Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sárka - bloody well profound!

Šárka from Má Vlast by Bedřich Smetana, now that was pretty bloody well profound! And the anticipation for this intense piece was affably built by guest conductor Michael Francis. With an elegant British accent and witty humour, he described the story behind the Sárka composition. "This will be a most violent and grizzly second half." Its a story of an enraged Šárka, who rebelled at being ruled by men. She swears vengeance on the whole male race for the infidelity of her lover. And of course there is dancing (nicely portrayed musically by the PSO). Šárka intoxicates Ctirad (who just arrived and falls in love) and his men, who fall asleep (musically the bassoon and horns play snoring sounds). Conductor Francis indicated that "The next part the men will not like" -- Sárka summons maidens who kill the men. "She's rather angry" (Audience laughs). "That's our second half. Enjoy." I rather enjoyed the composition. In fact, later when I got home, and while writting these words, I listened to Wolfgang Sawallisch Conduct Šárka on youtube three more times, it's intoxicating.

The whole concert was pleasantly surprising. A beautiful rendition of the Dvořák Violin Concerto was expertly played by soloist Christian Tetzlaff, along with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. It was succinct and lyrical, without words.

Mozart's 40th symphony, with a smaller sized ensemble, was performed with much brevity and wit. These words came to me while listening and enjoying:

Varied are the harried folks delinquent with their time.
Through crystal glass they hustle there, filled with pantomime.
They shuffle and they bustle, along the lobby floor,
Ascending crimson carpet stairs bending with contour,
To balconies near yonder stage with players in their prime.

Semicircle gathering of instruments, beyond the patron seats,
Lushly drawing arc-tangents, to beg with their entreats.
And there I stand, pen in hand, anticipation all around,
Contemplating circumstance of mixing sight with sound.

Oh strand of hair hanging there, what purpose do you serve,
One curl to catch a golden glint, and yet you've got the nerve.
Melody of simple fare, with harmony eclair,
Bode well of fugal interval evolved beyond the flare.

Irrupting contrapuntal chord, symphonic Mozart sound,
Portend a recapitulation, before it's come around.
Harbinger of a rhythmic phrase, complete the rushing tide, a tempest and a gentle lull, inscribe the great divide.

Tiptoe the strings twixt oboe and horn, along a flute tightrope,
Walking with a perilous, dangling isotope.
A minuet of Mozart form, deep base to fill the void,
nestles sweet and rather warm, because it's well deployed.

Finale glides with glorious laughter, racing overhead,
as we perceive an energy, with rhythm quite inbred,
Bows push the final harmony and nothing's left unsaid,
And I content to linger there reviewing every thread.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Heinz Hall Backstage Tour

The PSO invited new subscribers and new donors to a backstage tour, followed by a few selections by PSO Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley accompanied by David Allen Wehr on piano. The first selection was Tartini: Devil's Trill Sonata which they pair will be performing at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 7:30 pm. The tour was very interesting, as you can see in the photos. There was a question and answer period afterwards. One person asked "I don't know what honey you dipped your violin in, but it sounded so sweet." Mr. Bendix-Balgley plays on a Lorenzo Ventapane violin, made in Naples in the early 19th century. He explained in answer to one question about why the older violins are best that the artists were at the pinnacle of their trade. Another question delved into the duties of the concertmaster -- my favorite part of his answer: To determine the bowing for all the sections that the string section plays - it's not just random, they are artistically set to bow in the same direction together, and Mr. Bendix Balgley, as the concertmaster, determines the bowing ahead of time - wow that would be time consuming. I asked how the symphony is able to synchronize so well. More on that later.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

But soft, what sound in yonder stage springs?

Noseda enters the stage at Heinz Hall and gives a few words to the audience about the upcoming concert. He speaks of De Sabata as a Conductor and specifically about the composition "La Notte di Platon" which was performed this evening. Next Noseda offers praise to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He also remarks that the PSO's style is very Italian.

The first selection opens with sweeping sounds and transitions to a slow demure selection with a solo from the principal viola. Then the whole orchestra takes over with the dreamy melody accompanied by mystical twinkling background harmony with harps and percussion. The breezy, airy sounds remind me of the ruins of Rome. The music transitions again through several different styles, march-like, playful, big band, and others. When I see that the English title is "The Night of Plato" I start to understand further the programmatic ideas perhaps intended by the composer.

