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.