan in a lake, then walking a tightrope, and various other graceful gestures which with his body and hands formed the very texture of the music.

And finally this poem, while it begins with the advent of autumn, it also sums up the diverse forms of music experienced this evening:

Shifting shapes are formed by wafting breezes
as hue, saturation, and brightness - they adorn the ardent eye.
Subtle desires burn as yellow and orange conflagrations
indebted to the loss of green whence envy makes me sigh.

Riddles are curious forms of words and modes of thoughts
transformed to fit analogy and context quickly on the fly.
Curiosity has a hundred heads, our visage sees but one,
enhance mind's eye to fit the sky and let your mind comply.
maple leaf rag

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Chee-Yun at Heinz Hall

Such an effusive smile, much like the way she plays the violin, pouring out such vivid passages of stylistic soul, overflowing with spirit, sparkle and pizazz!

After the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto she signed autographs. For once I decided to get an autograph as well, I was taken by her charm.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Sound, Perfectly Balanced

Words cannot fully say, but notes can -- notes beautifully transcribed by conductor and musician into music played on the finest of instruments, and music transduced into space and time which circles and surrounds throughout the atmosphere of the concert hall with its final destination: my ears, my heart and my soul. Those lovely sounds written hundreds of years ago by composers such as Saint-Saëns with his Piano Concerto No. 2 and Hector Berlioz, with his Symphonie Fantastique.

And what a sound, perfectly balanced and matched for each section of the orchestra with power to reverberate down to the very core. This particular selection, this piano concert by Saint-Saëns, I had not heard before this last weekend's performance. What a flavorful mix of piano and orchestra. As it said in the program notes:
"Acclaimed French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet makes a rare PSO appearance in Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No.2, a concerto the composer remarked was a reflection of a sea voyage."

And a voyage it was, especially with the acoustics of Heinz Hall. Watching the hands of Mr. Thibaudet was fascinating, and amazing; his ability took us all on a journey through breezes and storms and smooth sailing beyond what my imagination could conceive, without the inspiration of notes provided by Saint-Saëns.

After intermission, Conductor Marek Janowski took us on another form of journey, this time one that was strictly fashioned from words to a story, a story outlined by the composer Hector Berlioz himself. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra followed the direction and put forth an overwhelmingly robust performance, but as an individual in the audience, I was not required to interpret the score strictly as portrayed. Instead, I listened hoping to feel an abstract flavor, but it was too late, my mind kept running back to the words I'd previously read in the program, and it somehow fit too well, very well, and marvelously well. So I accepted it in turn and went with the flow.

I want to make a special note that the Tubas and Harps were my favorite aspects of this piece. The harps, in that there were 4 of them, and they were easy to hear and accented several of the movements. It was fun to watch these four musicians perform with such synchronization. The tubas were fabulous, and stole the the last movement because they drove the special melody which so fantastically forms the foundation of this music. A melody that many would instantly recognize.

Afterwards, a friend commented amidst the loud applause: "Now that would overpower any stereo system, no matter how big."

Symphonie Fantastique - an abstract flavor, by me...

Hello, hurrah, herald garish hooray,
Heed Halloween with Hector Berlioz;

Heard hectic haunting ghoulish dismay,
amidst half notes wholly grandiose

Hell hath no fury, quotations oft do say,
Quell quaff nor stray, elation cannot bray.

Delinquent syncopation inverted contra-play,
rhythm under reason, sanctioned as ballet.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Felt, not merely Heard

I'm fascinated by the art of classical composition, even though I don't know much about the true aspects beyond mere development. I'm often in awe of composers for their ability to hear in their mind's ear what the composition would be without actually hearing, this is such a unique ability.

American music composed by American composers, that is the theme this weekend at the PSO. The quintessential of those composers is Copland. The PSO performed the two selections by Copland beautifully! Additionally, John William's horn concerto with soloist William Caballero was a great new piece for me to hear. The English Horn is such a mellow and pleasing instrument, and this was an inspiring composition to highlight the horn as well as the percussion (see photo). These elements all brought a smile to my face.

I'd say the penultimate of the very best compositions by an American composer must be the Adagio by Barber, in that you would present this last in the credits, as if making a special guest appearance of an important piece, but not to imply that this piece comes last or even next to last, but that it is indeed special. I place it high above most compositions because of its romantic and stirring emotional flavor. It is classical in nature, and for me has the classical European feel to it; and it is quite simple in form, yet stirring and powerful. This all-strings piece completely filled Heinz Hall with such verve and strident harmonious ardor, it's eagerness and enthusiasm completely overwhelmed my sense of dulcet euphoria, and this only begins to describe the elation of a sound that transcends hearing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Words about music, Music about words

Last Saturday's PSO concert at Heinz Hall began with Leonard Slatkin, conducting Peter Mennin's Concertato for Orchestra, titled "Moby Dick". The forces of the sea were fabulously brought out in this movement. Yet for me, it was like the beginning of a great symphony, only to end too soon, without the rest of the movements, and that left me hanging for more.

But I was not disappointed, because the next piece was the world premier of Richard Danielpour's A Woman's Life. Soprano Angela Brown had such a beautiful voice singing the words of the poetry of Maya Angelou, the 7 texts which make up the cycles of a woman's life. It fittingly ended with the mention that what she really needed was a friend, no more, no less.

Now back to my thoughts of a metaphor. The first work, Moby Dick, seemed to be the stereotypical 'Man's Life'. So what would be more fitting than to combine that work with this premier of a Woman's Life. And indeed they did seem to fit together quite well, musically.

During the performance I must admit that I couldn't understand the words, but the voice was beautiful, and I rarely can understand the words in operatic music. Consider that Beethoven's ninth symphony, the choral parts are in German, and although I know a bit of German language, I don't understand the words, when it is performed, and that too is beautiful music.

After intermission came the beautiful and masterful Jean Sibelius Symphony No. 2. This was a perfect finale for the evening, a broadly sweeping symphony that indeed had moments that could have been set at sea, and others perhaps on land. The proverbial stormy sea being a setting fit for a man, and perhaps the gentle heartwarming homecoming of a land setting being the woman's home and life. Now if those two were combined, the man and the woman would unite and be as one, and somehow the fourth movement suggested this to me, in no uncertain terms -- several dramatic themes came together and formed a singular motif that provided a thoroughly enjoyable ending.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Marvin Hamlisch & The Informant!

