Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Duet Handbells at the PSO before the Holiday Pops

I enjoyed the Holiday Pops with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Mendelssohn Choir

Before the concert began, in the lobby at Heinz Hall in front of the Christmas tree, Robert and Roberta Erickson at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Heinz Hall, performed Solo and Duet Handbells

Sunday, December 5, 2010

This is the Christmas tree at Heinz Hall:

While waiting for the start of the Verdi Requiem (which I really liked), I took my own photos of the framed pictures that adorn the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Christmas tree. Click on the image to see a larger view. Who can name all these events? I think the top left picture is the PSO performing before the Pope. And the bottom left looks to me to be PSO performing at the Musikverein in Vienna. The top right reads 'PROMS' - is that in London? And of course Heinz Hall is below that. Anyone know the rest? Leave a comment if you do.

After the concert while exiting, I was pleased to meet Joanne Rogers. I knew that she was a pianist herself, having heard her music played on WQED-FM on several occasions.

And here I am taking pictures...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A hearty meal and lots of desert!

Last night, as I entered the Family Circle seating area on the upper level of Heinz Hall, I looked down and noticed that the stage was setup somewhat differently. There were individual podiums placed strategically for the members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. They were arranged so that as you moved outward in a semi-circle, the players were progressively higher. I thought it was a good idea, yet it's difficult to say if it lent any audio quality to the performance. I suspect it's more to do with the Orchestra Main Floor: when one sits down there it's often hard to see the woodwind players and others that sit behind. In that respect I believe this is a great idea, I hope they continue with future performances.

Johannes Moser was the featured cellist with the Dvorák Cello Concerto. What a grand concerto this is: beginning with the full force of the orchestra in typical Dvorák style. The first movement is built around four notes that seem fitting for the Cello: dah dit dit dah is the best that I can describe it with words, the notes are woven all throughout. Mr Moser doesn't begin his solo part until about four minutes into the performance, and that's the way I like it because that beginning part by the orchestra is pure symphonic Dvorák, and builds the anticipation for the soloist.

The orchestra really shined in the first movement, but in the second movement, it was Mr Moser all the way. The soft tones from the cello were really quite enjoyable to hear and to experience. A friend and his father attended with me, and one of them thought the cello didn't project enough volume - perhaps the nature of this movement is indeed that way, but I could hear and delighted in the softness of the sound.

With the final movement, one reaction "my favorite movement by far. What genius it must have taken to have written this." Another: "it didn't seem as good as the first two movements." I'm certain that everyone has their own reactions. Mine, I thought it was a very good movement, there were some symphonic flourishes and some multi-string playing by the soloist that were really interesting. All in all, I'd say this is a wonderful concerto.

If I back up just a bit, there were Viennese waltz and polka demonstrations provided by Arthur Murray Dance Studio in the Grand Lobby prior to the concert. Four couples volunteered, and were shown these dances by the two dancers as the rest of us looked on.

After intermission Manfred Honeck said: "Tonight it's been like a Thanksgiving, first we had a hearty meal, and now its time for lots of desert!" Of course he was describing the Waltzes and polkas by the Strauss Family about to begin. Desert is my favorite part of the meal, and so too is the music that the PSO played so wonderfully, beginning with the Overture to Die Fledermaus, one of my favorites!

Last year this concert was beautiful, yet this year it was so much more. First there are all the waltzes, they speak for themselves - if you've never experienced this music in person in a concert hall I implore you to do so - the live music is without compare. One of the selections this year was the "Little Chatterbox Polka" with children of PSO orchestra members playing musical ratchets - it was delightful.

This year the 'desert' was heaped with one added topping: soprano Rebecca Nelsen, with her beautiful voice, treated us to the laughing and singing and the joy of "Mein Herr Marquis" wearing a marvelous white dress; also in "Vilja", she introduced as: "one of the most beautiful pieces in operatic repertoire .. tells a beautiful but sad fairytale".

Later she performed with the PSO, "Spiel’ ich die Unschuld vom Lande" (Audition Song) - indeed her portrayal of three different personalities auditioning was marvelous, a country girl, a queen, and I didn't quite catch the last one.

When it seemed the concert was over, Rebecca Nelson appeared one more time with the lyrics "You may think its time to go, but I'm not done yet - oh no!" A fabulous song, I'm not sure the name, she danced back and forth on the stage, she exits one side, then immediately enters opposite, and voila: there must be two of her - what magic? Was this an understudy or a twin sister? It was fun!

She made one final encore appearance clothed in a beautiful green dress - as she danced and sang, she gave red and yellow roses to members of the audience. Indeed this was an entertaining evening.

