Monday, November 28, 2011

The Merry Lives of Yinzer

Yinzer - that's me, even though I don't often use that expression, yet my life was merry indeed at such a wonderful concert -- one with many references to Pittsburgh. I was able to make it to Heinz Hall an hour early to hear most of the concert prelude with Resident Conductor Lawrence Loh and PSO Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley. This was a nice introduction to Mr. Bendix-Belgley and the interview process he had to endure to become PSO concertmaster, and Mr. Loh did an excellent job of introducing the music.


More merry was I to listen to an excellent rendition of Beethoven's Piano Concerto number 1, elegantly played by Leif Ove Andsnes, piano.


All of Beethoven's piano concertos are a joy. In the notes I see that "Both scores (1 & 2) appeared in 1801, the delay apparently caused by Beethoven’s desire to keep them from his rivals and reserve them for his personal use." I wonder, if Beethoven were to write music today, with places like youtube out there on the internet, if he would reserve his music for his personal use, or publish it online. If online, I expect he would have better luck than I, having published a nature video myself called 'American toad singing Western Pennsylvania' in the spring of 2008, only to have a so-called disputed copyright claim on my toad video by another company about a month ago. I disputed that claim, but youtube won't do anything about it. I recorded the video myself in a pool full of toads some years ago. How in the world can a big music company make a claim on it I have no idea, there is no music, just a toad singing. But this happens a lot where companies lay claim to content that does not belong to them. Beethoven would perhaps roll over in his grave if he saw the state of the music industry today. Note: I would like to also state that the pictures I post here are mine, made by me, as are the words :)

One of my favorite pieces was played this past weekend: Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor (1846-1849) by Otto Nicolai -- I've quoted the line below from the PSO notes on their web page, I liked the reference, and must listen to Die Meistersinger again to hear the melody:

"The complementary melody is not heard again in the opera, though Richard Wagner so admired it that he borrowed it for an episode in Act III of Die Meistersinger. "

Another beautiful piece - Zigeunerweisen, by Pablo De Sarasate, was surprising in the ability of soloist Noah Bendix-Balgley to control the depth and breadth of the solo part. Manfred Honeck joked before the piece that they picked something not too hard, with not too many notes. His sarcasm was amusing, because this piece was extremely difficult with lots of notes.

At the end came a few Strauss selections with lots of fun - first Manfred Honeck indicates that there is an expression (paraphrasing) "in Germany it is said they work 350 days and are on holiday 15, but in Austria they work 15 days and are on holiday 350." This was the introduction to 'Auf Ferienreisen' (Holiday Trips) by Josef Strauss, where Mr. Bendix-Balgley strolls out in vacation garb, situates a beach chair, opens a few beers, gives a few to the orchestra including the Maestro, and generally garners many laughs. Josef Strauss' 'Feuerfest Polka' comes next, with a real anvil, and the percussionist (help me with his name, he was great!) places a terrible towel on the beach chair, dons a pair of sunglasses, and does his percussion on the anvil while drinking beer. What a great time!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Unflinching precision and beauty

Unflinching precision and beauty - the evening last night was replete with precise notes, falling one after another without interruption, yet arrayed with timbre, expressiveness and energy. Gabriela Montero was at her best with the Prokofiev Concerto Number 3, and she performed two wonderful improvisations, one on 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star', the other based on the 'Here We Go Steelers' tune. She asked the audience for someone to sing a song. One lady sang Twinkle Twinkle melody -- it turns out I know her personally, and talked to her at intermission, so that rules out any possibility of a 'plant' in the audience ;)

Ms. Montero begins with the simple melody for 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star', then changes the key and introduces other forms of development. Next chords and other threads begin to appear -- counterpoint breezes through adroitly with cascading lines, and Presto: it now sounds like a full flung Bach composition, yet the Twinkle Twinkle continues to materialize. The spontaneous nature of her improvisation is impressive to say the least, and goes to show her amazing talent - not only as a performer but as a composer of classical music. The second improv was more in the style of Liszt, with a fluid meandering of fingers intertwined with a teaming cadence quite lively and exuberant.

Gabriela Montero in Pittsburgh

The Prokofiev concerto was new to me. It began with a very fast tempo - which to me was almost feverish, and very enjoyable. After the first movement I heard someone say - amazing! The second movement was filled with lush strokes and the final movement exhibited grand gestures from both the piano and the orchestra.

Earlier in the day I listened to a podcast interview hosted by Jim Cunningham of WQED where she talks about her new composition, a piano concerto which makes a personal political statement about Venezuela. On facebook she indicates that she is working on a recording of the composition which she premiered recently in Germany called 'ExPatria'. This is an excerpt from her facebook page:

"ExPatria"

As an expatriate Venezuelan, it may be of little surprise that I should wish to express, in music, a longing for the beautiful country of my birth.

However, my debut as a composer reaches beyond private nostalgia to a very public cry. ExPatria is a portrayal of a country barely recognizable from that of my youth. It is my emotional response to the loss of Venezuela herself to lawlessness, corruption, chaos and rates of murder among the highest in the world.

After intermission I was awestruck by the beauty of the Brahms Symphony number 2 expertly played by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Guest conductor Christoph K├Ânig majestically conducted the orchestra with an express set of gestures succinct in their effect with the players, and entertaining for the audience as well.