Last Saturday, October 10 at 2 pm at the Waterworks Cinema, Marvin Hamlisch and the PSO hosted a special screening of "The Informant!", for which Marvin wrote the original score. Prior to the screening Marvin discussed many aspects of his composition and lead a Q&A with the audience who where there to see this special screening.

I took this photo while he autographed a poster of the movie "The Informant."

For me, he opened up a world of introspection into the aspects of the film score that accompanies movies; ideas I had never really thought of before. First, he discussed the notion of the two different kinds of film score, underscore, and open air. Underscore is written to be played at a slightly lower volume played while the actors are talking; the other being music played out in the open.

Apparently this movie had 53 separate 'cues' or separate pieces of music which are played throughout the movie. He indicated that at first, it took him a few weeks of thinking about how he would start, especially considering the movie is a comedy, and the music would be a key aspect in that role.

Mr. Hamlisch indicated that he hadn't written a score for 10 year before this, but now he might consider doing more.

One person asked if he uses modern computers to compose: He indicated that he doesn't even read email. He said there is nothing wrong with that technique for composing, but that he does it the old fashioned way: pen and paper, pen so that he can scratch out sections that don't work out.

Someone asked if he had seen the movie (perhaps meaning the movie WITH the music), but he immediately exclaimed, humorously, that he'd seen it 1000 times. He basically plays the movie before him, just like a DVD, so that he can think of ideas to compose the music, and ways to make sure that the scene, and the music are the correct length. For him, composing film score was sort of like that saying, purportedly of Michelangelo that goes: well, to make an elephant, I take away from the stone, and what remains, that's the elephant.

After his talk, we all saw the movie. What an enhanced experience to know the kinds of things to listen to after hearing his talk. Indeed the music really did make the movie!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Inspired by Music

I, of course, was inspired by music. Classical music never fails to entice my soul, to gratify my heart, to enthrall, and to bring sheer waves of delight. Whenever I hear it, I become lost -- in a good way. Suddenly transfixed as if phase shifted into another universe, the time space continuum of the symphonic music makes it easy to forget the dull mundane aspects of whatever was, and thrusts this new aspect upon me, and I smile, and I listen, and I hear.

peach pollen explosionThis season the Pittsburgh Symphony has a theme for many of its concerts entitled "Inspired by Nature." What a fitting description, to me, of all of the classical forms of music. This evenings performance of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons was the first of these compositions that adheres to this theme. The seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter are deliciously represented by this music, it's easy to hear the specific parts and how they may represent each season in turn. The experience of this concert live at Heinz Hall was especially pleasing. The sound is so much better, and many of the bases and lower tones were brought out in crisp and clear fashion, with dimensional effects unrealized in audio recordings. This showcased the best of the PSO string section, and one Harpsichord.

Before that was a fantastic performance of the Variations on a Rococo Theme. Anne Martindale Williams was phenomenal on the cello. Her technical mastery of this piece composed by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was breathtaking.

The concert opened with the Star Spangled Banner, since this was the new opening night, the previously scheduled Beethoven 9th was postponed because of the recent G20 conference held in Pittsburgh. It was great to see the musicians perform this great piece standing.

Then we were treated to a splendid Sinfonietta by Francis Poulenc. What a treat for me, I have not heard this before tonight. This was my favorite part of the evening. This is such a fascinating piece of music with four movements. Each movement, to me, seemed to also be 'inspired by nature.' I envisioned this music as a chase, with perhaps a cat chasing a butterfly, in the first movement. Each time the cat would bat at the butterfly, it would flutter by and escape the sweeping arc of the paw, again and again. The second movement I envisioned another form of chase, this time a fox was after a rabbit. It would dart and weave, and the sly fox was quick but could not reach his target. The music seemed to have instruments juxtaposed in 1/16 time offset against each other, as if that were the fox darting, leaping and just missing the bunny. Then the third movement slowed, to find in my imagination perhaps a lazy river, with swans and all sorts of flora floating by, now the scene reveals an island with maidens idling in lush green fields. By the fourth movement the chase is back on, only this time it is a dance which eventually becomes a ballet scene. The men and the women are ballet dancers and the two main characters eventually spin together in the finale. Thy float up into the sky as we hear the performance end with a sprightly spin of many pixies and merry maidens in a concluding pirouette.

Truly inspired by nature, the nature of music, in my minds eye and my listening imagination.
The Red Carpet Treatment

Friday, September 4, 2009

PSO Preview, from Hoe-Down to an American in Paris

Last night a preview concert at Heinz Hall afforded me a chance to re-immerse myself into the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's particular flavor of classical music. Seating was not assigned, so my friends and I eagerly occupied the Grand Tier section, upon choice ornate chairs. It was a great vantage point to see and hear the orchestra, but my preference is still in the upper sections, as far as quality and even distribution of sound are concerned.

Conductor Lawrence Loh opened the concert with Copland's "Hoe-Down" from Rodeo, an instant crowd-pleaser to say the least. Following, the host Larry Richert, announcer from KDKA radio, infused his humorous impression of the music: 'Beef, it's what's for dinner', as the old TV-ad would say.

Next came a new piece of music for me, Shostakovich Symphony 5, II. Allegretto. All evening the selections were only parts of a composition. This was a way to present as much to the attendees as possible, as an introduction of what will be heard in the upcoming season. We heard one of my favorite composers, Johann Strauss Jr's "Long Live Hungary." My friend also in attendance appreciated the work since he loves waltzes and his father was born and raised in Budapest. It was an excellent performance. His comment: "Very good expression - very crisp"

Ellen Chen-Livingston played the violin in the Adagio middle part of the Brahms concerto. Her long flowing red dress was beautiful, as was her rendition of the solo parts of this excerpt. My friend and I were really impressed. Her two daughters presented Ms. Chen with beautiful roses. Then came Mozart Symphony No. 30 IV Presto, which Mr. Richert indicated was the first time the PSO had played this piece. I would like to hear the whole symphony, all of Mozart's symphonies are very pleasing. The 'presto' projects a fascinating picture of the season to come.