Myself and my friend Miki (Miklos); photo taken by his dad, also Miklos

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Finnish connection

I had two tickets with me Saturday, and one was a sure winner - it was the ticket to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra - the other, the lottery, no I didn't win that one.

On the way to Heinz Hall I listened to Igor Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps" - "Rite of Spring" - it seemed like it would be a fitting introduction to the firstComing in for a landing selection also by Stravinsky: "Scherzo fantastique," both compositions have the same style, but the Scherzo was more light and airy. Presumably this was based on a hive of bees, and certainly it wasn't hard to image that analogy. Yet I was also able to conjure deer, birds, various scattering ground animals, a waterfall, a gently elegant swan arriving to the scene, and then back again to the bee analogy. A very pleasant scherzo.

Next up was Jean Sibelius "Symphony No. 7" in one movement. It opened with the rich depth of the strings blending their full force in a fabulous amalgamation: one of my favorite sounds from a symphony. Throughout this continuous symphony I sensed a continual building - a motion up and down in sight and sound, an emotional outpouring from the various sections of the orchestra as if an interaction between two people. It was mesmerizing in its effect. Toward the end the metaphor continued to build until an obvious climax of symphonic sound, and followed by an emotional aftermath of finish. It was fitting that a Finnish conductor, Susanna Mälkki, lead the PSO on this emotional roller coaster written by Finnish composer Sibelius (when he was around age 59). I saw in the lobby that the piece we would hear later, Finlandia, was written much earlier, around 1900.

After Intermission came the fantastic Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovitch. What a treat, the music, obviously much more modern than the rest of the program, was invigorating. The superb style of Leila Josefowicz, the violin soloist, was amazing to hear. The music began Nocturne in a somber tone with cello, then the violin. Then came the Scherzo with a quality I've heard before from Shostakovitch. It sounded very much like his Piano Co. 2, which I first heard in Disney's Fantasia 2000, subtitled "The Steadfast Tin Soldier." Leila Josefowicz just blew me away with the Passacaglia third movement as well as the final Burlesca. Throughout the performance she played with sustained determination on her face. One thing I wondered: How could she remember all those notes, and the synchronization with the symphony, it must have required a lot of practice and a great memory, not to mention the work done in practice with the PSO before these concerts.

reflections of grassI enjoyed beyond expectations all three of the compositions as prelude, but I have to say, the highlight can never fail to be one of my favorites: Finlandia by Sibelius. I could see the audience around me appreciably perk up when conductor Mälkki began this composition. It started with a powerful brassy kind of brass, yet not over-damped nor overpowering to my eardrums simply for the sake of volume, only the very best and cresting of sound. The adrenalin is pumping now, and everyone is in rapt attention. Halfway through the composition begins a softer melody that to me seems to be a very patriotic tune, one that I hear in my mind's ear over and over after the concert, and I'm humming in the lobby when it's over, even while waiting for Leila Josefowicz for the post-concert CD signing in the grand lobby.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Autograph

Leila Josefowicz signs an autograph for a little girl who waited in line for quite a while.

Sometimes, a picture really is worth 1000 words.

During her solo, Leila Josefowicz played so many notes in the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1, to me it seemed a feat almost impossible to remember let alone execute with fabulous ability.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sarah Chang returns with the PSO

Tonight at Heinz Hall Sarah Chang performed, along with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Max Bruch Violon Concerto No. 1. Bruch's brooding first movement is really a prelude, and Ms. Chang's abilities are immediately on display. The orchestra chimes in with louder building lines, and they take turns slowly introducing the mood.

I'm struck by the flair and entertaining style she uses when playing, often leaning back after a phrase to rejoin the orchestra, or during a cadenza following through with a 360 degree broad sweeping motion of her bow like poetry in motion, her beautiful long dark hair flowing along with her and following as if part of the animation. When she played, her fingers of her left hand danced along the strings while her right hand, it's reflection also seen in the sequins of her beautiful dress, expertly moved the bow across the strings. When the concerto finished, she beamed a broad gleaming smile at conductor Ludovic Morlot, then bowed multiple times for the audience, saying thank you with her lips.

In the post concert chat Ms. Chang mentioned that she was very glad to see Concertmaster Andrés Cárdenes return this weekend again. I was glad to see him too, and it was nice to hear his solo at the end of Joan Tower's 'Sequoia'.

Joan Tower introduced her compositions last week and this. All three of the pieces were very nice new music, but I must say that Sequoia, which she indicated that she wrote 30 years ago, was by far the longer, more dynamic and grand composition. I believe she said there were 64 percussion and/or timpani - indeed there were quite a lot of instruments and players arrayed on the stage. She said the piece was very difficult, and almost apologized for it to the orchestra members, in a fun way during the introduction.

