Saturday, February 18, 2012

Florid Resonant Surrender

The concert begins as composer Steven Stucky enters the stage and introduces his world premiere of "Silent Spring," a work commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. According to Mr. Stucky, "Silent Spring" is a dark, dramatic and exiting piece. In order to compose the music, he used poetic imagery suggested by the titles written by Rachel Carson in her books. Deep, gripping and urgent emotions are what he intends for his tone poem, and "if all goes well, we will experience these emotions together."

I was impressed. The music instantly drew me into it's sphere of influence, and I was hooked for the entire duration of this seminal event. Low tones cascading upwards, transitioning abruptly, led to fluttering strings, ominously placed as if birds in migration. Sounds quite congruous, yet evoking dread, were crying out to be heard. Subdued quiet ensued and a bell tolls. An oboe laments and somber sounds from deep bass resound in peaceful yet asymmetrical furrows below the din. Again a bell tolls. Still silent, and subtle, intonation begets a rising lumbering echo permeating perhaps a forest floor. Towering monoliths, slowly moving, look below the heights. Strings build upward toward a plateau, beyond which are ocean's waves, splashing, breaking, accelerating; tides rip through currents, racing ever on to an eventual climax of capitulation. Dissonance appears, bells chime and sounds subside into a florid resonant surrender. Drums beat in humble silence, and at the end only the baton is moving, one final stroke and submission is complete: silence.

The audience around me also appreciate this wonderful tone poem by Mr. Stucky, as evidenced by the resounding applause, smiles and wonder.

Sibelius' Violin Concerto is one of my favorites. Like many of the best concertos, it has the form and flair that make it compelling. This concerto, however begins in a rather unconventional manner, as if a lone individual, in a vast forest, begins a beckoning call, asking the forest creatures to begin their morning murmurs. Nikolaj Znaider is this individual, and his violin warbles reverberating tones in combinations seemingly unattainable, yet deeply haunting and rich in timber. The final movement, with it's catchy beat, is the perfect finale for the showmanship of Mr Znaider, with a violin that seems too small for his stature. After the standing ovation, Mr Znaider plays a beautiful and simple encore.

As Manfred Honeck begins to conduct Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, "Pathétique," I realize he has no score before him, only a baton -- it's obvious this symphony is in his memory and part of his repertoire, and the evident flourish displayed as he sweeps the orchestra into the spirited development betrays his union with the music. As I think of Tchaikovsky and the circumstances at the end of his life (Tchaikovsky conducted his B minor Symphony for the first time only a week before his death), I can't help but think of an enormous contradiction -- to me, this symphony is full of optimism, passion and furious jaunts marching with alacrity toward the wish to be alive, in love and full of joy. Yet the final movement jumps over that metaphor into a lament and ends, as does the first piece we heard this evening, by decelerating into an eventual state of silence, not at all the typical ending for Tchaikovsky or any composer. Yet it's beautiful.

The evening is a delight, as always. Indeed I learn to surrender to the florid resonant sounds of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. If I were afflicted with a passion of music and sound (and I am), and the talent to put those notes together into glorious harmony, forever recorded, then I would be even more in love with life and everything in it; certainly the very thought of being in love is reason enough to be optimistic; never yearn to posses the object of that love, but forever love from afar the beauty and the music.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Caught Temporal Embrace

A caught temporal embrace never lasts Caught Temporal Embracebeyond the fleeting flicker of the moment it was intended, never grants the bearer a feeling beyond a mere moment's euphoria and eventually fades, like the best of dreams, into the mundane aspects of conscience reality. Yet we hungrily cling to that memory, that moment of passion hoping to preserve and inflate the lingering abstract qualities of the encounter into an everlasting painting hung upon the wall, always there to see. Well beyond the seat where I sit is a stage, arrayed with chairs, filled with talented musicians, led by a brilliant maestro; and they are there today to play for me the very best of classical music, composed throughout the ages. My temporal embrace begins with the entrance of conductor Manfred Honeck with a decisive grin and they begin.

Beethoven was younger than Mozart, yet somehow I think of Mozart as being always young. Mozart's untimely death at the age of 35 somehow reverses their ages in my mind. We remember Beethoven as older based on all the portraits we see. Tonight the ordering is also switched. First up is Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 from the year 1800, one of my favorites -- the scherzo is filled with wit and humor, and the finale gets me going with its toe tapping alacrity. Honeck conducts with a variety of gestures of his baton and hand including leveling, waving, extending, snapping, flowing and his signature thumb and index finger O. When he stands straight you know everything is going just right, and it was - a marvelous performance.

Mozart wrote Piano Concerto No. 16 in 1784 when he was about 28 years old. Lars Vogt did this composition much justice, it's not often played, and deserves just this kind of performance. The piano parts were witty and filled with a kind of rhythm not really heard in other Mozart piano concertos in my opinion. It was a kind of jazz like rhythm, yet the underlying joyful pomp ever present in any Mozart composition was ever present as well.

It's always a chore to keep in mind the temporal aspects of history. In my embrace of the classical compositions presented tonight, I reflect on the time-line, and wonder what Mozart would have thought of Beethoven's works, if he had lived longer and was able to hear the compositions of his younger contemporary. Or what would Beethoven have thought of the works of Respighi? And I've wondered what it would be like if I could climb into a time machine, go back and experience the classics as they were first presented.

Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome are programmatic in nature, yet stand as wonderful works of pure music in their own right. The Pines of Rome will forever be engrained in my mind as the music for the whales in Disney's Fantasia 2000, which I used to watch again and again with my daughter when she was young, yet today, listening as I did, I can perceive both the context Respighi intended, and musically without any program at all.

At the close of my temporal embrace I was no longer caught. The applause for Manfred Honeck the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra waded on, and I realized at that moment that I was suddenly released from my embrace, as if waking from a dream, with the closing chords of Respighi's Pines of Rome trumpeting marvelously in my memory and on my consciousness, and as I grasped to hold that lingering moment, I relished what I had, and I knew that I would experience it again, the next time I visit Heinz Hall to see and hear the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.