But soft, the jumble of seemingly disjoint sounds has subsided and a slow passage emerges. Grand horns preview laughter and then a march takes over. The music ramps down as the harp and strings return to the earlier romantic theme. Fade out, and the composition concludes like a peaceful sunset.

Next, Benjamin Hochman performs the solo of the Piano Concerto for Left Hand Alone by Maurice Ravel. My friend thinks Mr. Hochman is right handed based on the way he sometimes holds onto the piano with his right hand while playing with his left. I cannot see Hochman's hand on the keys, but I hear sounds that seem as if they are being played by two hands, and I marvel at exactly how that can be accomplished.

Deep sounds from the woodwinds announce the beginning, as if the arrival of a new day. Daylight appears as other instruments join in. The opening bars of the piano begin - somewhat awkwardly, but as the selections progresses I begin to get into the rhythm which is quite catchy. All in all a very entertaining exercise in left hand only. The audience gave lots of applause, with both hands.
After intermission Noseda and the PSO present Aus Italien by Richard Strauss. It starts well, but the first movement does not seem to be in synch. The conductor and the PSO do, however, find their stride in second movement. Here the sound is pure, synchronized and succinct. It seems to me that Strauss borrows from Strauss, taking flourishes or certain passages from some of his other compositions and reusing them here.

Unlike Beethoven, who seems to start small and develops over and over to form a complex entity in his compositions that are beautiful in their workmanship, Richard Strauss seems, at least in this work, to take bits and pieces and tries to weave them together as if into this hybrid work. This is not to say that I do not like this composition -- I do. In the third movement I hear a fragment that perhaps comes from Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks By Richard Strauss. Maybe I'm wrong. Sometimes it is quite easy to place a composer just by listening to a work, I recognize many of the elements that are unique to Strauss. One is the placement of the magical qualities like the harp and percussion in just the way he does. This movement ends slow with pizzicato.

The final movement, Neapolitanisches Volksleben (‘Neapolitan Folk Life’), is based on a melodies that are easily recognizable (by Luigi Denza in 1880). Strauss develops them well in my opinion. As the concert ends, I find myself humming: Funiculì, funiculà, funiculì, funiculà!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Savor Zestfully the Tones

Conductor Gianandrea Noseda, discussing the upcoming PSO concert on WQED-FM, expressed his opinion that the beauty of Dvorák's Symphony No. 7 is not quite as beautiful as No. 8, but is more dramatic, and that within the movements lies a certain amount of passion. It's always interesting to me to hear Noseda's wonderful Italian accent as he speaks live, somehow the words seem more interesting than simply reading them. He went on to discuss with Jim Cunningham his appearance on CNBC and the need to continue investing in culture during difficult economic conditions. The recession in Italy has changed the nature of this funding, shifting away from government to private sponsorship. As he said, this is the way it's typically done in the US, and now becoming a reality in Italy. In his words: "If you like us, help us."

It was thrilling to watch Enrico Dindo play the cello. There was a man who seemed to relish the playing, savor zestfully the tones generated by every gesture and the esteem he placed on the sequence of notes rubbed off on me by emphatically increasing my appetite for the creative composition, for the cello as a solo instrument, and for symphonic music. The expressions on Dindo's face summed up the complete picture.

Dmitri Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 2 is an interesting composition to say the least. Over the years I've come to appreciate the composer's works more and more. Each new work I experience I tend to like right away. This was precisely the case with this Cello concerto. Somehow the beat and rhythm compel my interest, to grab me like a hook and drag me into the composition. In fact, I now prefer this cello concerto more than any of the others I've heard, including Elgar, Dvorak and Honegger

It seemed to me to be almost a monumental task to synchronize the solo cello with the orchestra, yet Noseda, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Dindo pulled it off with adroit alacrity.

Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 7 returns the flavor back to the classical/romantic form which conjures images of what one typically thinks of as being symphonic music. Dvořák has expertly composed a symphony which one might want to listen to over and over. The theme is exactly as described by conductor Noseda: passionate and dramatic. I'd add: gorgeous. The scherzo/third movement is instantly recognizable, and easy to remember, I was humming the melody after the concert.

One more note: after the concerto Enrico Dindo played a wonderful encore...

Here is a performance of the same by Rostropovich - Bach Cello Suite No.1 - Allemande