I must admit that even though this is the first time hearing this music, I instantly became enamored with it. Several times the music portrayed a feeling of vertigo, a fitting metaphor which coincides with the title - I could envision a camera panning up the length of a huge sequoia tree, going on and on, as did the music, almost mesmerizing. There were beautiful reverberating sounds with the xylophones and winds playing together in a wonderfully synchronized blending. I'd really like to hear this again someday.

The last piece of the evening was Ravel's suite 2 from Daphnis et Chloé. What can I say - this is really beautiful music played flawlessly by the Pittsburgh Symphony and with the added treat of the vocals of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. With the choir, this piece comes really alive! I could see smiles on the faces of so many of the choir members during and after the music, they all seemed so happy to be up there and indeed I was happy to be in the audience. I couldn't ask for a better evening of entertainment.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Olga Kern with the PSO

Olga Kern after performing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 1
with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, signing autographs and at the post concert chat. I asked her if she would be willing to come back again and play Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 :), but of course that would be up to the PSO

Friday, October 15, 2010

Striking similarity: a possible variation on a theme by Haydn?

I heard Haydn's Symphony no. 13, final movement, and I wondered if I'd heard it before:


Then after a bit of thinking, I realized it's those same 4 notes that are used marvelously by Mozart in the final movement of his final Symphony, no. 41.
Has Mozart done a variation on a theme by Haydn?


Monday, October 4, 2010

Experience something new with the PSO

Richard Strauss: Don Juan

The PSO gave a stirring performance of this overture which I've heard before. Manfred Honeck indeed mixed the various instruments in a subtle yet flavourful treat. This is one tone poem I'd recommend to everyone.

I have recently enjoyed watching the movie: "Adventures of Don Juan (1948)" starring Errol Flynn, complete with fencing, court intrigue and an evil Duke to defeat. I daydreamed up images of the scenes from the movie in my mind while listening to the music. It makes for a great amalgamation of visuals to the marvelous symphonic tones of the music being performed live -- somehow better when there is this kind of counterpoint -- as it was for me in my imagination.

It made me think that symphonies like the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra ought to try some sort of effort like this to combine the music with something more visual. It's enough for me to view the orchestra themselves, but I often think how much better it would be to add a visual content on occasion. Often venues take old silent films and add live music. Last year, the PSO hosted Cirque de la Symphonie - a truly exciting new concept, and a fabulous way to listen to the beautiful classical music being performed while watching the amazing performances and adept skills of these extremely capable aerial flyers, acrobats, contortionists, dancers, jugglers, balancers and strong men -- that's a good start.

Wouldn't it be great to take a tone poem or overture like Strauss's Don Juan, and combine it with an old movie like the Adventures of Don Juan, I'm not sure how it could be choreographed, but it would certainly be more interesting. Perhaps a series of scenes or stills from multiple old movies spliced in a form that fits the music. Well it's just a thought, or perhaps a hint.

Bela Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 3

I really enjoyed the overwhelmingly performance given by Yefim Bronfman as piano solo along with Honeck and the PSO. I watch Mr. Bronfman's hands on the keyboard and wonder at the ability.

Sometimes I watch conductor Honeck to see how he synchronizes the performance of the solo with the symphony, it must not be an easy task. For me this is a new piece, and it's always a treat to hear for the first time a performance that I've not yet experienced with the PSO.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 39

One of my all-time favorite pieces, one that helped introduce me to the wonders of serious classical music. I went into a phase in the past where I seriously considered classical music over pop music, the later growing old with repetition. Classical has the advantage that you can hear something new every day of your life, and you'd never run out. So I went to Monroeville library, which, at the time had a quite extensive collection of old LPs with classical, and listened to as much as I could. I tried to gather every single one of Mozart's Symphonies. My favorite two, if one can chose, would be Nos. 25 and 39. So here I am at Heinz Hall many years later listening to Mozart's fabulous Symphony No. 39 for the very first time live - and it is everything I adored when I first heard this masterpiece.

If you yourself bore of repetitive music, try to experience the depth and breadth, the very wealth of music that classical music represents. It's funny, my daughter tells me that whenever she hears my classical she thinks it's always the same thing, and I ask, does Offenbach's Can Can from Orpheus in the Underworld sound the same as the thunderstorm in Rossini's William Tell overture, or do either sound the same as the Morning Mood of Grieg's Peer Gynt? She knows those three - so I see she smiles - an indication that she knows otherwise - that these pieces are indeed not the same, but of course she has her favorite music, the new pop, just as I did when I grew up. So my advice is to listen and enjoy!

Of note, I read that Tomo Keller of the London Symphony Orchestra was our guest principle violin this last weekend. He did a nice job with the solos in the Don Juan and throughout the performances.

