Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pastoral Symphony, or "I am number six"

According to Beethoven, the Sixth Symphony is "more the expression of feeling than painting"

A classical period of chordal progression,Pastoral
afforded my mind with a kind of expression,
from apogee heights with harmonic collision,
to octaves of light under modal succession.

These were the lines in a pastoral theme,
building radiant smiles laced with idyllic beam,
whence nature and land belong to quelled dream,
and visions reveal my fresh startled esteem.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The moment in time to fall in love with Beethoven

Who remembers the moment in time when they first fell in love with Beethoven?
Beethoven's manuscript for his Symphony No. 6

The question pre-supposes that you are, indeed, in love with Beethoven. The assumption is that you really really like the music composed by Beethoven. I do, and I suppose it's not too far of a stretch to assume that you do too.

This morning on WQED-FM 89.3 Jim Cunningham played his interview of Lars Vogt, who will be paying the Piano Concerto this weekend with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall in an all Beethoven program, including Symphony No. 6, "Pastoral", Piano Concerto No. 1 and Overture to Lenore, No. 3.

In the interview Lars Vogt described the moment in time that he fell in love with Beethoven. He was 10, and it was a recording of three of the Beethoven sonatas, including one of my favorites, the Appassionata (considered by Beethoven to be one of his most tempestuous piano sonatas).

It's hard to say personally when I first fell in love with Beethoven. I know for certain I was young, probably a teenager, and probably listening to Beethoven's 5th Symphony. It's got such power and force, yet is simple and surprises. Beethoven often surprises with his notes that always seem just right.

Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony is beautiful. I first remember hearing this when watching Disney's Fantasia. Those images are ingrained in my memory along with the notes, and are difficult to separate when I hear the music even today.

Through the years, the more I hear Beethoven, the more I fall in love with just about every composition he ever wrote.

The following excerpt is from Leonard Bernstein - "The Joy of Music" (I borrowed the book again recently from Carnegie Library)

And so Beethoven came to the end of his symphonic journey, for one movement, that is. Imagine a whole lifetime of this struggle, movement after movement, symphony after symphony, sonata after quartet after concerto. Always probing and rejecting in this dedication to perfection, to the principle of inevitability. This somehow is the key to the mystery of a great artist: that for reasons unknown to him or to anyone else, he will give away his energies and his life just to make sure that one note follows another inevitably. It seems rather an odd way to spend one's life; but it isn't so odd when we think that the composer, by doing this, leaves us at the finish with the feeling that something is right in the world, that something checks throughout, something that follows its own laws consistently, something we can trust, that will never let us down. {p. 105}

(The telecast concluded with a performance of the first movement of
Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.)

-- The last sentence was borrowed from "Why Beethoven?," page 21.

Why not stop by Heinz Hall this weekend and enjoy the beauty and the joy of music, Beethoven style. Face it, it is inevitable, you'll learn to love Beethoven.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tchaikovsky Finale with the Pittsburgh Symphony

As I arrived to Heinz Hall before the finale of the Tchaikovsky festival a while before the concert, I decided to stand in the lobby and observer for a while. Around was the usual hustle and bustle of the various sundry people coming into the main double visionentrance area out of the brisk cold streets. Many of those arriving were smiling, some were laughing, others looking down at their tickets as they walked slowly and carefully forward momentarily without observing their way. Girls in pink, boys in blue, ladies in mink coats, men in sweaters, leather coats or coat jackets, wandered out of the entry way to the various other entrance halls with obvious looks of anticipation. Occasional groups of students from local universities or colleges would come ambling awkwardly forward, pausing and moving as a group, discussing their musical journey, or some doing social media like texting on their hand held devices, yet clinging to the others. Perhaps I was the only one observing, and my endeavor was more than an idle look into the entry of the patrons, but a way to pass a bit of time before the performance, and my food for thought for the construction of these notes.

What do they anticipate, what will they hear? After all, this is the finale of the Tchaikovsky festival, with two glorious examples of his compositional genius, Symphony No. 5 and the Violin Concerto. I even overheard at least two conversations in Russian language. Pittsburgh has a large international presence, and with this program it seems only natural. A group of 3 people on the second level lobby overlooking that grand hall were also speaking Russian, I almost wish I understood what they were saying.

Tonight Manfred Honeck returned to conduct the orchestra. I found the conducting methods of Gianandrea Noseda, from last weeks concert, and Honeck, for this evenings performance to be widely varied, yet both have a commanding aspect in their own distinct style. I like them both - it's difficult to compare without somehow seeming critical of one versus the other, yet I'll try. First the layout of the orchestra was different. Last week, with Maestro Noseda, the Bass were on the right, and the Viola and Cello were slightly rotated. With Maestro Honeck, the Bass were arrayed on the left. I find the sounds from either configuration to be pleasing, so in that respect I'm not the critic that can describe the merits of either. Perhaps someone from the PSO would like to comment. However, I do like the fact that the changes give me the opportunity to see different musicians in different positions.

