Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An Ode to Joy in Temporal Time

An Ode to Joy that I've been waiting for, and it approached my hearing in temporal time. And that precise placement on the timeline has passed and now it's gone except for the memory, which is divine.

Last weekend's concert with Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra premiered Christopher Theofanidis' "The Gift”. I enjoyed this PSO commissioned piece immensely for the music and this tenor singing.

The composition, based on it's name got me to thinking, with every gift there is also a Giver. In this case the giver was board chairman, Dick Simmons, to whom this piece was dedicated. But in my mind I started thinking more generally as the piece progressed. I thought of a book I read a few years ago called "The Giver" about a boy growing up in some future society where everyone was equal and the same, and there was no individualism. Yet in the story, as there always typically is, one boy finds a way to rebel against this obvious restrictive nature setup in the beginning, restrictive to human and individual desires to excel. They even outlaw 'color' -- no one is allowed to see color as it might make them strive for more. The boy begins by momentarily seeing the color red when an apple is thrown to him. The book goes on and on with his journey to rebel when he and a girl eventually leave this society to the wilderness to rough-it and build their own.

I heard colors and beauty in the composition. I did not read the text or try to hear the words from the tenor, because to me the music is what I came for, and the music is the real base for the conceptualization of beauty. And indeed there was beauty.

Beethoven's symphony number 9 was the masterpiece I came to hear. I enjoyed it fully. Yet this version was an interpretation by Music Director Manfred Honeck. His idea was to use the metronome marks from Beethoven himself. He introduced the idea in a generous introduction to the audience. To me, these introductions are both informative and rewarding, and I always appreciate it when a conductor takes the time to do so. It also lets us see a little of their personalities, which for all the conductors witch have performed with the PSO, is entertaining and a treat in my opinion.

Honeck talked at length about tempo, for which he vehemently stressed in many ways was traditionally slow, and in his portrayal will be faster, adhering to Beethoven's markings. Yet he did briefly delve into a few other changes he was to make. He talked about the 'wording' of the notes and choral parts and how they are accented. For instance the word 'Bruder' (which means Brother) was to be accented on the leading part and then softened at the end. I heard that during the concert. That word is used quite a lot in the 'Ode to Joy'.

I did enjoy the tempo (he got a laugh when he said that the quicker tempo would make for a quicker ending to the concert). I enjoyed it as I always enjoy this concert, and I think either way I would not object. The rhythms and accents were also interesting, to this I did not object.  The tempo, especially for movements 3 & 4 were fast and enjoyable specifically because we could here the difference that he had demonstrated at the beginning, and I could sense that Honeck and the PSO must have spent a lot of time rehearsing for this.

I want to give particular kudos to Angela Meade, soprano, Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano, Anthony Griffey, tenor, Alexander Vinogradov, bass and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh for the beautiful vocal and choral parts in the 4th movement. To say that I'm a Beethoven "Ode to Joy" devotee is an understatement, I've heard it so very many times. I think that the first time that someone hears the 4th movement they might not fully appreciate it. Yet after a while it grows on you, then it becomes a part of you.

To me, for the first two movements, I could not sense a difference in the tempo between this version and the so-called 'traditional' versions. The famous second movement is a main-stay, and always brings a smile to my face.

My only complaint was with the first movement, not the tempo, not because it wasn't well performed. There was something wrong that was difficult for me to place my finger on. The best I can say was that perhaps the trumpets in a few spots, even though they were soft, seemed out of place. I wanted to more fully enjoy the strings yet was distracted by the trumpets. Perhaps all the recordings I've heard mix it that way and I'm just used to more strings. Yes, the first is my favorite movement so I want it to be just right. Yet what is 'just right' is certainly objective.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Beyond the mere brocade

Frequent movement all around, with percussion to astound.
Harmonies give light to sound, christening a pluck redound.
Subtle serenade subsists with symphonies and blades.
Yet gentler rhythms spark the nightly shade.
Listen to the flowing holographic chant: it's just been made,
moving over altitudes beyond the mere brocade.
And it's said, that nothing happens,
unless an act can move from here to there, and then we'll trade.

On the stage of Heinz Hall with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra last weekend were three distinctly unique artists with great appeal.

First up, Mason Bates introduces his composition: "Desert Transport contemplates the dynamic Arizona landscape from the high flying perspective of a helicopter. The journey begins in the hubbub of an airport hangar but ultimately takes us to the mystic heights of an Indian cliff dwelling." I remember being immediately drawn to this piece, it pulled me in and kept me anticipating the next pulse of the progression, the movement of the programmatic content in perfect harmony to the musical amalgamation. And thus the little poem up above is my tribute to this marvelous piece of music, and my congratulations to Mr. Bates for being here this season with the PSO, I enjoyed every bit of the new music, especially this one played last weekend.