According to the PSO Artistic department, Mr. Bronfman's encore was Frederic Chopin's Etude, Opus 10, No. 12. This is one piece that I've heard before, many times, in popular movies or culture.

When I heard the encore Saturday night, I said to myself: 'that must be Chopin,' but I didn't know which piece. It's a crescendo of impending conclusion, a vibrant theme unmistakable in composition and ripe with finale. And Bronfman played it superbly, with much applause to follow. I hoped for a second encore, but it was not to be.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Beyond Development

Opening night at Heinz Hall with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck, conductor, and Yuja Wang, piano was a treat I have been looking forward to, and now it was a reality. As always, Honeck opens with "The Star-Spangled Banner by John Stafford Smith." Isn't it ironic to have an Austrian born and raised maestro conduct our distinctly American theme here in our country before our distinctly American audience. Liberty and individualism works for everyone, the whole world over, when it is embraced and adored as it is so very much here. Thank you Manfred Honeck for conducting this piece with such enthusiasm.

Before that, Music Director Honeck was welcomed with such enthusiastic applause, he even mentioned it himself, and that he was looking forward to making wonderful music.

Michael Gandolfi: Garden of Cosmic Speculation

As Mr. Gandolfi personally described to the audience himself this evening, his selections were meant to be played in any order, as if when one is visiting this garden in Scotland, one might visit in any order, whatever happens to be the sequence. This evening this piece was presented in 4 parts, and the sequence seemed just right.

It opened with "The Universe Cascade" - as I speculated, I envisioned an entire day at a garden buzzing with bees and insects, only the audio of this day was fast forwarded to extreme high speed, collapsing that entirety to only a few bars into a relative quiet scene where I speculated that the evening had arrived, and now the tempo reverted to a realistic pace. Soon I thought I heard a very brief glimpse of a suite from Bach, but then the garden reappeared, then again the patchwork quilt of natural sounds became a symphony by Beethoven, was I imagining this? The whole time a bell was ringing, perhaps a sound from a nearby village, or else the sound of a jay singing as the bird flies from limb to limb around the garden.

The Second movement "The Willow Twist" brought before my ears a suspenseful chase scene, one that could easily be used in any adventure movie, like a James Bond action sequence. But then there were birds chirping.

Next came "The Quark Walk" as if a disturbance in the force, and I quickly speculated that this movement represented lightning, thunder and rain. The bell was the lightning, the drum played a marvelous thunder rumbling sound, and the rain was represented by the piano and the whole rest of the orchestra following suit. I thought that this was one of the best representations of a rain shower that I have experienced, not a huge storm, but a simple garden shower.

Finally came the last selection titled: "Gigue (vision) /Chorale (the sixth sense: intuition)." At first it was spirited then slow, and I had an impression of sacred music, yet naturally blended with the sounds and feel of nature, again including the sounds of birds.

The whole while I was watching Manfred Honeck conduct this new piece, one that I've never heard before, and seeing the way that he directed the orchestra to synchronously illuminate in real time this marvelous medley of movements, in no specific order; I was speculating, yes, a cosmic speculation, as to the nature of classical music and how we ascribe themes as such to the music we hear. It's fascinating to contemplate the various metaphors of life that music conjures forth before our eyes whence the music flows through our ears and into the garden of our brains via our very souls.

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini played by Yuja Wang, piano. This was truly the highlight of the evening. Lovely Miss Wang brought sounds and technique together in what was indeed a rhapsody, it can't be described any better than that. This piece is one of my favorites, but in the depths of Heinz Hall before a live audience and with a wonderful orchestra to bring out the multiple dimensions of music unable to be experienced except first had, I relished this unique adventure.

The first part explores the extent into which a great composer as Rachmaninoff can take a simple theme, and develop it to an extent that seems beyond what is possible. Just when you think there's nothing else that can be done with the simple and somewhat macabre melody, one more theme and extension to the developed ensemble of themes comes forth and amazes even more. I blogged last time about development, the kind that has always been the very best from Beethoven. Thus the juxtaposition of Rachmaninoff and Beethoven, and these two pieces together in one program seems to be the perfect fit.

When the next movement comes up suddenly, I imagine this isn't anything at all like the rest, it's a romantic melody that seems pure Rachmaninoff, yet he has fit it right there smack dab in the middle of this piece, and it seems to fit well.

Finally the ending: It's got the same kind of energy and inventiveness as we are used to from Beethoven, yet again inventing more ways to evoke perhaps a new theme and the original melody over and over to a wonderful and spirited conclusion.

After intermission we're treated to what else but Beethoven's 5th. The first movement's tempo was a bit fast, but it was played in such a perfect fashion, how can I complain. Honeck had no score before him, I can only assume that this oft played symphony is perfectly ingrained in his mind, as it is mine, I've heard it so often.

