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

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.