Finally, before intermission, the PSO rocked the house with a fantastic exhibition of "Mars" from "The Planets" by Holst. Wow, the dynamic range of this symphony orchestra is hard to believe if one doesn't hear it in person at Heinz Hall.

After intermission came Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (the music most associated with the movie "2001, A Space Odyssey"). This is another one of those 'WOW' pieces that the PSO does so very well. Then came a piece commissioned for Richard Danielpour "Zoroastrian Riddles." I enjoy new music, especially when I can hear it more than once, so I look forward to experiencing the whole piece in the upcoming season. If you think about it, new classical music is really very much a collection of riddles, because to hear, absorb, and fully appreciate a composition, I find it is best to sample it again and again, to transcend first impressions, to build a deeper understanding and appreciation. Riddle me this Batman: Why not try it yourself? Come and listen to the PSO.

Music Director Manfred Honeck, who was not there up until this point, was introduced and presented an explanation of his thoughts on the music this season. He talked of his favorite composer, Mahler, and the heights to which his music transcends emotions like sadness, joy and love. His admiration for Pittsburgh was revealed in his comments about our energy, vibrancy and renewal, along with our passion. It was Honeck's passion for music that always kept me en garde and yearning for more last season.

The two last performances of the evening, were Gershwin's "An American in Paris," and Prokofiev's "Symphony No 5." Both highlighted the PSO very well, in their range, depth, and especially subtleties and clarity of expression. Don't forget next week's 'Enchanted Evening' with Itzhak Perlman, violin, and Manfred Honeck conducting, Wed, Sept 9, 7:30pm

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was gracious in holding a reception in the Overlook room for all of the bloggers associated with this PSO blogs on May 2, 2009 after the concert conducted by Manfred Honeck. It was great to finally meet all of the others and to have some interesting conversations about the PSO and classical music. I held out hope that Honeck himself might drop by, but it was not to be. However, after the event was over, as we were exiting Heinz Hall, I looked back and saw Jennifer Pizzuto introducing herself to Manfred Honeck who had just exited the hall himself. They were both smiling, but I wasn't quick enough with my camera to capture the moment.

I want to thank Nicole Phillip who hosted the event, Kevin DeLuca, our contact and coordinator for the blogs, as well as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. PSO bloggers and friends - Jennifer Pizzuto(1), Matt Campbell(2), David DeAngelo(3), Cynthia Closkey(4), Elizabeth Perry(5), Justin Kownacki(6), Doug Bauman(7) and Louis Luangkesorn(8)


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Honeck and Beethoven, perfect together

Diese Übersetzung ist für Manfred Honecks und andere Deutsch sprechende Freunde von der Pittsburgh-Symphonie:

Als nächstes: Honeck und Beethoven, eine passende Kombination. Ich habe zugeschaut, habe ich Meister Honecks dirigieren gesehen, und dann sah ich wirklich. Ich sah seine Bewegungen, seinen Stil, seine Interpretationen, seine pizazz, seine Mechanismen, sein Gemüt, und die Musik, die zu hören war, und es war schön.

Honeck hat einen besonderen Stil, aber es gibt viel mehr als das, eine Art Substanz, die in der Universalsprache klassischer Musik buchstabiert wird und mit abstraktem Temperament fließt, eingesponnen in spezifische Anweisungen für das Orchester und jeden einzelnen Musiker. Honeck bringt mir eine prächtige Wiedergabe von Beethoven Symphonie Nummer sieben, vielleicht mein Lieblingsstück, wenn man ein Lieblingsstück wählen kann. Diese Symphonie wird eröffnet mit einer langen Einführung zum ersten Satz, wie die ersten Schritte in eine schön bewaldete Landschaft, dann beginnt schließlich der ganze Satz.

Die Bewegungen Honecks werden im Dirigieren zusammen geführt/gefasst. Handbewegungen nach links und rechts, weiches Schwingen vor und zurück , das ansteigende Volumen anzeigend, dann für einen weicheren ruhigeren Teil, eine gerade aufrechte Haltung und einfache Bewegungen mit dem Stab. Der Dirigent hat eine Begabung für eine sanfte Sprache, und im Satz ist es fast das Gleiche-- ich meine, dass er sich nicht viel bewegt, seine Statur ist gerade und fein, und groß, und dann plötzlich, seine runden, sich wiederholenden Armbewegungen und das feine Auf und Ab seines Körper , die sich in fließenden und effektiven Ausdruck physischen Gefühls mit dem Orchester verbindet. Sie antworten. Der Klang ist perfekt, wie diese Symphonie von Beethoven, die perfekte Symphonie, das perfekte Orchester, und der beste Dirigent für das Spiel: eine große Kombination.

Der zweite Satz, einer der berührendsten Sätze, die ich kenne , beginnt fast geisterhaft. Er kommt diesmal mit erhabener Wirkung daher. Jetzt denke ich zurück an die Verbindung der Musikstücke des heutigen Abends, die Transfiguration. Diese Bewegung ist die Transfiguration von Beethoven, es gibt sonst nichts Vergleichbares. Es transzendiert meine Seele, geht tiefer und ruft mehr Gefühl als jede andere Musik hervor, die ich kenne. Das Tempo ist gut, aber ich merke, dass ich mehr will und doch ist es vorbei.

Jetzt der dritte Satz , was für eine Veränderung! Es ist alles wieder Teil desselben Themas, die Transfiguration: diesmal aus der tiefen Bewegung zum presto ,chango, und voila -- wechselt es die Gangart zu einem schnelleren Schritt , fast wie ein Rennen. Jetzt ist es Spaß mit einer Art verspielter melodischer Klänge, es lässt meine Füße mitfedern, und meine Beine sich bewegen, und ich sehe das gleiche beim Dirigenten: er springt und bewegt sich und bewegt wieder das Orchester zu dieser freudigen Musik.

Schließlich gehen wir vom schnellen zum schnellsten, letzten Satz. Es ist jetzt wirklich fast wie ein Rennen. Wenn ich sehe, wie Manfred Honeck diese Bewegung dirigiert, beginne ich wahrhaftig, die Verbindung zu Beethoven zu sehen. Und jetzt stelle mir ich vor, wie es sein muss, Beethoven selbst zu sehen. wie er diese Symphonie zum ersten Mal dirigiert. Und ich höre es ebenso.