I really liked the Scherzo which showed off the talents of all of the sections of the PSO. We hear Bass and Cellos start, as if in a race which is being commenced by conductor Honeck. He next points to the Violas and they start their section of the race, next he glances towards the Violins, then to the rest of the orchestra, and this game goes on and on, in a truly interesting manner which brings a smile.

And of course the final movement. I can't help myself, every time I hear it in my car, I'm singing along. But how can one sing along to the final movement of this symphony: Easy, when you love the music as much as I. So now I have to needlessly restrain myself, the nervous energy seems too much, it's almost torture. So I simply imagine the accompaniment in my mind and tap as much as I can get away with with my leg. This movement seems to have the longest finale of all time. Just when you think it might be coming to a close, it reinvents itself one more time and goes on and on. I want it to never end, yet at the same time I feel it must. Eventually it does, and the applause, as it was for Miss Wang earlier, was beyond compare.

After the concert was over we were treated to a post-concert talk with Yuja Wang, which I'll save for later.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Beethoven's 5th

I'm looking forward to this weekend's concerts with the PSO at Heinz Hall... Let's see, we've got...
Manfred Honeck, conductor and Yuja Wang, piano
  • Michael Gandolfi: Garden of Cosmic Speculation
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
  • Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
I've never heard the first piece, but it certainly has a colorful name, and ought to be interesting. The Rachmaninoff is indeed spectacular, I've heard it so many times I can't count, and I never grow tired. It's been played countess times in the last few days on WQED-FM, just in time to perfectly whet my appetite!

Beethoven's 5th symphony is one of the most popular and best-known compositions in all of classical music, and one of the most often played symphonies.[1] It opens with the following:

dit dit dit daaaaah
dit dit dit daaaaah

That's my representation, the PSO has it as Dah Dah Dah Daah.

In Morse Code, it would translate to the letters S T; what could that stand for? I'd say:

Symphony Transformative - for this symphony, along with Beethoven's 3rd, altered radically in form or function the very power we encounter when we experience a symphony. I like to think of these masterpieces from Beethoven as a focal point in the history of music -- everything before was as a pyramid building the structure for which Beethoven forms a pinnacle of the very form -- everything since has been a metamorphosis of the cumulation of this form -- therefore Beethoven is the pinnacle at a point in time for classical music or all forms of music for that matter. This idea I originally gleaned from Leonard Bernstein in his book: "The Joy of Music". I've expounded on the idea in my own metaphor of beauty - a point in time where beauty is so sharply focused, nothing before or ever again will seem as sharp.

Bernstein says in a conversation with friends, wondering why we all believe Beethoven is the greatest composer who ever lived:

"Beethoven -- like him? I'm all for him! I adore Beethoven. I'd just like to know why Beethoven and not Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schumann-"

And that's what I'm wondering as well. Why does the PSO lead or end their concerts so often with Beethoven. Because we all seem to love him. His music is a joy. Bernstein goes on to convince his friends that each of the elements of composition: melody, harmony, rhythm, counterpoint, orchestration, when taken apart, dissected, don't show a particular greatness individually. It's the development and the wonderful way in which the music is amalgamated together that somehow is perceived as a statement of sharply focused beauty. It's been a while since I read this book, I'm going to go out and read it one more time, it's quite entertaining, in fact, it's a joy.

This is me standing in the garden of Heinz Hall, which I understand has now been re-modeled:

standing in the garden of Heinz Hall

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fun - a PSO Preview Concert

It was serendipity that led me to the path of these lovely and gracious ladies, they invited me to an after concert drink at Olive Or Twist; which was very nice of them to let me intrude on their evening of fun. They were there with Jennifer, my fellow PSO blogger (center), who I happened to run into in the Heinz Hall lobby. The conversation was as much fun as the concert.

Fun is certainly the best word to describe this concert. The selections were well thought out - pieces which are indeed popular.

Yes, we experienced many happy movements of various compositions with the most pleasant of melodies; some lively, others simply enjoyable or memorable like the Finlandia. Various aspects of the breathtaking harmony blended enjoyably in nothing but entertaining merriment.

Well what else could be asked for but a season full of these lively compositions, and since this is a preview, we know for certain that the upcoming Pittsburgh Symphony season will indeed divert our minds on a journey of musical witticism - witty escapades mixed with festivity, beauty, and sometimes somber reflections.

But tonight was mostly a fun treat for the ears, and the mind. The evening was convivially narrated by Larry Richard, and Thomas Hong thoughtfully conducted the orchestra. One purpose of the evening was to try to convince the concert attendees to become subscribers to the PSO performances - I suggest you do! One fun moment was when Mr. Richard asked Mr. Hong to fill out this huge form with his name: and he did, but the name was Brad Pit :)

I want to congratulate Laura Motchalov on a fabulous violin solo of Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1. She was magnificent in the movement presented along with the PSO. After intermission, she had changed out of her beautiful blue dress into the standard dress black and was back on stage performing along with the rest of the PSO artists - now that's dedication.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tief - how deep is Mahler's Third!