With respect to their motions and technique while conducting, I'd say that Maestro Noseda is much more animated than Maestro Honeck, perhaps using much more energy. That's not to say that Honeck isn't also out their with sweeping motions of his arms and baton along the same lines, it's just that when our Music Director does it it somehow seems almost effortless, yet to the same overall effect on the orchestration. Manfred Honeck often stands completely erect, with a elegant sophistication of his posture, yet still exudes the kind of direction and emotion directed toward the players as much any other conductor. In this respect I admire his ability to straddle a fine edge of control, where in one respect he's composed yet confidently and effectively leads and synchronizes all the players.

Serge Zimmerman played the violin solo of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, accompanied by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. This performance seemed to be at a somewhat slower tempo that I've heard this selection before, which I like. The lilting tone of the violin seemed perfect for this concerto. Zimmerman did such a fine jobs in the solo parts. I spoke to an acquaintance who I see often here at Heinz Hall -- His impression was that Zimmerman and the Concerto were really good. It's always interesting for me to hear what others think of the performance. Not everyone is always in agreement, but this time it seemed that everything went just right for the Violin Concerto. The first movement starts out with beautiful melodies, when mixed with the softness of the orchestra, and the flute, sound sublime. About two thirds of the way it there is a solo part that seems technically challenging, followed by the symphony with a grand Russian theme. My favorite part is the third movement which played fabulously with the recurring melody, one I like to whistle afterwards.

The Symphony No 5 was played so expertly by the PSO, I simply can't do it justice in just a few words. All I can say is that the beautiful amalgamation of Conductor Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony gave one of their best performances.

One final note. If you haven't had a chance to read through the program notes for these Tchaikovsky festival performances at Heinz Hall and elsewhere, and you can still get your hands on one, it's definitely worth it for the wealth of information about Tchaikovsky, his compositions and the performances.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The right place at the right time

The right place at the right time, that was my appointment with destiny. This evening at Heinz Hall suit the bill for the proper conjunction of these four dimensions, intersected with my presence, thus a confluence of sound, space and time dealt me a full hand, and I played it out to completion. Tchaikovsky was the featured composer this evening, thus beginning a two week run of compositions. Don't be late for this performance, those first few bars of the Piano Concerto No. 1, in B-flat minor, is nothing to willingly miss. Those opening notes are one of the most famous in classical repertoire, and this was no exception.Chihuly Bokeh

Denis Matsuev played the piano with a furious depth of technical detail and delicate interpretation highlighted mostly by the many solo passages literally scattered throughout. The first movement contains a beautiful romantic part sandwiched between the scintillating opening, played exquisitely by both the PSO and Mr. Matsuev, and other sometimes incongruous passages mixed with pieces of flair. The enigma of Tchaikovsky sometimes confuses me, genius melodies, grand passages that seem just right, yet some parts of the 1st movement seem forced and not particularly coherent with the rest. Occasionally the soloist and the symphony seemed out of step, and I observed the conductor looking back to the soloist as if to say, get back on track. Yet it was certainly fantastic to hear and enjoy the journey, and I marvelled at his obvious skill.

Conductor Noseda led a heroic effort to bring this concert to our eager ears - he regained the timing quite nicely in the second and third movements which played out extremely well, the tone of the piano and the volume of the orchestra well balanced, and I enjoyed the amalgamation. From my seat I could see two monitors which faced the orchestra - obviously not meant for the audience. On those monitors was a view of Gianandrea Noseda conducting the orchestra and the soloist from the orchestra's perspective. Wow- what a great thing, but why not make it viewable by the audience, I wondered to myself. From that view it seemed more natural, and looking back and froth between the back and the front view by alternating my attention, I was able to discern the subtle and marvelous movements of his baton and hands in a way that seemed to describe the music much better. It seems such a great idea to show the audience what the orchestra sees, and what I saw seemed more poetic than simply looking at his back.

After intermission came excerpts from Romeo and Juliet performed by actors, then the PSO played Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet with tenor James Flora and soprano Danielle Pastin singing - now this again was a wonderful treat as I've never hear it this way before - and to my surprise it was sung in Russian. Their voices were fantastic. Again we were treated to the actors on stage with excerpts from The Divine Comedy, Inferno, which was a fitting way to introduce "Francesca da Rimini." This piece by Tchaikovsky is a sweeping composition somewhat like his symphonies. I've heard it before, but never like this. It was truly magnificent. The PSO did such a great job - afterwards the audience rose to instant and sustained to applause.