Next Joshua Bell plays Leonard Bernstein's Serenade for Violin and Orchestra. The ideal of this serenade seemed to aim for a more modern appeal. Yet my anticipation conflicted with the reality of the rendered aspect. It's not that the playing wasn't superb, nor that the constructs and mechanisms weren't well portrayed. I just wasn't in to this composition. Bell was superb, and I detected a hint of dissonance here and there, but I suppose that was the way it was supposed to be. All in all I can't complain, hearing a premier musician with a world class orchestra play a less often played composition, that's what I strive to hear. But the worst part was that Bell didn't come back out on Saturday night and play an encore.

And last but not least, conductor Juanjo Mena provided immediate flavor with his long coat tails, curly long hair and riveting eyes. I read in the program that he has appeared worldwide with so many different orchestras - to me that's not easy to imagine. When conducting he draws your attention with wit and slow concentration, leading the orchestra effectively with unhurried motions. With the Brahms Symphony number three I was drawn as much to his conducting as to the beautiful music.

My friend and I had a discussion of which 'Symphony 3' is better, Beethoven or Brahms. I chose Beethoven and my friend chose Brahms. Then we heard the music, and the way it was played by the PSO made me doubt my decision, the Brahms was wonderful.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Painting at Heinz Hall

Painting on the ground floor at Heinz Hall

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Bach recapitulation with fruitfully expanding experiences

The search for the beauty of classical music is always a never-ending journey filled with fruitfully expanding experiences. One of those threads that keep recurring for me is the notion that I might contemplate the composer with the most brilliant and beauteous music. Shall I choose Mozart or Beethoven or beyond? Yet if I think of Johann Sebastian Bach, I think of Baroque, and believe that it is indeed a nice form filled with pleasing music; but somehow the thought just fades. Yet it is Bach that set the standard, he invented some of the most beautiful music out there, and to listen to it live at Heinz Hall was a special treat, broadening my horizon and reviving the form.

Even Mozart near the end of his career tried to study and use aspects invented by Bach in his music (from "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart," by Roland Tenschert). Mozart didn't really get to study or hear the wealth of music from Bach before his road to genius was set forth, yet that's the way it was back then, not too many were able to see or hear these compositions. Today it's so easy to access so much music, its almost ironic.

It was a joy to watch Jeannette Sorrell conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and expertly play the beautifully adorned harpsichord that was before her. At first she would conduct facing the orchestra, intently conducting with pursed lips and determination in her eyes; then she would and play the harpsichord standing up, and through it all she seemed to be always smiling, as if hearing and playing and conducting for the umpteenth time was just like the first. Later she would sit and play, especially for Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, the Allegro movements which must be very demanding. It's said that Mozart composed a lot of notes, well I think that perhaps it is Bach that has scribed down quite a few more -- rapid notes translated into her fingers ranging up and down the the dual sets of keyboards in an awesome display.

Using binoculars at a performance like this is indispensable, I could see the aspects of the harpsichord and the each of performer's techniques on each of their respective instruments. I was able to see that this was a Willard Martin made in Pennsylvania like the one in the photo here...
http://www.flickr.com/photos/maestroben/381085381/in/photostream/

I noticed that two separate microphones were mounted above the two harpsichords, respectively, indicating that perhaps they were recording this performance to be replayed next year on wqed.org

Between the #1 and #3 Jeannette Sorrell indicated that "it is with great pleasure to work with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; that this showcase for the players is a rare event - a treat to listen to all six of the Brandenberg Concertos at once - I hope you enjoy the piece as much as we do."  Interesting the 'as much as we do' - it really did seem like all the musicians truly enjoyed the compositions, especially Jeannette Sorrell. 

Later she indicated that Bach didn't compose all of these concertos at the same time and it is probable that Bach himself never heard them together like this as they require different ensembles of instruments and musicians. She suggested that Bach, through the use of Baroque, wanted to affect the ideal, or move the emotion of the audience.  Interesting, it does have that effect on me, yet when I think of his music, somehow I think the music seems mathematically perfectly composed, as if different threads are interwoven in a perfect amalgamation that affect our inner being in more than a metaphysical sense. So is it science or is in emotional affect? Whatever it is, it's beautiful.

The final concerto was No 2. They saved that for last because it had the largest ensemble of musicians, and of course especially because of the trumpet, oboe, flute and violin, played by George Vosburgh, Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida, Lorna McGhee and Noah Bendix-Balgley respectively. The trumpet just blows you away with its high tones and the amazing technique from Mr. Vosburgh, I can still hear it in my mind to this day.

My daughter attended the concert with me, here are a few of the things she wrote to me in the margins of my program, and of course they are in French, the language she is currently studying in school.
 J'ai un question pour soi.
Apr├Ęs. Quoi?
J'ai sommeil