Manfred Honeck
Tonight's concert at Heinz Hall was extra special!
Manfred Honeck, conductor
Jane Irwin, mezzo-soprano
The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh,
- Betsy Burleigh
, director
Children's Festival Chorus ,
- Christine Jordanoff
, director
Mahler: Symphony No. 3
This is but a brief list of why I think this concert shined brighter than Venus on a summer's night:
  • Manfred Honeck - when he conducts he's both a force of music, and at the same time comes across as humble and respectful. His smile seems to melt the audience's collective hearts.
  • Jane Irwin, mezzo-soprano -- wow, her voice was fantastic, and the words, written in German, were easily understood; I got to meet her at the event after the symphony --
  • The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh along side the Children's Festival Chorus sang some beautiful songs along with the symphony - that was a treat.
  • Mahler's third - yet I see no subtitle; the first symphony was called "Titan" -- I guess when you start out with a giant like Titan, is there anywhere else left to go -- not up, but a broader, deeper symphony was this third, thus I suppose no subtitle is necessary when you grow thus.
  • Farcical yet tragic - Mahler's understatement of his symphony -- from wikipedia - "Mahler himself recognised the idiosyncrasies in his work, calling the Scherzo in the Third Symphony 'the most farcical and at the same time the most tragic piece that ever existed ... It is as though all nature is making faces and sticking out its tongue.'"' -- I wasn't sticking out my tongue; in fact, I was sitting there in awe with my mouth ajar, marveling at this beautiful music.
  • Nature - Mahler once said: “I might be called (with due deference to Him) the singer of nature. Since my childhood, nature has been for me the ‘one and all’.” Well as I've called myself a country-boy at heart, I feel one in tune with this composer - who is in tune with nature - especially after hearing his first and third symphonies. I need to hear some more, they are not played nearly enough. Somehow I missed the second symphony.
  • A Vital Force - If nature, to Mahler, is an overwhelming vital force then I wholeheartedly agree. I see nature everywhere and in everything. Mostly good, but nature has its deep and somber moments as well, and we heard that tonight in the first introductory movement and spread throughout this symphony. The range of the emotion was invigorating. The deep bass sounds and the drums where broad, expressive and moving, the strings were vivid and the woodwinds and brass trumpeted trilling messages of fervour.
  • The PSO - they were wonderful, what else can I say - except I believe the sounds was better tonight, perhaps the larger expanse caused by the projection of the back wall permitted a better permeation and greater dissemination of that fabulous brass sound.
  • Tief - Deep -- The lyrics/words by Nietzsche used this word 'Tief' to describe his 'deep dream from which he has awakened.
  • Die Welt ist tief - The world is deep. Tief ist ihr Weh - Deep is her woe. Doch alle Lust will tiefe Ewigkeit - Yet all joy wants deep eternity -- Und tief ist diese Sinfonie!
  • I was told that principal Trumpet for the PSO, George Vosburgh was off stage somewhere on the fourth floor playing that remote trumpet part in the third movement. To me that was one of the most beautiful solos and fantastic movements to a symphony I've ever heard. If I had to pick a favorite at this particular moment in the history of the world, this one is now it - it's my current 'next best thing.'
  • A friend who I saw at the after concert event hosted by WQED (why didn't everyone stop there on the second floor of Heinz Hall afterwards) told me Mahler is his favorite composer, and that if he had to pick a favorite movement from any symphony it would be that beautiful last movement where the strings of the PSO had their showcase - he does have a good point - but there can only be one favorite.
  • It was great to have Manfred Honeck stop afterward and speak to the folks who stayed after the concert.
  • Speaking of 'next best thing,' we are always searching for just that, the next best, and most important thing on our minds at the moment. Tonight I saw folks going to so many venues in downtown Pittsburgh, it's great to have an alive and vibrant community filled with the arts. If I could clone myself, one of me would be at the PSO, and the other would have been at the Three Rivers Art's Festival - I'm told they have an inflatable floating head of Andrew Carnegie on display, what a great sense of humour our town has!
  • I got to meet my new facebook contact Susan Johnson, who told me that little tid-bit about the sense of humour we all have in Pittsburgh :)
  • Likewise I met many of the people who work for and do the radio shows for WQED, including Jim Cunningham and all the rest. It was a pleasure to meet everyone.
  • Thanks to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for such a great season, and especially for letting me blog for them!
btw: I counted over 30 microphones strategically placed, the PSO was recording this live for later release on CD.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Brotherhood: Beethoven's Ultimate Statement of Joy

Mountain Laurel"Yet how incongruous: Beethoven, in his deafness and isolation, was separated from his brothers by a gulf of intellect, phenomenal egotism, and—finally—silence. He came to personify the triumph of individuality, not brotherhood. " -- program notes on Beethoven Symphony No. 9.