Honeck wirkt fein, ernst , frei und dennoch effektiv beim Dirigieren. Nachdem die Musik beendet ist, gönnt er uns schließlich ein Lächeln , so breit und überfließend, dass es ansteckend wirkt, und diese Wirkung zusammen mit der schönen Musik vom Pittsburgh Sinfonieorchester beeinflusst das ganze Publikum. Schneller als ich es je zuvor gesehen habe, ist es auf den Füßen um ihm zu applaudieren. Und wir werden mit einer symphonischen Zugabe belohnt, er und der PSO geben uns eine Vorschau vom Konzert, das sie auf der Reise in einer Woche in China spielen werden. Wir hören den letzten Satz von Haydns Symphonie Nr. 88, und es war eine solche Freude!

(I started to translate this to German myself, but enlisted the aid of a friend from Germany. Danke!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Honeck and Beethoven, Perfect Together

Penny Anderson Brill, Viola, and musician of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, introduced the concert on Saturday night at Heinz Hall. Her introduction was very much an appreciation, by the musicians, for the audience. The orchestra even gave the audience a round of applause. Her final tribute: "Thank you so much for all that you do for us and now I hope you enjoy the concert"

Tod und Verklärung

Manfred Honeck entered the stage, and after one bow, began conducting the composition: "Tod und Verklärung" by Richard Strauss. This was my first chance to hear this piece live. I remember being impressed by the low drums at the beginning. I began to think to myself, what does this music mean to me? I found the juxtaposition of the words in the title interesting: Death (first) then Transfiguration. Words and music have temporal meanings, and this time I thought perhaps that this music was supposed to represent death, as only a beginning, and the further meaning beyond, and a contemplation of what that concept might entail, without prior knowing. And transfiguration, coming after death, what could it be -- is it a higher place? Is it like Earth and Heaven, as opposed to Heaven and Earth -- does the order truly come in a sequential fashion, or is it a concept that transcends time, in a manner that we truly cannot easily perceive, yet. All these thoughts came to mind, and flowed through the music. This was truly a beautiful score, and one that I enjoyed; and even though this isn't the first time I've heard this music, it somehow seemed to be the first time for a true appreciation.

The piano concerto with soloist Yefim Bronfman, was the logical follow up to the previous piece, or at least that was my initial thought: that this was sort of like a transfiguration in and of itself. The drama in the introduction of the first movement was appealing. The bases and deeper harmony seemed to dominate, with the violins following suit. Then the piano joined it, and what followed was beautiful, in its entirety this Mozart Concerto Number 24 is one of my favorites.

To whoever I overheard exclaiming at intermission: 'I liked the piano concerto, but I didn't really like the first piece', I must urge you to give new music a chance. To sample new music over a period of years. I think this kind of music grows on you. If you give it a chance, someday you'll be coming to the concert for the prospect of finding new gems in the repertoire.

Next up: Honeck and Beethoven, a fitting combination. I watched, I saw Maestro Honeck conduct, then I truly saw. I saw his movements, his style, his interpretations, his pizazz, his mechanisms, his mind, and the music that was there, and it was beautiful.

Honeck has a particular style, but there is much more than that, it is a substance which spells in the universal language of classical music, and flourishes with abstract verve spun into specific directions for the orchestra and each and every musician. Honeck brings to me a splendid rendition of Beethoven's Symphony number seven, perhaps my favorite, if one can pick a favorite. This symphony opens with a long introduction to the first movement, like the first steps into a beautifully wooded landscape, then the full bodied movement eventually begins.

Honeck's motions sum up the conducting. Hand motions left and right, full sweeping motions back and forth representing increased volume, then for a softer quieter part, a straight upright posture and simple movements of the baton. The conductor has a knack for being soft spoken, and in movements, it's almost the same thing -- I seem to think he isn't moving all that much, his stature straight, and subtle, and tall, then suddenly, his round repeated motions of his arms and some subtle up and down of his body in a fluid and effective outpouring of physical emotion connect to the orchestra. They respond. The sound is perfect, like this symphony from Beethoven, the perfect symphony, the perfect orchestra, and the best conductor for the match: a great combination.

The second movement, one of the most touching movements I know, almost haunting, begins. It comes through this time with sublime effect. Now I think back to the connection of the music for this evening, the transfiguration. This movement is Beethoven's transfiguration, there is nothing else like it. It transcends my soul, goes deeper and evokes more emotion than any other music I know. The tempo is good, but I find myself wanting more, and it is over.

Now the third movement, what a change-up. It's all part of that theme again, the transfiguration: this time from the deeply moving to the presto, chango, and voila -- it's upbeat and moving along at a quicker pace, almost racing. Now its fun with sort of playful melodic sounds, it gets my feet tapping, and my legs moving, and I see the same with the conductor: he is hopping and moving and again animating the orchestra into this joyous music.

Finally we go from the quick to the fast, the final movement. It's really moving now, almost like a race. When I see Manfred Honeck conduct this movement, I truly begin to see a sort of link to Beethoven. And now I imagine what it must be like to see Beethoven, himself, conducting this symphony for the first time. And I hear it as well.

Honeck seems subtle, serious and deliberate, yet effective when conducting. After the music is done, he finally dons a smile so wide and brimming, it is  infectious, and this effect along with the beautiful music from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra affects the entire audience as they simultaneously leap to their feet to applaud, faster than I've ever seen them go into a standing ovation before.  And we are rewarded with a symphonic encore, he and the PSO give us all a preview of the concert they will be playing on tour in a week in China. We get to hear the final movement of Haydn's Symphony No. 88, and a treat it was!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rachmaninoff in story

A day like many other, and like no other day. Awake past dawn from a dream with a surprise, an old car parked in the garage of my old house in the woods. The day is alive with sunshine bright, warm and ready for bees. I watch CMU's sweepstake buggy races on the internet. The trees reach into my kitchen, and yank me outside, and the birds do say: why do you waste this day inside? You are right, I retort. So I spend the day with the birds singing surreal spring songs. I, in my way, plant flower and tomato seeds and ride bicycle high and low in the air with wind in my hair. To end a day like this is a thing to regret, but what better way than with symphonic music to hear, so I do it that way, my way.

The Pittsburgh Symphony appears, and I take my seat, turn off my cell phone, with ample cooperation, and made ready to enjoy the concert. Hushed silence, then the orchestra begins their warm up, the sound like no other, individuals all playing, nothing coordinated, yet it sounds so familiar, and sounds rather fine; how could that be, no composition, no rhyme, no reason, yet it sounds good to me.

Rachmaninoff, what more can I say? A concert filled with Rachmaninoff, the icing on top of the day. Goose bumps, appear on my neck, when the music commences, with Vocalise, music Conductor Slatkin dedicates this selection to the recently slain officers in Pittsburgh, and accordingly, he asked for a moment of silence after they play. This composition was perhaps unlike anything done before by Rachmaninoff. There was drama between sections of the symphony, and that accords places for sweet solos from the oboe, horn, cello and others. This time I hear no coughing in the audience, this time I heard pure music, I can hear each section, and drink in the music, with pure appreciation.

Rachmaninoff, Symphonic Dances: A simple story that I invent while listening to this music:

Are you my Mom?

A bird soars back to her nest, beside the egg is a baby, hatched just the other day, she feeds him. He hops to the side of the nest, ready to fly -- no, my little one, not quite yet, you are not ready, if you try now you will get hurt, I must protect you until you are ready. He hops down and waits. The mother flies off in search of more food. The baby is belligerent and stubbornly tries to fly, and comes crashing down and is injured. First flight this time was to no avail, but the baby perseveres. He hops about and manages to find a high place to try again. He will try the flight of the gliding bird, bounding first then flapping, take to the air, spread his wings, then keep them still, try to glide, that is his goal. His plight is on display, sometimes falling down. His desire is represented by robust, loud, rhythmic, spirited passages, looming near a precipice, and about to dive forth, as if over a waterfall, and when this happens, it is only luck that brings him softly down in a soft, gently flowing, meandering stream and around a bend and into a bed, whence and as if that is where he had started, but not really. Adept at determination, he tries again. Flutter, perhaps his chance at flight is taking off a little, it could be done, it can be achieved, if only, but, plop, back down again.

Next movement brings a waltz, 3 um-pah sounds beneath his wings. Now we see a hawk in the guise of an altered horn, the odd sound that brings his menacing purpose home. The hawk, as is his nature, will eat a baby bird, but if he gets the chance, it will be to find a way to maximize his gain, he must have more than simply this one lone morsel. The baby continues on his quest to learn to fly, it's difficult from the ground, no perch to perch upon, so he continues to try from rocks and with hopping bounds. Low keys abound in the sound coming from the orchestra, this represents the overture of the hawk, he is now soaring above the baby bird. He talks to the baby. He convinces him that he is his mother. That he can be good for him, and the baby, filled with hope, instantly believes him. The hawk gives him food and teaches him a better way to fly. And he lures him to the hawks way of thinking, with nothing to interfere. But the baby has an innate nature, and that nature cannot be denied.

The baby bird escapes the clutches of the hawk. His scurry is frantic, his directions are wild and his wings fluctuate as he attempts a dive to avoid the chasing hawk. But his attempt is futile, the hawk recaptures the baby. But this time there is recapitulation, there are many other baby birds in the capture of the hawk. They all begin to sing, a song of different sounds, each their own, each an individual voice. These add up in syncopated sublime instantaneous coordination. But the wind is blowing. The wind dampens their song. Now a flock appears, a flock of adult song birds, who join the chorus. The sound is beginning to be loud and is culminating in a harmonic vibration all based on a single note, which happens to be the base frequency and harmonic resonant core vibration for the glass cages that hold the babies. It cracks. They are free, and the flock is too big, so the hawk flies away. Many individual voices, acting in unison with tempo and volume, was simply too much for him.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Great C-Major

I've been waiting for many years to hear this Schubert symphony performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and tonight I deliciously had my chance, especially the very end with that marvelous sawing of bows in such a deep and uniform aggregate, producing such rich an deep sound; four saws, followed by the horns in a higher key, then repeated again -- simply amazing!

Gianandrea Noseda was the perfect conductor, the centerpiece --

The hop in his step, and who didn't notice,
the animation, the concentration, the total dedication,
Noseda conducting the great Schubert symphony,
was the center of the show, poised at his station.

The animated conductor, the painter of melody,
the artisan, the craftsman, the illustrator of harmony,
with swagger and great vigor, dancing his rhythm,
dipping, as the lead, where the dance of the music,
is the heart of the show.

Majesty and romanticism, in a great C major,
the orchestra followed as if part of the wager,
right arm with baton, left circled around
as if to encompass, the players to surround.

The first movement would commence
fast tempo setting pace,
soft and subtle, then building a steady flow,
marching with rhythm, and off to the race.

Proceed to the oboe, a slow movement Andante
ever so slow, and yet somewhat jaunty.

Next Scherzo of three, is ever so free,
a joke on the inside, I happen to see.

Finale to hear, Allegro vivace, Allegro vivace,
so regular and nice they sure named it twice
Trombones with the horns, vivid and catchy
Deep sawing of bows, deep and concise.

Eleven years after Schuber's death this majestic C-Major symphony was first played, and legend has it that during the first movement, one musician mused: "I have not yet heard a tune." I've heard that there aren't many memorable 'tunes' in Beethoven's works either. But isn't a 'tune' nothing more than a melody? Yet I also read that there is indeed much melody present in this symphony by Schubert. And if melody is the tune, and there is indeed melody in this symphony, then why say there is no tune? Perhaps the complaint is the memorability of the tune. Is it memorable, repeated, rephrased, perhaps overly so? Perhaps the whole of Schubert's harmony and melody combined, in an amalgamation of building dramatic parcels of phrases, in a very rhythmic and marching style, repeated in various different ways and forms, with creative development, all lend my ears and mind to perceive a fantastic statement of beauty. When one ponders "Whatever happened to beauty?" -- one need not look farther than Schubert's Symphony number 9, the Great C-Major symphony. If I am to believe in legend, I'll believe this one: 'that having heard its first performance, Schumann is reported to have said he thought it the greatest instrumental work since the death of Beethoven'. I quite agree.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

As luck woud have it...

March 25, 2009


Last night on WQED-FM, a little after 8pm, I just happened to tune in at what I would call 'the perfect time.' Well anytime is a good time, but on this occasion it was indeed perfect because I was listening to a concert recorded a few months ago at Chatham University; a concert, coincidentally, I had intended to attend, but was unable. So I was delighted to hear this music, and with three members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Now admittedly, I didn't recognize it for Brahms, and I didn't recognize the artists while listening; it was surely pleasant and relaxing, sometimes driving and vigorous, and just plain great -- I remember thinking that this is the kind of music that I strive to hear. I was alerted by Ted Sohier after it was over, as to by whom and where it was performed.

The Chamber Music Concert included four women, alumni of The Curtis Institute of Music, performing together for the first time in Pittsburgh, and presented by Chatham University. This concert was held on Sunday, January 11, 2009:

Brahms Piano Quartet in G minor
Tatjana Mead Chamis, Viola - Pittsburgh Symphony Associate Principal
Heather Conner, Piano - Salt Lake City
Jennifer Ross, Violin - Pittsburgh Symphony Principal
Anne Martindale Williams , Cello - Pittsburgh Symphony Principal

Aha, so this was the Brahms that I was enjoying! That same concert.

There were several other pieces presented that evening, and oh, how I wish I had experienced them as well:

Robert Schumann - "Fairy Tales"
Henri Vieuxtemps - Sonata in B flat Major Op.36
Boris Pigovat - "Nigun" for Solo Viola (Pittsburgh Premiere)

Update: I've heard back from a musician of the PSO that there is a proposed cut of funds provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to WQED. This is sad news indeed, if it comes to fruition. In that event I would hope that WQED finds ways to make up for it. I've made suggestions to them every year, with my donation, the kinds of things they do in business. I don't know how much leeway they have, considering they are funded partly by the Federal government (NPR news is one expensive place to cut, I want to hear music, not news). I would be disappointed if whatever cuts mean that we no longer hear PSO music on the radio, that would be devastating. I'll be contacting my state representative to request they reconsider this cut.

Carnegie Music Hall - Premier of Beethoven Oboe with full symphony

March 20, 2009

Carnegie Music HallTonight I enjoyed a magnificent premier of a composition reconstructed by Renate Rosenblatt of a draft of an Oboe Concerto by Beethoven. When I say premier, I mean that it is the first time ever played with full orchestra. The acoustics at Carnegie Music Hall are more intimate, beautiful in their own way, and for the first time I experience true stereo, or perhaps surround sound. This is my first time at this beautiful hall. Being this close at this hall is a desirable place to be.

Renate Rosenblatt spoke herself before the concert, along with Jim Cunningham. We got to find out some more about the ideas and techniques she used to reconstruct the movement, the slow movement, based on a sketch done by Beethoven. It is now called the Adagio for Oboe and Strings. Some of here comments as she passed around the draft score: "The only thing that is legible is the opening theme, six measures... and the rest of it is sort of -- scratches, blots. Not every note was engraved in stone. He worked on sketch after sketch, and crossed things out -- was a little messy... It's like a jigsaw puzzle where some pieces are missing."

When the Adagio was over, I was more than impressed. I could easily imagine this being the original composition by Beethoven, in fact, I was wanting for more. I wished I could have listened to the first and third movements as well, if they existed.

Click here and here for the audio of the chat (not great quality, but interesting).

What an ornate entrance!

And inside, the hall is spectacular!

Perpetual Motion

March 08, 2009 - Pittsburgh Symphony Concert

Anticipation, that's my initial sensation, while waiting for the "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto by Igor Stravinsky. Such an intimate setting for the orchestra, clustered tightly as a small ensemble, seemingly so on the large stage at Heinz Hall. It began as a warm round of applause, as conductor Hannu Lintu appeared on stage without baton in hand; this would be conducted with hands only. The 'principals only' crew, arrayed around our guest maestro, in a compact semi-circle, commenced.

The beginning was perhaps like something that would be envisioned as an event at the Olympics, but no, that's too big, perhaps a race at the park. The sound was obviously not as large, but was lyrical and pleasant, as most of the phrases went from high to low, marching in rhythm, the pulse and beat of the envisioned race, continually flowing with the occasional brief pause, and ending slowly. Between movements a bout of coughing suddenly burst forth from the audience, it seemed as if a quarter the audience was coughing in what seemed to be mocked and feigned, perhaps to say once and for all: please, no more coughing during the performance. Conductor Lintu turned part way towards the audience, and laughter burst forth, all this happening in the few moments between the first and second movement; Not a typical scene, and worth noting.

This brief look at Lintu's humor aside, he next commenced the second movement with another flourish. This slow movement was quiet and tentative. The melody seemed to me to suggest these lyrics: "Count two, count three, stay airy and carefree; jaunty, frolic, but never catch a bee, I'm lucky and breezy." The whole Stravinsky concerto was pleasant, and was a good choice as a companion to the Prokofiev concerto, both having the same sense of perpetual motion.

Conductor Lintu did a spectacular job this evening, filling in at the last moment. His technique and energy were contagious. I enjoyed watching his conducting style, sometimes stern, others expressive, and always full of zest and pizazz. If the PSO were so inclined, I would like to see him again at the helm.

Yuja Wang played a magnificent rendition of Prokofiev Piano Co. No. 2, along with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I saw it on the internet prior, but that just doesn't do this composition justice. It must be experienced in person, in a large concert hall like Heinz Hall. The sound is much bigger and grand. Watching the soloist was a treat. She not only played with stunning detail and amazing ability, her movements were spirited and accented many phrases with vitality. She seemed to meld with lyrical romantic parts, and race with spunky, get up and go, spirited passages.

Here is a video, same music, same pianist, but not the same orchestra www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-OUnF4IS_8.

Some thoughts while watching and listening:
Pensive, then whirling like a march. Themes perhaps from Liszt and Tchaikovsky. Like a cascade, accelerating near the bottom of the falls, alarming and rejoining the orchestra. 2nd movement, with reverb, quick and fast like a chipmunk spinning and darting. 3rd movement, like a theme to a Hitchcock movie, interwoven with more themes from Liszt. Somewhat like the 2nd, but all grown up, now more like an elephant, with the conductor directing, arms and baton out like the trunk, rearing up the wind section, strings marching quite along. Reciting lyrics, mnemonic techniques remembered and revealed, almost whimsical, many voices, creatures scurrying all around. Now the cello versus the piano, a dramatic counterpoint, other instruments join in: don't be alarmed with my syncopated rhythm. Crossed arms now on the piano, with beautiful low pitched keys, blending into finale.

