Monday, October 28, 2013

A Trill By Any Other Name

I learned something new at the Pittsburgh Symphony concert the other night. The 1732 Bergonzi violin I'd been using the term 'Tremolo', when perhaps I should have been using 'Trill'. I'm still not quite clear the exact difference and which term is best used. I was intrigued by its use all throughout Bruch's Scottish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra. Noah Bendix-Balgley created amazing sounds with his recently acquired 1732 Bergonzi violin. Yet I find his technique, and indeed that used by many violinists somewhat excessive in the use of 'Trill' especially in the slower passages. It was used extensively throughout.

At first I didn't notice because it provided interest through the slight harmonic cross of tone and dissonance. But eventually I did begin to notice. I began to notice because I could actually see the technique being employed by the solist. That seeing translated into understanding and focus, and to realization that to me, it is used to excess to such an extent that it began to gnaw on my sensibilities. Perhaps it is the purpose of the composer to include so much of this trill. The final movement was the only place where the trill wasn't so frequently used, but I think that is because the score was strewn with so many notes played in rapid succession, that it would have been impossible to do so.

As a contrast Noah Bendix-Balgley played Bach's Gavotte from the E-major Partita. Here the trill was used, but only sprinkled in sparingly. It was only used at the end of a measure or set of measures. Throughout you could hear the pure tones of this beautiful instrument, performed so well by the soloist. This is the sound that I prefer.

Throughout both performances, Mr. Bendix-Balgley composure and posture added great measure to his actual performance.

After intermission came the Robert Schumann Symphony No. 4. Blunt and bold, it hits you with its melodic lines that repeat frequently, yet I don't mind the repetition because it is developed into abundant variations and flavors, and if you listen intently, there are subtleties that augment the power and rhythm, especially in my favorite movement, the scherzo.

Nikolaj Znaider does a great job conducting the PSO with seemingly little movement, he doesn't steal the limelight from the orchestra, yet he directs their flowing out-pour of lush sounds with zest and a great smile on his face throughout. And all this without a score to read, his knowledge of the measures, the bars and the movements of this symphony is superb. I remember when Mr. Znaider played solo violin a few years ago at Heinz Hall, and now conducting he is also at the top of his form.

I don't want to forget the Fingal's Cave, or Hebrides Overture by Mendelssohn which the PSO used to start off the evening. It was simply superb. I hope they play it again soon, its worth every moment and well worth a listen!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sustained Synchronized Tremolo

Saturday was Carnegie Mellon University Night at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I didn't get a chance to join the pre-concert reception or to meet CMU President and his wife, Dr. and Mrs. Subra Suresh, but I was pleased to see so many students from my old Alma Mater in attendance.

Barber: Adagio for Strings, literally there were only strings. When the music progressed to a higher octave in a fever pitch of vibrating passion, it sounded like sustained synchronized fingered tremolo; the crescendo lingered for moments that spilled out from the stage into every nook and crevice throughout Heinz Hall. Not just my ears, but my whole being felt the goosebumps of the rich lush strings, and then the music suddenly stopped- as intended by Barber, and executed wonderfully by Honeck and the PSO, only to return again to a lower octave, as if the symphony needed to take a breath. What mood is intended? Sad, subdued, passionate, perhaps all and more, I'm really not sure, but I can say the music is profound in its effect emotionally and musically, and I'm yearning for more.

More is what I get, because next music director Manfred Honeck brings us the American premier of Janacek: Symphonic Suite from Jenufa arranged by Manfred Honeck and Tomas Ille. This is a real treat as this widely ranging suite visits so many symphonic themes. It began with the xylophone as sort of a metronome. There were tempo changes that sparked interest. At one points it seemed like the horns went wild, followed by subdued strings gradually becoming uplifting and sprightly. Then a pizzicato walk - an awakening of sorts. Next moment it was stormy like an announcement by the orchestra of an upcoming event. Again slow with harps and strings, bassoon and flute and a beautifully rendered strict ending.

Next Yulianna Avdeeva came on stage to play Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21. She was wearing a suit with long tails, and her long dark hair augmented the outfit admirably. The first movement showed a special synchrony between the PSO and the soloist, and Honeck kept it flowing with great harmony throughout. The slow second movement evoked a beautiful sense of emotion, with the tune hard to forget, I was hearing it in my head even the next day. I was really impressed with Avdeeva's technique on the fast final movement, her fingers were impressive as they spanned the keyboard, sometimes crossing over for selections.

After intermission came the grand and beautiful Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 in G major. To me it's like an excursion to the country. Manfred Honeck used no score, he obviously knows this music well. Throughout we were treated to rich strings to rule the night as if morning were approaching, creatures would take flight. Music to range vast land and sky. Power to engulf regions beyond my reach. Birds landing on a branch, then each one in turn flutters overhead. Outstretched wings and breezes lifting with sustained flight. It was a memorable night.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Can't Avoid Temptation: Fate and Fortune Elucidated with PSO

These days smartphones make the dissemination of information and photos much quicker. A few days ago I saw the tweet/photo on Twitter:

"@Lisette_Oropesa Beautiful day in Pittsburgh! All ready to sing #CarminaBurana with @pghsymphony and @manfredhoneck"

In one sense, this is a great way to remind people of what they already know, that an event like this ought to be really great, and that we shouldn't forget that we want to go and to make sure we make plans. That's what I did. I made sure I was there for Friday night's opening of the Mellon Grand Classics at Heinz Hall with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with Music Director Manfred Honeck.

As she entered the stage, one could instantly see that Lisette Oropesa looked very beautiful in her ruby red dress with frilly ruffles horizontally wrapped all the way to the ground, ruby lipstick on her lips, ornate earrings with triple inset rubies and ruby red cheeks with the most effusive smile contagious in its effect. But it was her voice that really impressed. We had to wait for quite some time while Manfred Honeck with the PSO, the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, and soloists Andrey Nemzer (tenor), Hugh Russell (baritone) and Lisette Oropesa (soprano), would get to the solo passages.

Most people have heard the first minute or two of Orff's Carmina Burana. Yet how can we avoid the temptation to listen to the entire piece, it's fate and fortune elucidated for the enjoyment of ears and eyes. I've seen and heard it twice now, and I have to say this performance was the best. And I was left yearning to hear it again, during intermission I half jokingly said to my friend, Encore, I want to hear it again, in its entirety, right now.

But let's back up the start. The concert began with an orchestrated version of The Star Spangled Banner which achieved a wonderful first sense of beginning for the new season. This was followed by the Beethoven: Overture to Fidelio, you can never go wrong with Beethoven, his music is always enduring and always a treat to listen to, especially live at the concert hall. The PSO conducted by Manfred Honeck presented this overture wonderfully.

This was followed by a World Premiere/PSO Commission by Stock: Sixth Symphony. New music is always fun to experience - this night was no exception. The music began quickly by jumping right in to what seemed like a suspenseful chase and progressed through various flavors of interesting combinations successfully using all the sections of the orchestra to individually portray sections of music, yet as a hybrid amalgamation it made sense as a conglomerate statement. My favorite was the third and final movement. I am not sure if this was intended as programmatic music, yet somehow I conjured visions of the old west in my mind, sweeping vistas, buffalo and cactus, native Americans and pioneers clashing culminated with peaceful rewriting of history.

Soprano Lisette Oropesa discusses the upcoming October 4-6, 2013 Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra...