Monday, March 22, 2010

The Planets, Holst and the PSO

Each of the planets in its progression aligned before our ears, and in their turn these passages from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra were presented one by one. And as I listened all I could do was smile. I could not write notes, I could not conjure words, hearkening to that stunning sound -- it came to me as an image upside down, inside out, inverted in sensory magic, and before my mystical mind was an n-dimensional universe, with planets everywhere.

Which was my favorite? It is hard to pin down, but I have to say that Holst weaved a magical chord in: Uranus, The Magician, what a mischievous tonal wandering, I like it more than ever before. Of course Jupiter is always fraught with jollity, and a bit of frivolity.

I reached, but she was no longer there,
and as my reward 'twas an empty hollow embrace,
these fragile hands no longer feel her supple silky hair.Empty embrace
Would I awake from a dream bereft of her sweet grace?

Alone, like the planets that revolve around the sun,
some with moons, some with none,
yet all alone are they in their darkest void of space,
never slowing, never yielding, till their path is done.

Lost souls wandering, connecting with only means
of simple communication, like light beacons between the stars,
some understood, others pass us by, missing our horizon,
until the heavens unite our worlds, a journey ever far.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Berlioz: Harold in Italy

Congratulations to Randolph Kelly, viola, in Hector Berlioz: Harold in Italy -- his solo was fabulous. I perceived that his playing sometimes became lost in a whirlwind of passion, a torrent of tempest -- the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra all around gave tumultuous beauty to the composition, yet did not tear Mr. Kelly's passion to tatters.

Somehow this is the vision I perceive when I think of a soloist accompanied with an orchestra. There was beauty all through the first three movements. His playing was not as pronounced as many of the violin soloists we are used to, yet it was distinct enough in those 3 movements to reach my ears; the temperance and smoothness of the viola was simply pleasing. It was only the 4th and final movement that acquired a robust torrent of bravado, which on its own stood out like a symphonic tempest, yet somehow I felt that the soloist was overshadowed. Perhaps it was by design, a particular penchant of Hector Berlioz.

At the completion of this half, there was much applause for Mr. Kelly and guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, who did a great job introducing the piece beforehand. At one point Mr Kelly walked over to congratulation his own viola section to much applause -- during the 3rd movement their playing was pronounced. In the program notes it indicated that these were the "wandering minstrels of the third movement’s Serenade."

After intermission -- Holst: The Planets -- what can I say -- it was spectacular!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Connections: Rossini, Mozart and Tchaikovsky

A rendezvous with classical music is often a journey to the depths of one's soul. Often I see it as a look into our emotions, our hearts and our passions. When I hear the best of this form, it often elicits a lucid experience of what I love most, and for me it is the core of this music, this glorious art-form that transcends all others and mixes these emotions in inexplicable manners and expressions which fulfil and bring joy and a smile to my lips. This happened tonight as I listened to the selections performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony orchestra under the baton of Gianandrea Noseda, one of my favorite conductors.

Benjamin Hochman gave a fabulous performance playing the piano in Mozart's Concerto No. 19, a piece I've experienced countless times, and was perfectly glad to finally hear live and in person. I found it fascinating to hear from some friends and others that they had not heard this before, nor the Cinderella selection by Rossini, another of my perennial favorites. So I myself must be an oddity, or simply a classical music enthusiast of sorts, and it was nice to hear these selections with which I am so familiar.

Perhaps I am lauding the PSO in particular, but I suspect that the live performance aspect, as I've mentioned before, brings out the very best of the acoustics, the dynamic range, and the total tonal hearing phenomena to its fullest form - one's hearing of the actual instruments at a concert hall like Heinz Hall is without compare.

The final selection, Tchaikovsky's symphony No. 3 was breathtaking, and typical of his symphonies for it's flair, Russian sounding themes, and total triumphant bravura. Being a lesser known symphony, this performance gave me the opportunity to hear it for perhaps only the second time. The final movement was better known to me, and the rest was new. My favorite parts were the softer movements - the 2nd, 3rd and 4th - out of the total of 5 movements, yet they were each interesting in their own respect.

In the 2nd there commenced a soft pastoral theme, and at one point the low basses were keeping the beat, while the rest of the orchestra dramatically presented breathtaking mood. Later, at home, I listened to this symphony again, and I didn't hear the exact same thing, probably because it's difficult to hear the same dynamic range. The 3rd movement was also quite soft, mixing in resplendent melodies dramatically placed using somber sounds, with low frequencies and low volumes, easily heard in Heinz Hall with its acoustics. I wondered how it would ever be done on a recording, without the use of a volume compression technique, which sort of ruins the intended effect. Throughout these movements the string section held the pieces together like a lofty tether on a lazy afternoon, holding clouds and feathers together in an ambling mixture of tepid flowing fluid.

The 4th movement took the pastoral theme from the previous and expanded it in a way as to seemingly make the sounds of the instrument come alive. At one point I envisioned within my mind the scrambling of small animals, perhaps in the depths of the large Russian forests, full of lush greenery and huge conifer and deciduous trees lining the entire canopy. Quickly, with conductor Noseda's sweeping of his arms, he inspired the orchestra into motives and sounds subtle yet attuned to my metaphor. I heard the rustling of leaves, the swaying of trees, the commotion in the forest lessened, and the sound faded out finally with the final scurry of the final animal to one side only to behold the entrance of the fifth and final movement.

Then the grandeur commenced, only this time my imagination brought forth to my mind the image of the huge brown bear, a national 'personification' of Russia -- a large magnanimous creature, not clumsy, rather more cuddly, despite his size. This magnificent beast ambled into the scene slowly, with slower and softer sounds from the orchestra building concisely to a masterful statement built upon a melody that is overlaid multiple times, and eventually the whole ensemble brings together this image I've conjured for myself into a climax rivaled only by Tchaikovsky himself in his subsequent symphonies. One of my friends stood to applaud and exclaimed "There's no doubt, that is most definitely is Tchaikovsky!"

What are the connections between these pieces and the conductor with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra? Well, tonight the banding piece is the PSO, our very own wonderful American Orchestra which is the binding connection itself. This evening was played three completely different pieces, written many years ago by European and Russian composers, and as conductor Noseda said himself in the post concert chat, the PSO has a "versatility that stands out," according to "different styles," and was able to play these pieces "three different ways," marvelous ways, they are not just "good," but these musicians want to play the music in a way that "touches," by "participating in the music." That was a wonderful complement to the PSO from Maestro Noseda, who is not only an impressive conductor, but a marvelous speaker in his own right. He also described connections between each of the selections this evening. Stay tuned for another blog post on the post concert chat...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Mixing Metaphors

Durable notes, shedding impatient grandeur,
and when they, upon their wings, do soar -
I see eloquent shades uplifting, enveloping uproar,
Mixing metaphors, my heart can hurt no more.

I rise, I fly, I glide well high,
my effort, little and with subtle tilt of wings,
climbs over her visage, her sight slightly cries,
swiftly gained yet gainsaid shadows bring
me crashing back to transient sighs.

Rejecting doubt, rather, believe in love,
Radiant, enveloping, completely without abandon.
Heed pure words offered with honest candor,
Eloquence comes rarely, as the wings of a dove,
genuine sincerity is offered up once more.