Yuja Wang

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I can't avoid the glance

Nary a virtuous spell, could break me free,
but is that not my fateful chance?
I am too weak, ever mesmerized,
ever captured, caught up in trance

Some hours ago she was mine,
I was her one thought refined,
even as I guess that I opined,
but now its just a dream fading quickly out of mind

Meld back to that fateful night,
as I arrived unseen and ready for next flight,
prospects unknown,
wisdom somewhat grown,
knowledge of what once could be, or might

Spellbound, bound by your spell,
with subtle mystery all but around
Hearkening night, surreal petals
set to obscure what's yet unfound

Bold orange passage, finite and forthright
I'm looking down beyond my humble height
adroitly nimble fingers dancing digits slight
rich timbre broad and full, what thou recite

look into my eyes, smile, now furrow your brow
quick glance will tell, mimic my style
grim and prim, avoid sudden certainty
and oft on a whim, please linger a while

I am hypnotized, I can't avoid the glance,
I've a maestro to observe, but by chance
that you are in that line of sight,
serendipity not unknown this night

I can't avoid the glance

I really enjoyed the concert this evening, it was one of the best I've ever heard. The piano concerto was succinct and beautiful. Osorio did a great job.

One of my favorite symphonies of all time, from Dvorak, No. 8, was played with such verve, I was simply blown away, I can't explain it any other way, except, via a poem. I read later, in the notes, that the opening movement is 'surprisingly dark and pensive'. I'm not sure what they mean by that, perhaps the use of deeper tones, but to me, it is beautiful, and appeals to a fuller range of my appreciation. I don't find it in any way 'dark', just rich and vibrant. You tell me (external link). The use of bass, cello and viola simply add much color. I also want to thank Manfred Honeck and the PSO for the new seating arrangement of the musicians in this concert; the location of the basses on the left perhaps augments the sound.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

O Furtune - smiled on me

To be able to experience, live, Haydn's Oboe Concerto and Orff's Carmina burana in one evening was fortunate and exhilarating.

Haydn's Oboe Concerto is one of my favorite all time pieces. Something about it sends chills down my spine. I first heard it in the early 1990's on WQED-FM 89.3 at my work place, at lunch. A friend, after hearing me exclaim that it was a fantastic composition, told me to call the DJ and ask what it was, so I did. Paul Johnston, the DJ at the time, was glad to tell me it was Haydn's Oboe Concerto. So ever since then I've purchased a few versions, and have been waiting for the PSO to bring it to Pittsburgh. Well tonight I was not disappointed, the PSO premiere performance was just as great as I could have expected, and Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida did a spectacular job on the Oboe.

The Carmina burana likewise did not disappoint, the live performance was so much more powerful than any prerecorded version. And what a surprise, all those lovely movements in between the opening and closing O Fortuna. This, therefore, I would consider as my first hearing of this complete piece, even though I did recognize one other movement in between. The complexion of the O Fortuna movement, and all the other movements, to my ears, and eyes, seemed someone different. Not knowing Latin, I did not know what they were singing, not a problem as the singing itself sounded melodious and understanding was not a requirement for enjoyment. The 'new' musicgreat minds think alike showed many light, airy and beautiful parts at first, much different than the opening, and not what I expected. Then when the solo singers began to sing what to me seemed to be a comic opera, beautifully performed, and some humorous body movements causing audience laughter, I was again surprised, pleasantly.

What is this piece? I kept wondering, it has so many elements that I find difficult to put together. All of the movements were lovely to hear, but I was in a quandary. The culmination of what seemed to be a love affair ensued, but I was not sure, and it seemed to come together at the end and a reprise of the O Fortuna concluded the cantata. Later, at home, I read the English translation of the O Fortuna (below). This seemed to indicate that perhaps this is a tragedy, and not a comedy, so again I'm confused. I see I've got some reading to do to bring myself up to speed. But the lingering impression was that the music was fantastic, and all the players of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, the soloists and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck, did a fantastic job. I can't wait to experience this again, next time I'll have context.

English translation of "O Fortuna," a poem from Carmina Burana

"O Fortune,
like the moon
Stands constantly changing,
ever waxing
but waning;
hateful life
now oppresses
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
and power
it melts them like ice.

Fate - monstrous
and empty,
you whirling wheel,
stand malevolent,
well-being is vain
and always fades to nothing,
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back
to your villainy.

Fate, in health
and virtue,
is against me
driven on
and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour
without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate
strikes down the strong man,
everyone weep with me!"

Friday, February 20, 2009

O Fortuna as a creative spark

What exactly is Carmina Burana, the O Fortuna music by Carl Orff? balancedI frankly don't know for sure. I'm writing my thoughts on what it means to me. First, I've mostly heard the approximately 2 and a half minute segment of the O Fortuna, the most famous movement from Orff's cantata. Who hasn't heard this? It's so famous, that I suspect it is as recognizable as just about any other composition. I remember it was used in a television advertisement for the Marine Corps and one for the National Guard.

I also remember it was used in many movies, the one I remember most is in the movie 'Excalibur', 1981. Others include 'Hunt for Red October', 1990, 'The Doors', 1991, and Lord of the Rings.

But that's ultimately not what it means to me. To me it isn't a thought of a collective force, but rather an individual creative spark. A song of an individual who is perhaps sought by the collective, or shunned, but operates independently, on his or her own, using their own internal force, their own power of thought, reason and sense of right and wrong, in a quest to do what's right for themselves and for all, to reject the unholy or ungodly, to embrace the adventure, to endure the torment, the rejection of the collectivist or societal norms when those norms are wrong, to surmount any odds, and to do it all with a great zest, zeal and humor presented forward and outwards, a certain unalienable smile and jovial spirit, to quench the thirst for the adventurer himself, as a kind of pirate with a gentleman's charm.

Indeed this music is compelling, the kind that drives man to passion, to movement, to action. It distinctly has that effect on me. To achieve, to write, to invent, any creative individualist act that I can think of, to type faster, to produce, without hesitation, something, I know not what, and yet it is there. But it is too short in that form, I'm awaiting the rest of it, I'm wanting more. I could listen to that segment, part of that O Fortuna movement again, and I will. But I will hear the whole cantata performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony on Saturday night, and I will write more.

