Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ohlsson and Blomstedt with the PSO

This evening was a rare treat - Herbert Blomstedt conducting the PSO, and Garrick Ohlsson playing the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 - also the Brahms 1st Symphony - what could be better?

Before the concert began, I spoke to an acquaintance I see often at Heinz Hall; he wanted to tell me that he read my blog post from a few weeks ago discussing Nicola Benedetti's appearance playing the violin with the PSO. He thought she was charming and beautiful, and his general impression was very enthusiastic. I was certainly pleased that he read and liked the blog :)

A musician of the PSO, English Horn in hand, introduced the concert as a very special evening, "The fireworks you hear tonight will come from us first, then across the river later" [after the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game].

Guest conductor Blomstedt began the concert quickly and succinctly, with baton darting as if 2/2 time, smiling, and with his left hand he often seemed to be imploring the orchestra to bring forth the music.

The concerto led off with strikingly dramatic drums and strings, and soon Garrick Ohlsson joined on the piano. This Brahms concerto, at least the first two movements, were not familiarto me, thus my first real experience is yet again the beautiful live music from a fantastic soloist along with the PSO -- a great way to instantly draw a liking.

The woodwinds played like beckoning calls, and Mr. Ohlsson played 4 steps up and 2 steps down followed by English horn calls and the two main violins playing solo together. The sequence was interesting, but the part I liked best with this movement came next: ding-Ding on the keyboard in dramatic harmony with the orchestra in a somewhat faster pace and louder volume. Then a sort of love theme is played alone by the orchestra and the keyboard joins in. Here I find the effect somewhat discordant. Next the orchestra and the piano form a sort of alternating dance swaying back and forth, a thrilling bit of drama followed again by the horns and drum making harmony once again. The audience can't help but applaud after the end of the first movement.

The slow movement shows some of the beautiful technical and interpretive skills of Mr. Ohlsson. And it is the third movement that I finally recognize: and it was played to perfection.

After intermission I'm again struck by the constant pleasant smile from guest conductor Herbert Blomstedt. He begins the Brahms Symphony No. 1 with drums driving the tension and increasing the energy. He seems to have a wonderful rapport with the symphony. To me, the Brahms symphony seems to have all the right notes, there never seems to be anything awkward, each phrase is interesting and inevitable.

I sense a perfect synergy of synchronous syncopation,
saturating my senses with sublime syllables of succulent spectacle.
Sometimes subtle, sometimes sumptuous, smooth and silky,
scintillatingly sheer, soaring successive slippery slopes,
succeeding with superb sequences of symphonic splendors serenading my soul
- and that was just the first part of the first movement.

A powerful force came forth from the very domain,
encompassed my ears with sounds that aptly sustain,
with a subtle embrace,
filled with power and grace,
compelling a cadence of chords to the final refrain.

The symphony ended, and a standing audience applauded - and I smiled. Herbert Blomstedt aptly shook hands with the principle musicians; he then waved his hands in a low motion to the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony, as if to say: wow, this performance was great. When he reappeared the musicians stomped and rocked their feet on the stage and vigorously waved their bows as if to say thank you to the conductor. As a reward he initiated an encore of a part of the third movement by holding up three fingers. This was quite a treat, to hear it again, it was beautiful. Indeed we were treated to fireworks tonight!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Liszt's Thematic Transformation

I was unable to attend last weekend's performance, but was glad I could tune in to WQED-FM which broadcast the concert live. I managed to catch the second half including Liszt's Piano Concerto Number 2.

Out of interest I read Matt Campbell's post and how this was to be a new experience for him. I, on the other hand, have heard this concerto many times -- I purchased a CD years ago because I love Liszt, and I've literally heard it perhaps a hundred times in my car. So with that in mind I listened intently on Friday night. The tempo used by conductor Rafael Fr├╝hbeck de Burgos was somewhat slower than I was accustomed to, but it seemed to fit well. Pianist Jorge Federico Osorio played very well, and the audio quality of the broadcast came through very clearly. However I wished I was at Heinz Hall, where I could listen to the subtleties of the orchestra. Nevertheless, I was pleased to be able to listen to this stimulating composition by Liszt performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

What I didn't know was that this was a concerto in one long part, instead of three movements. Even though I had the CD, it never occurred to me that this music was always moving forward, ever changing, without interruptions. Indeed, my new discovery of the idea behind this “thematic transformation", was a thrilling addition to the obvious adoration I have always had for this piece. And even on Friday night when I was listening, I was only mesmerized by the emotion and thrilling aspects of the music, and not concentrating on the details of movements.

The following paragraph is a concise description of Liszt the composer :

Liszt is music's misunderstood genius. When Robert Schumann heard Liszt play, he was struck most of all by the young musician's "tenderness and boldness of emotion." Clara Schumann, an important pianist herself, told her husband, "When I heard Liszt for the first time in Vienna, I just couldn't control myself, I sobbed freely with emotion." Although his popularity as a pianist was nearly unrivaled in the nineteenth century, his ultimate importance to music history is as a serious, boldly original, and even revolutionary composer.