Gabriela Montero in Pittsburgh

Gabriela Montero in Pittsburgh
Gabriela Montero in Pittsburgh signing autographs - after Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 she performed two wonderful improvisations, one on 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star', and the other based on the 'Here We Go Steelers' tune.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Guide to the Orchestra - with a pop quiz

According to guest conductor Leonard Slatkin, "Tonight is Show Off Night." He was referring to showcasing the talent of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and two of their players as soloists. Randolph Kelly began with the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra by Walter Piston. This was not one of my favorites compositions perhaps because it's very brooding, yet it provided a great showcase for the solo viola. Kelly's style was direct and straight forward, the volume worked well against the orchestra. I liked the second movement, yet at times it seemed like two unrelated compositions were attempting to weave their way amongst themselves. The third movement I liked best, more a classical style with pizzicato on the orchestra strings, bold brass, drums, woodwinds, the while orchestra as backdrop to the whirling viola. Kelly's best was during the small solo part in the midst of this movement - his command of the viola accented the performance.

After intermission Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida was the soloist with the PSO in the L'Horloge de flore [The Flower Clock], a beautiful amalgamation of 7 movements representing a different flower at various times of the day - a marvelous way to programatically represent music. DeAlmeida's oboe sounded enticing with an abundance of pure tones and perfect transitions between notes. The composition was simple yet elegant, each hour and flower providing a different melody and mood. Here are a few thoughts I had for each:
  • slowly, blooming, pizzicato, tempo
  • scherzo, sprightly, spread forth, bickering, beautiful
  • awake, swaying softly, subtle, breezy, silhouette, shine
  • jumble, tapping, spinning, dance, skipping
  • warmth, floating, reaching, endeavor, asking
  • prancing, curiosity, sneaking, ruffle
  • racing, pause, derive, hurry, jovial
At the conclusion, DeAlmeida bowed to much applause - then she indicated to her fellow woodwind players to stand, but they would not, deferring all the applause to her alone. When Slatkin came back out he asked them to rise, and this time they did. I heard one person exclaim: "It takes a conductor to get the orchestra to stand up - now we know why they make the big bucks "

The final showcase was the use of young speakers, between the ages of 10 and 12 to introduce each of the sections and instruments during the performance of Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (Variations and Fugue on a theme of Purcell). This was the highlight of the evening, and was a lot of fun too with the use of the young people seated amongst the orchestra players. A few of their introductions include:
  • Sabine - Woodwinds
  • Anna - Brass
  • Abby - Strings
  • Elana - Percussion
  • Harry - instrument variation
  • Giovanna - Oboes
  • Weston - Clarinets, Bassoon, Violins
  • Lance - Violas, Cellos
  • Cassandra - Bass, Harp
  • Adam - French Horns
  • Alex - Trumpets, Trombone, Tubas
  • Sophia - Percussion, Timpani
  • Kendall - Bass Drum, Tamborine, Triangle
  • Riley - Xylaphone, Castinets, Gong, Whip
Then they all play together in a final Fugue where each instrument enters one at a time.

Slatkin joked: "As you leave there will be pieces of paper for the pop quiz"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Echos of plenitude

Poems to fit the evening of classical music with Leonard Slatkin and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, written while listening.

Double Play (2010) by Cindy McTee

Disruptions peak curiosity
cognizant of theme
somnolent seniority
seem
flourishing minuscule
temperamental
building volume & orchestration
stereophonic fidelity
strings bring back to
contemplating stardust
sprinkled over temporal plane
planetary exuberance
thrust upon a solitary grain
somber horizon wrestling to be undone
drops of rainwater ebullient won
syncopated rhythm increases tempo
jazzy sawdust timber driving
leaping unbridled embellishment
duck before sudden impact sinews
weaving agile tributary ambling
drama heights dimensions
down through clouds of speculation
misty particles drop dissolve
savage soul unleashed wild impetuous
untamed dissonance striving ever forward
manifest particles curling off elliptically
free!

Ralph Vaughan Williams - Five Variants of "Dives and Lazarus" (1939)

gentle fields thy wait awake
and though thou do not share mutual outlook
I observe thy beauty in a vacuum
not affecting nor disturbing gentle radiance
relay and imbue said pastoral scene
it belongs to all of us who observe
significance, it is not necessary
sweeping gusts of vibrant strings
spew forth multiple threads of intertwining vines
solo violin echos on reflections below
passing streams of conscientiousness
building joining connected thoughts
back and forth hymnal harmony hyperbolic henceforth
rejuvenating souls no longer lost
linger three lines in trio reverberating theme
echos of plenitude
joining breeze to slice journey's end.

Echos of plenitude

poems to fit the evening of classical music with Leonard Slatkin and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, written while listening.

Double Play (2010) by Cindy McTee

Disruptions Peak Curiosity
cognizant of theme
somnolent seniority
seem
flourishing minuscule
temperamental
building volume & orchestration
stereophonic fidelity
strings bring back to
contemplating stardust
sprinkled over temporal plane
planetary exuberance
thrust upon a solitary grain
somber horizon wrestling to be undone
drops of rainwater ebullient won
syncopated rhythm increases tempo
jazzy sawdust timber driving
leaping unbridled embellishment
duck before sudden impact sinews
weaving agile tributary ambling
drama heights dimensions
down through clouds of speculation
misty particles drop dissolve
savage soul unleashed wild impetuous
untamed dissonance striving ever forward
manifest particles curling off elliptically
free!

Ralph Vaughan Williams - Five Variants of "Dives and Lazarus" (1939)

gentle fields thy wait awake
and though thou do not share mutual outlook
I observe thy beauty in a vacuum
not affecting nor disturbing gentle radiance
relay and imbue said pastoral scene
it belongs to all of us who observe
significance, it is not necessary
sweeping gusts of vibrant strings
spew forth multiple threads of intertwining vines
solo violin echos on reflections below
passing streams of conscientiousness
building joining connected thoughts
back and forth hymnal harmony hyperbolic henceforth
rejuvenating souls no longer lost
linger three lines in trio reverberating theme
echos of plenitude
joining breeze to slice journey's end.