Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen: Yankee Doodle Mozart

At Heinz Hall on Friday the program included Aleksey Igudesman(violin) and Hyung-ki Joo(piano) along with Manfred Honeck conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I was anxious to attend, and I really didn't know what was in the program, yet I knew it would be genuinely entertaining.

The first selection was the always entertaining Bernstein Candide Overture, stunningly familiar, and much better in concert then I've ever heard pre-recorded.

Then the pair of entertainers walked on stage, ready to go. I could see it was going to be tongue-in-cheek humor to adorn the broadly classical program for the evening. Mr Joo seemed to take the lead with a zany form of comedy, followed by Mr Igudesman in more of a straight-man role, although both were funny.

I noticed that Conductor Honeck was very much into the comedy throughout the evening, often turning with broad smile to await their completion to continue with the music, which mixed very well with their routines.

I'm calling this post: "Ladies and Gentlemen: Yankee Doodle Mozart." Often Mr Igudesman would introduce the next piece with "Ladies and Gentlemen: Mozart." The first time Mr Joo asked the audience if they'd rather hear James Bond music, and Mr Igudesman asked for Mozart - both received applause. Eventually he'd play Mozart on the violin and it would transition into the James Bond theme with the orchestra.

Another inventive amalgamation included music from Rachmaninov and Eric Carmen (All By Myself) which included singing and lots of humor.

Mr Igudesman did a fantastic job singing a wonderfully orchestrated version of Uruguay.

After intermission came one of my favorite parts, a world premier PSO commission called "An Austrian in America" introduced by Honeck: "Can you guess who it is about?" There were 5 parts including 1). Overture, with Strauss interspersed with Copland, 2). Schubert Loves America (America the Beautiful with Schubert), 3). Yanky Doodle Mozart, 4). Oh My Darling Johann Strauss and 5). Stars and Radetzky Forever.

Another of my favorites was the Ennio Morricone "Fistful of Dollars" done by the pair in their own unique way. That's something not often hear live in a concert hall.

Another very funny part was with Rachmaninov's Prelude which according to Mr Joo, requires big hands, which he did not have (but only hands). So their solution? Mr. Igudesman  handed Mr Joo wood planks with fingers positioned in just the right places so that when Mr Joo placed them on the keyboard, it would play the notes for him.

The orchestra also got into the music, several times rising to the comedic occasion with some players joining the pair on stage for dancing.

I congratulate Manfred Honeck, as Music Director, and the rest of the Pittsburgh Orchestra for bringing a program filled with both classical music and broadly entertaining humor.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Valčuha and Benedetti with the PSO

Saturday's performance with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was the second time I've had the pleasure to experience the beautiful sounds of the violin played by Nicola Benedetti at Heinz Hall. In March 2011 she performed Poeme for Violin and Orchestra by Ernest Chausson and the Tzigane for Violin and Orchestra by Maurice Ravel. If those seem somewhat obscure, then Saturday's performance of Szymanowski: Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra was perhaps as much or more. Benedetti, at least in Pittsburgh, does not seem to play only the well known repertoire, and has knack for bringing these lesser known works to the audience here, and I admit that I'd never heard any of them before. The beauty of her technique was even more developed than the last time. Her ability to bring perfect pitch to really high notes, and yet expand the dynamic range of the entire instrument was a delight.

At intermission I stopped to get an autograph from Ms. Benedetti, and I asked her the name of the piece she played for an encore. It was slow, sublime and melodic. She said it is on her CD 'Homecoming', called Auld Lang Syne Variations arranged by Petr Limonov.

The conductor I've seen here several times before. He's young and energetic, yet subtle and seamless. In 2012 he lead the PSO in "The Utmost Embodiment and Rhythm of Nature" with Ravel's Mother Goose Suite. In 2010 I first saw him conducting a performance of "The Mermaid" composed by Alexander Zemlinsky described in my post "Vast oceans of harmonic bliss". This Saturday's was just as thrilling. Rachmaninoff's The Isle of the Dead is a journey with many interesting aspects.

As I said, it was a thrilling evening, if you missed it you should make a note not do so the next time. Did I mention the beautiful emerald evening gown she wore for the performance and the contrast to her beautiful long hair?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What is the greatest?

What is the greatest? When it comes to classical music, which composition should be considered the greatest? Would it be one that you would say is better than all the rest? How fine a line should we draw when we determine what is the greatest? Who's symphony was the greatest? What concerto, classified by violin, piano or any other kind instrument? We could even draw finer lines and say perhaps we'll only compare movements.

Some have said that Brahms 4th symphony slow movement is the greatest of that kind of genre, but what about the slow movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto number 21?  Would one say that the greatest finale should be Beethoven's Symphony number 5 with that fantastic ending which never seems to end -- it continues on and on with even more uplifting notes to the point where you don't want it to end, but it does.

What is the greatest symphonic poem? Could it be perhaps Franz Liszt's Les Preludes? If you've never heard it please do. Strauss waltzes are perhaps the greatest, yet this all must be subjective according to our individual taste. Our tastes are temporal for we find that over time what we deem to be the greatest will likely change.