I wonder, these words to me also seem philosophically incongruous. I've often delved into the rational investigation of the truths and principles of knowledge, and I continue to return to the thought that it is the individual striving to be better and to discern the ultimate truth - and to communicate the beauty and grace of this knowledge that brings a more lasting 'brotherhood' than any artificially concocted artifact of brotherhood thrust upon the collective in ways they many may lament or mistrust. Only individuals, upon their own impetus, can come together in brotherhood when the understanding through succinct interchange of ideas is ideally struck. What better elucidation of the harmonious ideas that Beethoven was trying to achieve than his Symphony number 9: The 'Ode to Joy'..? How many have heard this masterpiece and felt the ultimate joy he was trying to express. I feel ultimately connected to Ludwig van Beethoven through his music, more so than 10,000 million words could express. I feel the message and I propose that many if not most other 'individuals' do so as well. Was he isolated in his deafness: perhaps to those immediately around him. But who better in this world have expressed such wonderment as Beethoven? Separated from his brothers by a gulf? Perhaps not so much in reality when one considers his gift to humanity, which shared so generously. His triumph was not so much individuality for the sake of it, but it was his use of his own individuality which brought this gift of brotherhood to us all. Who can walk away from this symphony with any other feeling? No longer incongruous are these thoughts I forswear; rather: harmoniously matched and suitable is his brotherhood of all mankind in his ultimate statement of joy.

"(at the end of the first performance) with the audience applauding madly and waving handkerchiefs, the alto soloist went to him and turned him around. Then he was able to see the enthusiastic response he could not hear. Perhaps it was, at last, a rare moment of joy for Beethoven."


Saturday, June 5, 2010

To Joy

Arrive an hour early for the final concert of the first year of our Beethoven Project and enjoy a Concert Prelude with PSO Resident Conductor Lawrence Loh.
I did make it almost on time to see Resident Conductor Loh and his description of the 'Ode to Joy' Symphony by Beethoven. Lawrence Loh was very entertaining. In this sequence we see him describing all the movements of the symphony, and their depiction of various emotions from sad to joy, and along the way all the developments in the composition that take us on this journey into an amazing harmonic weaving which builds on the simple themes and melodies (for instance the third movement) and intertwines various flavors of the same phrases for different instruments and sections of the orchestra in a beautiful statement of both melancholy and ultimately joy.

Well the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra led by Manfred Honeck did not disappoint, their triumphant return to Heinz Hall along with the soloists and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh delivered the nicest and fullest performance of this Symphony No. 9 that I've ever heard. Well I've only heard it one other time live in concert, and that was at Heinz Hall a few years ago. But this time it was such a treat. I'd like to hear it again and again. I've got several recordings on CD, and I only wish this one was available for purchase.

During the performance it was fun to watch various members of the orchestra and also the chorus. I couldn't help but notice them smiling from time to time, something about this symphony makes one smile: It's 'to joy', I suppose that's why. The magic of Beethoven is the affect his music has on everyone.Fire pink my native child

One more thing: I kept hearing that word repeated again and again by the chorus. That was the style that Beethoven used, to repeat the words over and over, to great effect. It was the word 'feuertrunken' which is always translated 'fire imbibed'. Well the actual literal translation would really be: 'drunk with fire.' Somehow, I think after hearing this symphony, I am drunk with fire (and I wanted to use my photo to demonstrate :)

Next week I'm really looking forward to Mahler: Symphony No. 3, a new piece for me.

Friday, June 4, 2010

An die Freude

Check out Mark Rohr's concert notes on 'making the rhythm swagger' -- a description of the Scherzo in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9

Fire pink my native child

Firepink, a photo I took this spring -- sort of
reminds me of 'making the rhythm swagger' --
I can't wait to hear it again at Heinz Hall
this weekend.

Here's some of the text of Schiller's poem -- 'An die Freude'.

I like this translation myself rather than the one you find publish because it's more literal to the original German, rather than the poetic twist you see in published English versions:

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum.
Deine Zauber binden wieder,
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, überm Sternenzelt
Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter fire imbibed,
Heavenly, thy sanctuary.
Your magic substance reunites
What style strictly divided;
All men become brothers
Where your gentle wings dwell.
Be embraced, Millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the stars
There must live a loving Father.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Anne-Sophie Mutter performs with the PSO

English version of the interview...

