Sunday, March 24, 2013

Serendipity with Splendor

Keys tap, notes beat, music progresses in regular time sequencing the rhythm of the newfangled composition. Time passes with metronomic regularity, then pauses for a moment reflecting a subtle harmonious serendipity with splendor too beautiful to fully fathom. A heartbeat skips hesitantly, then time doubles down for a measure in several discordant attempts to catch up to the cadence of the time, having fallen out of rhyme. All thoughts scribbled in margins of programs ascribe my impressions as the concert unfolds.

The title of this composition is "The B-Sides," by Mason Bates, and performed by the author along with the PSO and conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The title itself brings to mind the old 45 records, where the front side would normally be the hit song, and the B-side often a less popular song added on the back of the record. Then I thought of one of my favorite bands: The Beatles, who more often than not had singles with hits on both A-side and B-side. One very famous B-side song was Eleanor Rigby, which of course used a classical orchestra as background to the vocals.

More thoughts scribbled in the margins: Mason Bates The B-sides (Five pieces for Orchestra and Electronica) 1. Tapping fingers; strings continuous & flowing; actual broom on a rough surface vertically mounted on the back wall; 2. Swish goes a drunk elephant with slowly meandering delinquent gate; violins extending pitch upward; pink bubbles; ending pitch down as if the elephant is laying down to sleep; 3. Recordings of Gemini capsule communications; echos in the music, ascending, building, and a typewriter with synchro beat; 4&5. deep bass and beat from the electronica; an elliptical conclusion.

Speaking of typewriters, I recently read that Mark Twain purchased his first typewriter (which probably looked like the Remington Sholes and Glidden below) in 1874 for $125. In 1875, he writes in a letter to the Remington company that he is no longer using his typewriter; it corrupts his morals because it makes him want to swear. He gives the infernal machine away, twice. It returns to him each time. And to think that today a manual typewriter can be used as an instrument to perform classical music, will wonders never cease to amaze?

Before intermission Emanuel Ax performs Mozart's Piano Co. No 25, with a long introduction by the PSO including beautiful strings and accents by flute and horns. Ax's performance was superb, and the crisp sounds of the piano and orchestra were perfectly heard by me in the fabulous seat I had at the very center of Heinz Hall.

Every time I hear Mozart's works I think of his playful nature. I just read a book called "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart," by Roland Tenschert (available at the Carnegie Library Main). Overall it gives a great look into the life of Mozart, which to me seems bitter-sweet, his life was that way, so many disappointments because of his difficulties in finding a suitable position for so long, and when he finally found himself in Vienna, it seemed to end so soon because of the illness that took his young life. Yet through it all he had a great zest and playful nature that shines forth in his music. Even in the examples of his letters to his father his spirit can be seen.

After intermission we hear Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5. According to the composer: "In the fifth Symphony I wanted to sing the praises of the free and happy man - his strength, his generosity and the purity of his soul." Recently I have been re-reading the book Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and the image of the scenes in the book flashed through my imagination as the music progressed. The first movement to me represented the great and vast Mississippi river. The second movement, sort of a scherzo, represents the mischievous and always dreaming Tom Sawyer. Huck, on the other had, is more pragmatic and definitely could be described with having a 'purity of soul.' He was free and when he and Jim left on the raft, to me the third movement portrayed this vividly. The fourth and final movement seemed to fit quite well the adventures along the river with the King and the Duke.

Another treat this evening: after the performance in the second half of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5, Leonard Slatkin comes back out and gives an encore -- that's right, a symphony encore. His father, Felix Slatkin, was a gifted violinist and conductor and also did arrangements like the one we heard this evening called Carmin's Hoedown, based on Bizet's Carmen, and also makes use of a familiar barn-dance tune. This evening it was performed wonderfully by the PSO - a beautiful ending to a wonderful concert.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Resonant orotund retorts

Wagner and Verdi's compositions contain no less than an abundance of sonorous effluence affecting the ears with parabolic outbursts which in any other context could be considered excessive. Yet here at Heinz Hall the horns, sounding deeply, bursting forth with resonant orotund retorts, generate only the most profound resonance beyond the articulate orchestral phrases, evoking an emotional feeling like no other. I came here this evening to enjoy the Wagner, and I was swept away not only with his beautiful compositions, but with the Verdi as well. The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh along with soprano Simona Šaturová and baritone Gregg Baker were the icing on top of the cake.

One thing of particular interest: I noticed four extra horns, looking somewhat like French Horns, yet slightly larger, inverted and facing upwards. After a brief internet search, I discovered that these are likely called the Wagner Tuba (also referred to as the Bayreuth tuba). There were also 4 extra violas, and for several of the scores, a set of four or five additional trumpet players were arrayed in the balconies on either side, producing the most marvelous effect. Some of these trumpets were the very long and produced a different sound indeed. Conductor Manfred Honeck seemed to be in his prime, happily ready and able to conduct one of the premier events of the season. "Das Ring des Nibelungen, Wagner’s epic opera cycle, is the first composition which included the Wagner tuba and was premiered at The Bayreuth Festspielhaus (Bayreuth Festival Theatre) in 1876."