Friday, January 29, 2010

Gil Shaham, violin

Gil Shaham performed the solo for both of these at Heinz Hall this evening:
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 2
Franz Joseph Haydn: Violin Concerto No. 2

His movements were graceful and deliberate.
The violin he played had the most magnificent tone.
When the movement called for two strings to be played simultaneously, the sound came forth with striking clarity, and immediately grabbed my attention. Then he would return to the pure tones of the composition and his marvelous style. His smile was brimming -- there is never a doubt when I see that, it's the musician who equally loves the music.

I've heard both of these concertos before; both have marvelous simplicity yet melody and harmony which are catchy and so pleasant to hear. Although my favorite Mozart violin concerto is number 3 - for it's wow factor, I do have to say that number 2 is equally nice, and this performance was invigorating. Mr Shaham and the orchestra (smaller than the full orchestra) played the notes extremely pure, and with the excellent acoustics at Heinz Hall, I could hear and enjoy a distinct clarity. If I closed my eyes it was as if I were right there up on stage.

The Hayden was another concerto I've heard often on CD and radio, and is much better when played live at Heinz Hall. Here is Mr. Shaham playing another Haydn concerto: Haydn Co 1, 1st mov

One of my friends thought it might be odd to play these two smaller limited concertos at Heinz Hall, as if this were a chamber concert, but somehow I believe it worked, it was a good classical introduction to the second half of the program, the larger romantic Mahler Symphony number 4.

As I was listening to both of these concertos, I imagined I could place myself anywhere in the concert hall, and photograph the artists and their instruments on the stage. Since I am an amateur photographer, I enjoy visioning what a possible 'shot' would look like, even if I don't have my camera in hand. The PSO doesn't allow photography of the musicians on the stage, I suspect it is because flash would completely distract warm-ups or the actual performance; and perhaps because they want to maintain a certain decorum, and would prefer that their photographs be professionally produced to be of good quality.

So I sit there, and listen intently to the wonderful music, and I imagine the perspectives I could create, the kinds of lighting I could use for background 'bokeh' a sort of effect you often see in photography. The photos above were taken in the lobby as Mr. Shaham was signing autographs.

I'll post again on the wonderful Mahler Symphony...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bruckner's 7th and upcoming Mahler's 4th

I've just heard that they will be recording Mahler's 4th symphony this weekend (Fri/Sun). I like when the PSO records a performance for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that there tends to be less background noise in the theater, they usually request we put forth a 'wall of silence'. So if you are like me, that makes for more enjoyment of the Orchestra.

Bruckner's 7th symphony was a massive structure which somehow overwhelmed me. This was my first hearing of this symphony, so please accept my comments with a grain of salt. Several of the movements were very good, and on the whole, I enjoyed the way the Pittsburgh Symphony played this music, a very good performance was the result. Yet when I say overwhelmed, I mean it was loud at times, as if it was loud just to be loud, it didn't bring a reason or a harmony that I could latch on to. I couldn't grasp the context. I think perhaps one of my problems was my closeness to the orchestra. If I had been up above, the gallery seats way in the back, I believe I would have enjoyed this experience much more. For a Mozart slow movement, being up front has its advantages, but for this symphony, not so much.

The program notes indicate that Bruckner was a Wagnerite, and to the degree that this music was like Wagner's I agree, yet I wasn't left with the same beautiful feeling I get when I listen to just about any of Wagner's music. There is a certain aspect of Wagner's scores, something I just can't describe, which is so beautiful that often I'm left with goosebumps. I didn't get that with the Bruckner. Yet I know I will return again to Burckner's music, because as has happened to me in the past, I have grown to like music that previously left me wanting.

The most enjoyable part of the performance was watching the symphony and the conductor. It was Honeck's sublime conducting that gave a supreme veneration, his lofty bearing elevated my enjoyment as I watched the fluid motions of his arms and baton.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ax struck a resoundingly brilliant chord

There is a reason why I keep going back again and again to experience the piano concertos with Emanuel Ax as the soloist: simply put, his virtuosic talent, his keen and ardent desire to play the music and to enjoy the orchestra left me impatiently longing for each passage, each phrase, each cadence and eager for more yet hopeful this beautiful concerto would never end. And this concerto number 5 by Beethoven, this keen and sharply struck chord of melody played against the flourishing orchestral embellishments contrasted in temporal position toyed with my introspective mind. The concerto itself is lavish yet contrapuntal, liquid yet precise, classical yet romantic and effervescent in metaphoric scenes which in my mind ranged from waterfalls to the earnest entreaty of love.

The concerto began with Conductor Manfred Honeck quickly sweeping his arms in a lunging motion to signal the intensely evocative beginning of the first movement -- and then the piano began, ranging up and down the keyboard in what was the beginning of many similar phrases which to me conjured images of water tinkling over stones. And from that simple beginning the orchestra took over, extending the theme and developing the melody, with sounds distinct to this concerto, yet evoking portions of Beethoven's symphony number 6. When the piano rejoins, it begins on a journey of building tucks and turns, as if a tennis match between Mr. Ax and the orchestra, back and forth. When he wasn't playing the keyboard, Mr. Ax would look toward Maestro Honeck with a brimming smile, and swaying to the music personified by the orchestra, invoked an instant infectious smile in my heart. His eyes were alert and aptly attentive to the direction of the conductor, then, returning to the keyboard, would produce a succinct rapturous passage, soft, yet cascading with a deluge of quickly paced notes that just flew. I'd imagine children's rhymes in one moment, quickly followed by rolling thunder produced by the orchestra into an apex of expanding flourish.

The second movement was slow, with earthly tenderness brimming with gentle wonder. Could I be at a lapse for words with it's beauty? This movement bears repeating, so I listen again at home while composing this text, and I hear these words in my minds eye:

Once there was a place for thee,
as kind and gentle grace can see,
where grass grows,
and love knows,
all I've seen,
wondering what could be.

Listen from 0:20 to 0:52 to hear the melody with the words I've written.

The orchestra repeats this melody, this time the piano meanders along the keys in a beautiful counterpoint. Together the two parts of the concerto have intertwined, and the movement concludes by immediately forming the beginning of the 3rd movement with a quiet introduction, like a prelude of reverberation, or an echo of what will come next. And it does, in robust form. By the end of the final movement it was advantage Ax, then game set and match!

Part of the display at Heinz Hall associated with Beethoven's hearing loss:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Upcoming PSO concerts

I've been enjoying the concerts at Heinz Hall this season, and look forward to the upcoming:
  • Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor"
  • Bruckner: Symphony No. 7
  • Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 2
  • Haydn: Violin Concerto No. 2
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 4
I also note that the PSO webpage still has Symphony No. 3, "Eroica" for Feb. 5th and 6th, even though I saw the following on the Post-Gazette blog:

Pittsburgh Symphony to substitute Mahler for Beethoven at Heinz Hall for Carnegie Preview

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will replace Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “Eroica,” with Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 at Heinz Hall for the weekend of Feb. 5 and 6 in order to better prepare for the group’s Carnegie Hall concert, in which the latter is featured. “I am sure the orchestra would play it brilliantly, but I would really like to have a fantastic preparation,” said music director Manfred Honeck of the concert Feb. 9 in New York. The PSO just released an album of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 on the Exton label, raising the stakes on an already important concert for the PSO. Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter will join the PSO in all the concerts to perform Brahms’ Violin Concerto. — Post-Gazette Classical Music Critic Andrew Druckenbrod