Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Day - a sequence of events - Rapture

She was there, at Heinz Hall, and I shook her hand. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Writing is hard. Writing is difficult. Difficult is writing. I never once had one lesson. Just a few random thoughts as I prepare to describe tonight's concert. And of course I'm sitting here in front of the computer thinking of what to write, yet the concert was several hours ago, and I've already forgotten umpteen fabulous thoughts I wanted to say.

Manfred Honeck spoke at the WQED reception following the concert this evening. He is very soft spoken - his tone of voice is almost hypnotic - one can't help but like him for this intonation and of course for his marvelous smile which we see after the conclusion of every piece he conducts, during the applause, when he appears at the beginning of a composition, and of course tonight at Heinz Hall.

This day has been a long and deliciously full one. I took off work to take my daughter and her friend to the 3 Rivers Art Festival. The weather was perfect and the art was just amazing, yet that was just they day. Now it is night and I'm looking out the window - I see darkness. What many fail to realize is, is that a writer is working even when looking out the window, night or day. But I digress.

Whence the transition from day to night first began to happen, I cannot pinpoint precisely. Between the last shadows of sunset, and the beginning of the first selection came a horde of concert goers into Heinz Hall, a time of waiting as I watched the PSO musicians joyfully practice, and Manfred Honeck enter the stage with his usual grinning flair, where he would quickly commence Walter Braunfels' Fantastic Appearances of a Theme by Hector Berlioz. I took notes during the Fantastic Appearances, and of course I can barely read the now. I see the word 'chase' - oh yes, one of the movements certainly seemed like a chase, a marvelous fancy of flight, with the various sections of the orchestra each dancing their way in and out of the movement. Then came a slower more romantic movement which showed off the beauty and power of the string section, followed by a scherzo with a sort of question, brewing, building, with a hypothesis of thought - a conjecture which was only to be answered by 'Mit Breite, doch nicht zu langsam und etwas frei' which, translating myself means: 'with breadth, just not too slow and somewhat free'. I really enjoyed this piece (even thought it wasn't the whole composition) and am glad Manfred Honeck brought it to us this evening.

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with Emanuel Ax, piano. Now that's enough to draw me to the concert this evening. Ax's performance was simply magnificent. I also enjoy watching him play. I spoke to a few friends at intermission. One indicated that Ax's hands remind him of Beethoven himself. Another sat close enough to observe that as Ax would strike the keys, occasionally it seemed as though he was moving his hands in a sort of vibrato, normally associated with a stringed instrument. [Vibrato is a musical effect consisting of a regular pulsating change of pitch. It is used to add expression to vocal and instrumental music. Vibrato is typically characterised in terms of two factors: the amount of pitch variation ("extent of vibrato") and speed with which the pitch is varied ("rate of vibrato").[1]]

As I listened to Mr. Ax play the piano, I was struck by the sheer number of notes being played. They say that Mozart wrote a lot of notes, but I'd say that Beethoven has him beat. This particular concerto is so full of notes for the piano, it prompted me to try to estimate the number. Let's say he played for 20 minutes, at 6 notes per second per hand. That comes out to about 14400 notes. Anyone know if I'm close?

I also noticed how peppy Mr Ax is when he plays and when he enters the stage. He seems to be truly enjoying himself in his performance. Between phrases of the music, I often see him looking up at conductor Honeck, and of course that's all part of the timing, but when he looks he's smiling.

Ok, so when I write I sometimes procrastinate. Even this late at night. Yes, I put on the TV. And I see there's a show called 'What makes Pittsburgh Pittsburgh' Which reminds me, after the concert Jim Cunningham gave Manfred Honeck several presents. One was a case of Austrian Beer: Another present was some polish beer. Okay, I think I'll try either kind, but my preference might be for the Gösser Bier. Sind Sie über 18 Jahre?

Brahms' Symphony No. 4. Now that's rapture. What else can I say? The first movement seemed to be the same kind of development that was made famous by Beethoven. Somehow Brahms took 2 notes, and developed them. At least to my ears that's what I heard. Sure, there were many complex dynamics built into the movement, yet you can't mistake the various places where those same two notes (not the same pitch every time) are repeated again and again, sometime going up, sometimes going down. And then there are 3 then 4 notes.

The PSO seemed very well balanced with this Brahms symphony. Ever part of the orchestra was easily heard. The 2nd and 3rd movements are very familiar selections to anyone who's familiar with classical music. Yet when they got to the 4th and final movement I couldn't recognize it - I'm not sure why.

I met a fellow blogger again tonight - Jennifer. And that opening line was just the hook, and now you have the resolution. Jen and I were both at the reception following the concert. I didn't see any of the other bloggers, even though I thought there might be a few. It was a nice event, hosted by WQED, and of course coordinated by the staff and employees of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, who did a great job of making it so much fun.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Conspicuously Sensual Symphonic Theme

There was no overt attempt to mask the conspicuously sensual symphonic theme this evening that Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra delivered before our hungry ears. The beautiful music was placed right out there before us, the listeners, to hear and to enjoy. The four selections all shared a somewhat romantic, sometimes modern, yet indelibly satisfying music that quelled an insatiable appetite for sound, simply for the sake of the aesthetic pleasure in relishing the resonance, vibration and intonation of each accented note, each symphonic chord that strikes deep within the soul, and scores with musical tones; no words, just glorious notes.

Richard Wagner's Lohengrin prelude to act 1 is a favorite of mine. I know, I've indicated that so many selections are a favorite, but this one really does stand out near the top of the list. A fan of Wagner, yes, and yet this is the first time I've heard Wagner live in concert. And wow is all I can think. I'll listen to this music over and over and yet never grow tired. It's motivational, as if to make one's mind soar beyond the bounds of our physical, to contemplate what's beyond the possible, to grasp a higher plane, mere words cannot say, the present is a realm which now approaches the infinite. And then it gets better, louder, more meaningful as the percussion and horns brazen a flourish, then strings bring the subtle meanderings around to gentle resolution - and it is profound, found again and again with an ending reprise. And I'm wanting - to hear it again.

This is immediately followed by the premiere performance of Alan Fletcher's Concerto for Bassoon and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, commissioned by and for the PSO with Nance E. Goeres. I always enjoy listening to new selections, it's a chance to experience something for the first time, and to concentrate on the music to try to understand it's meaning, its aesthetics and its impressions. I liked this concerto from the outset. Nancy Goeres did such a great job at introducing the concerto beforehand, and with the solo selections, it seemed amazing - some long and drawn out, and others quick and technically challenging - with a dynamic range on the instrument that seemed quite wide and ranging. Alan Fletcher did a great job of blending the Bassoon with other instruments, and the PSO, led by Honeck, blended the parts quite well. With the harp, it sounded like a perfect amalgamation, with the drums a clever counterpoint and often a sonorous march, with the large cylindrical bells (what are they called) it was a metronomic duo, and with the strings the Bassoon would soar. This concerto has something for everyone, starting off like a Shostakovitch modern sound, then moving to the second movement with a slower more romantic andante, then ending with building march-like rendition more classically structured, where entropy equalizes counterparts, and at the end, it was a sudden conclusion, not typical, and surprising, perhaps the bet way to conclude this addition to the concerto repertoire. All three movements received well deserved applause.