I've found out since that:

From the 11th-13th Century, Carmina Burana is a collection of love and vagabond songs.
Carmina Burana, also known as the Burana Codex, is a manuscript collection found in 1803 in the Bavarian monastery of Benediktbeuern and now housed in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich. The 119 leaves of the original collection contain 228 poems compiled by three different scribes.
Fortuna is the goddess of fortune in Roman Mythology.

Carmina Burana is a scenic cantata composed by Carl Orff between 1935 and 1936. It is based on 24 of the poems found in the medieval collection Carmina Burana. Its full Latin title is Carmina Burana: Cantiones profanae cantoribus et choris cantandae comitantibus instrumentis atque imaginibus magicis ("Songs of Beuern: Secular songs for singers and choruses to be sung together with instruments and magic images.") Carmina Burana is part of Trionfi, the musical triptych that also includes the cantata Catulli Carmina and Trionfo di Afrodite. The best-known movement is "O Fortuna" that opens and closes the piece.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Metronomic candor

The beauty of Beethoven's Symphony number 8 has driven me to poetry once more, based on words I wrote during the wonderful performance by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under the baton (literally) of Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. I heard marvelous synchronicity and superlative metronomic fluidity. The maestro was wonderful with his marvelous conducting, the left hand was expressive and the right hand led with the baton, and there were plenty of smiles in the orchestra to go around...
Metronomic candor - Beethoven Symphony No. 8

Gorgeous serendipity, landed squarely on my nose
No lack of hesitation, dare rob me of my prose
Speaking speech in volume, pitched above three rows
Luck she barely knew me, and nimble on her toes

Born with trepidation, and furrows on her brow
A subtle time and mellow rhyme, and now's when I avow
Overture preamble, pioneering lead somehow
Further salutation, hello goodbye and ciao

What rapid introspection, as during tranquil lull
Was thought and then was lost upon, and glance would soon befall
Approaching gentle movement, commence and dart away
Lunge full bore, sawing bow and sweeping sooth foray

Steeped to incredulity, behind inquiring glance
Thread simple hesitation, woven as a dance
Morphing other voices, and rhythm to enhance
Stretched around my temple, unlikely as romance

Extend seesaw return chutzpa
Winding up reverb
Unleash what's raw and look voila
Adoration cannot curb

Start again, reprise and yet, consider slower still
Metronomic candor, ascending toward yon hill
Drowning with your grandeur, grasping for a thrill
Bass and sound revolve around, strings they do instill

Impetuous dampened softness, rich with full contour
Sweet and slender tremor, ascend with bass once more
Burst horns upon my consciousness, alert to hear the score
Prepare one heart for apex, last passion to endure

Metronomic candor

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Trio Orchestration

February 02, 2009

I really enjoyed the concert, and the Trio was new for me, and quite beautiful. The piano concerto was sublime (photo below with pianist Orion Weiss during the pre-concert chat: he was marvelous in the Grieg piano concerto). A few comments from Maestro Tortelier on his orchestration of the Ravel Trio. This is a very shortened list of the remarks that elicited a response from the audience, laughter or applause. He was quite entertaining during his introduction of the piece. Read the description for context.

  • .. in the Mother Goose - Alright, you still with me?
  • .. it's the same music anyway - I hope you recognize it.
  • .. game of tunes / two sides of a coin - witty / subtle and waltzy
  • .. scherzo or chorale: a trio of trios
  • .. we start with the strings, are you ready for sensual horns, sexy trumpets
  • .. a slow Passacaille: starting with only double basses, builds to a climax and all the way down to the bottom
  • .. (describing arches with joyful impetuosity) one arch is enough
  • .. Are you interested in the climax? -- we make more noise
  • .. (based on Ravel's notes) not sounding trumpety enough, I gave this part to the trumpets

I also very much enjoyed the first piece, I wrote this while listening...
My poem based on Jean Sibelius: The Swan of Tuonela

You were a dream to me, I could not conceive
heighten tension sliding below
ebbing higher gently swayed as in a breeze
softly enunciating naivety

Flutter by, but don't wave
don't see me below your soaring wing
perceive your world, but not my black watery depths
awakening beyond as light permeates mist

Full and rich depths surround
as grand aura fills my sound
your lone voice observes alone
higher still - would we soar at the same height?

Yet not together
Take a bow and smile

What a treat! Montero at the PSO

January 24, 2009

Tonight, I enjoyed so many facets of the concert at the PSO, its hard to do them all justice. The works performed were all wonderful, and some were new to me, including Barber Symphony No. 1 and Mendelssohn Symphony No. 5 (actually he composed this symphony as the second in the sequence, but it was labeled as 5), both wonderful works in their own right, yet not played very often on the classical stations.

It was Gabriela Montero who stole the show. Her playing in the Rhapsody in Blue was a unique experience. The jazz and tempo were all her own. But the real treat was right after the Gershwin composition. Ms. Montero asked the audience what kind of improvisation she could do, what particular song, perhaps something from Pittsburgh, she could take and turn into an impromptu rendition for just this occasion. No need to wonder, the mass of the audience chanted 'Here we go', yes, the Steeler song (if you are not from Pittsburgh, realize that the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to the Super bowl next week). And there she went, playing a magnificent composition with the Steeler chant interwoven beautifully, some classical Baroque, and finally ending with a rhythmic mamba. The audience irrupted with the most sudden applause I have ever heard. I was a sight to behold, a sound never to be forgotten.

After intermission we were again surprised: Ms. Montero and three other PSO musicians formed a quartet and performed John Williams' "Air and Simple Gifts" which was originally played a few days ago at the presidential inauguration. It was a beautiful piece, obviously based on a theme of Copland.

Afterward, there was a post concert chat with Jim Cunningham and Ms. Montero.

Question: "What is your favorite piece to play"

Montero: "There are many, right now I'm really into concertos. I'm playing Rachmaninoff 3, that's one of my all time favorite pieces to play. I'm also playing Brahms No. 1 in Vienna, which I absolutely adore. I'm very fond of Brahms, Schumann, Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff. Rachmaninoff I die, it's very romantic."