Anne-Sophie Mutter performs with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Vienna - About Downloads, conductor experiences and breaks in the interview

Standard: Are there many downloads of your recordings?

Mutter: No idea, but I hope so. This would suggest that there are also some people below my age [downloading], for classical interest. If I'm traveling on, I also use an MP3 player, it's incredibly practical. And iTunes is a great thing. I can not imagine to lug suitcases full of CDs on tour. For private use, I prefer CDs. Subtleties, nuances there are better genuinely gained.

Standard: As a performer you like to devote extended periods of individual work cycles.

Mutter: at premieres it is clear. The point is, after the initial presentation in the next two or three years, it is possible to obtain many premieres. I try, for instance, where I can only [perform] violin concerto by Sofia Gubaidulina "reinzuquetschen." The work is great! It grabs you by the throat - from the first notes on!

Standard: premieres are important to you. Writes just half the world for you new?

Mutter: No, sorry, rather just a small part of the world, but of those it the important to me. Wolfgang Rihm has just written something, he and Krzysztof Penderecki have written something for violin and double bass. Even Andre Previn has sent me a violin sonata, which we will then premiere in 2012 in Essen. And I also hope very much that Sofia Gubaidulina will sometime take my request, writing something for violin and Aquaphone

Standard: Aquaphone, why is that?

Mutter: I have heard a piece for two cellos and Aquaphone, the whirring sound of the instrument - I was almost blown away, and Gubaidulina plays the instrument itself by the way, too

Standard: Pierre Boulez should also write something for you, yes.

Mutter: There was and is the order of the Paul Sacher Foundation with me as soloist. I do not know how it stands. With Boulez, the conductor, I had time with - my - a great pleasure working for some.

Standard: This was not as complicated as Sergiu Celibidache?

Mutter: For heaven's sake, no! If it is speed Celibidache questions failed to. Maybe his time greeting, I should everything that has ever said Herbert Karajan me of forget, in addition to me aroused resistance. From then on it was certainly very difficult, and it did not come to the concert. After the rehearsal, I have canceled the concert for artistic reasons.

Standard: Were there long periods, which you have not touched the violin while?

Mutter: Absolutely. Back when my first child was there. Then I remember a period of three months in which I was very busy. That is not bad. I have five and a half years, started playing violin, and am now 46th So, because three months are not relevant. There are of course always very intense work phases. But I am generally not a man who every day 8:00 to 12:00 on the fiddle would work. I can also at times the door is not even afford the luxury of me. Flexibility is also important for environmental reasons. Then I practice just at night or in between or even without the violin.

Standard: Why They recorded the Brahms Sonatas for violin and piano on now?

Mutter: One sometimes forgets things where you have buried his sweetest - in the garden of the vast repertoire. It is certainly good and right two years ago felt already, so we had taken into the vague eye. Then we also had a room available, recordings of acoustically suited for. And so the time is then placed in was when I did not have to give concerts. I had early lasting impression by David Oistrakh as a listener will, yes. By Alexis Weissenberg, I then played the sonatas.

Standard: What is the basic approach to interpretations of her?

Mutter: I'm from the big picture and, without losing it, then I fall in love in detail. Then I try to make sense of this big picture of the work to integrate the details. Of course, you consider: Where are the highlights of the work? How to play the recapitulation, it will change the tempo? How does all this sound to you? In the Brahms sonatas, it is also a helpful luxury that every composer has not, that it is correspondence, referring to the works.

(Ljubiša Tošić, THE STANDARD / print edition, 22./23./24.05.2010)
Artikelbild: Immer schon und auch jetzt, in der Krise der Branche, eine stabile  "Klassikaktie"  - Geigerin Anne-Sophie Mutter.   Zur Person: Die deutsche Geigerin Anne-Sophie Mutter (Jahrgang  1963) wurde einst von Herbert von Karajan entdeckt und veröffentlicht  ihre CDs seit jeher bei der Deutschen Grammophon.  - Foto: EPA
Immer schon und auch jetzt, in der Krise der Branche, eine stabile "Klassikaktie" - violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.

The German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter (born 1963) was once discovered by Herbert von Karajan; they published their CDs and have always been with Deutsche Grammophon.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

PSO 2010 concert tour of Europe

Click this image for a map of the tour with interactive links...

The PSO 2010 tour continues, this is the latest:


The Philharmonie concert hall in Luxembourg was a pleasant walk from the hotel. Bassoonist David Sogg brought his folding bicycle on tour, and may have taken a more circuitous route however.

The Philharmonie is a dramatic structure of white columns and geometric surfaces, here dwarfing the people outside.

The smooth surface at the building seems to invite [...]

Thursday, May 13, 2010