Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sarah Chang in her own words

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.