Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hammerschlag and Heinz Hall's 40th

When I went to Carnegie Mellon I spent much of my time in Hammerschlag Hall, which was the place to be to study Electrical and Computer Engineering, my major. I always felt the name had a sort of romantic feel to it, and now I find out all these years later that Hammerschlag from German means Hammer Blow. Not quite as romantic, but in the sense it was used tonight with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, playing Mahler, it is indeed again romantic. 'In 1965 Machinery Hall was renamed Hamerschlag Hall in honor of the first president of Carnegie Institute of Technology, Arthur Arton Hamerschlag'

Manfred Honeck discusses the famous ‘Hammerschlag’ in the 4th movement of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony... "Mahler asked for a short powerful but dull sound almost like the fall of an ax on a tree. He didn't think the bass drum would capture the sense of what he was trying to create. Here at Heinz Hall we have built a big wooden box that will be placed on a riser in the percussion section. You will not only hear but also see principle percussionist Andrew Reamer strike it with a big hammer at 3 dramatic points in the final movement."

The first selection this evening was the Eugene Goossens Concert piece for Oboe/English Horn and Two Harps with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with James Gorton, Getchen Van Hoesen and Heidi Van Hoesen Gorton. Manfred Honeck delicately conducted the subtle drama between the orchestra and the soloists, who did a great job. Many of the phrases were tentative and hesitant, as if music dancing on a string. Subject lines would question, as an introspective retrospective. I fully enjoyed this concerto, the volume was perfect for my ears. Later, although I did fully enjoy Mahler's 6th, it was quite loud, perhaps too loud for my ears.

Before the concert Henry Hillman and Teresa Heinz spoke as a tribute to Heinz Hall's 40th anniversary. Heinz spoke metaphorically of those who would plant trees, even though they know they will never sit under the branches of that tree once grown. She described her father in law, Jack Heinz, who referred to those along with himself as his "band of dreamers" for they were aspiring to fulfill the dream to realize a vibrant cultural district, and that began with Heinz Hall.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Inexorably Persuasive and Stunningly Radiant

This evening at Heinz Hall the audience was delightfully treated to three chiefly different compositions by Richard Strauss conducted by Manfred Honeck and passionately played by members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Not only that, but the inexorably persuasive and stunningly radiant rendition given by Joshua Bell of the Brahms Violin Concerto left no patron without a smile. This was a really enjoyable concert!

One of my favorite authors passed away this week. In his book "Fahrenheit 451," Ray Bradbury wrote: "Everyone must leave something behind when he dies. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. It doesn't matter what you do so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away." These words are touching. I thought of this theme while listening to the selections this evening. The book is set in a futuristic society where people don't read books, but watch TV. But the main character is an individualist who escapes this controlled society into the country, where books are memorized to be preserved for the future revival of civilization.

While listening I think of the gift of freedom and the rights against censorship that we all enjoy. I'm grateful to past generations for these gifts, and maintain that we should all fight to preserve them. I also think not only of books and words, but of notes. Richard Strauss composed all three of these works in the late nineteenth century, yet he lived many more years and died in 1949 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. He lived through two world wars, and saw the advent and fall of national socialism. In his eyes, ears and thoughts there must have been the tensions and drama that government can bring upon the individual. His early music of the roaring 90s sounds youthful, even the composition Death and Transfiguration has a very youthful feel to it, as if the whole piece represents the 'transfiguration', or 'Verklärung' in German. Yet his early music also seems to hold a certain connection to these themes, perhaps I imagine so based on my line of thought.

Certainly Strauss and Brahms have changed something, they've forever changed music with their wonderful compositions. Their time period would have had contemporaries in Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. Bradbury himself has left something behind in his writings. Each of these composers and writers I feel I have a connection based on what they've left behind. And I wonder, in my life, what will I leave behind.

Before the concert I visited the Pittsburgh Arts Festival. I rode my bicycle from the garage where I parked down to Point State Park, and walked around to see and experience the art and festivities. This musician was playing a 'Didgeridoo'. The photo was taken with the camera on the ground for effect. The sounds from this are amazing, especially with the audio reflections under the bridge at the point. Here is a sampling of the sound that I recorded when he played: Box audio of Didgeridoo at Point State Park by Douglas Bauman