An individual might not like what the collective group picks in the aggregate to be the greatest, yet must we accept that there is some validity in that group think? When we view the outcome of the vote we see that those are typically amongst the greatest, and that probably influences our perception as well. When we view in a vacuum the choices, it may come out differently.

To me all of classical music is the greatest. I've grown to like it more and more. And even though I'm biased, I think that the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under the leadership of Manfred Honeck is the greatest. 

The other night I heard three compositions. I took detailed notes for the first composition by James MacMillan: Woman of the Apocalypse 

Since I've trained myself to be attuned to a new composition over the many years I've been coming to Heinz Hall, I was able to direct my attention to the details of the all the elements, the individual sections of the orchestra, that made up that new piece. Here I wrote my thoughts just as I recorded them, in raw form.

I did that because as I read through the thoughts, I can envision in my own mind those memories that were formed when I heard each part. I can recollect the vague yet concrete thoughts I had at the time, and I can almost re-hear some of the parts again. No matter how eloquent and how many words, it would be difficult to describe music to another. Yet if that other has also heard it before, then we could use the words as a baseline to remember and communicate the musical thoughts.

The night was just beginning because I was looking forward to the Beethoven Romances as played by Noah Bendix-Balgley and the orchestra. I've got all these on CD and listen to them often. I wasn't disappointed. Bendix-Balgley's rendition was beautiful. The tones were so pure and sublime, I can listen to it anytime.

Finally the Brahm's Symphony No. 4. What can I say, it's the greatest, but not THE greatest, all the music was.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Hear the Pittsburgh Symphony Live at Heinz Hall just one more time

James MacMillen "Woman of the Apocalypse"
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck, conductor

Naked Strings commence
Percussion joins
Dissonant Horns fledglings hatch
Piano transcends
Drums ravage common tempo
Trombone segway her entrance
Cello stumbles
Bells ascend
Bass girds
String screech like an owl
Trumpets enunciate
Big O notes from Trombones emancipate
Drums roll thunder
Slowness descends
Piano and woodwinds ripple
Xylophones harmonize
Trumpets Sustain
Violas Scarily announce
Trepidatiosly drumming
Cellos grind
Horns accent
Percussion train has arrived
Revelry ground
Fluttery sounds underground
Grand scale top
Wood Xylophone promenade
Brass Dominates
Conductor yields ascending lines
Magical variations as the wand waves
Culminating Revelry like bees swarming
Darting hither and thither, pouncing, gone
Principle Mastery in unison
Yet dissonant sounds unavoidable
Shifting gears
Shattered grandeur
Strings enunciate
Flying heights
Woodwinds enjoin
Final Ascent
Hectic Hay-day
Resolving to naught
again Naked Strings
as in the beginning, so it is again
Monotone metronome drum
Heart beat methodically
volume, fullness
Louder, ready to Burst

Before I die...

Conduct a Mahler Symphony,
Be Happy,
Make a Difference,
Make a Better World for Everyone,
Fight a Lion,
See Alaska,
Go To Hawaii,
Run in The Boston Marathon,
Marry My Love,
Go To Outer Space,
Form a Band,
Sky Dive,
Be Rich,
Make My Parents Proud,
Live in Africa,
Be My Own Boss,
Be a Millionaire,
Fall In Love,
Just Succeed,
Carpe Diem,
Be Free,
Be the Best Dad Ever,
Become a Runner,
Save a Life,
Write on a Giant Outdoor Chalkboard,
Live Life to the Fullest,
Own a Ferrari,
Climb Mount Everest,
Goto Med. School,
Make the World a Better Place,
Marry Prince Charming,
John 3:16,
See Brewers Win,
Be a Kid,
Get Super Powers,
Become Immortal,
Dance the Cha Cha,
Find a Cure For Breast Cancer,
Be a Pokemon Trainer,
Be a Robotics Scientist,
Visit all 50 States,
Change The World,
Find Narnia,

How about:
Hear the Pittsburgh Symphony Live at Heinz Hall just one more time

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Drumroll please: Vivaldi's Four Seasons


Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Ye-Eun Choi, violin


Vivaldi: The Four Seasons for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 8, Nos. 1-4
Mozart: Chaconne from Idomeneo, Rè di Creta, K. 366
Haydn: Symphony No. 103 in E-flat major, "Drumroll"

A great concert! The Four Seasons was particularly good and Ye-Eun Choi was marvelous on violin!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Euphonic Glee

"Euphonic Blues" composed by Nancy Galbraith was a marvelously melodic and classical sounding new composition which almost seemed like a throwback to perhaps the mid-twentieth century, the kind of music that I can really appreciate. The audience seemed to agree as there was plenty of applause after the composition was complete and the composer also came on stage to receive recognition.

A polymath is a world renowned expert in multiple fields. The Economist ranked Stephen Hough in the top 20! He is expert in composing, painting, writing, conducting and, of course, as a pianist. This last weekend I was able to watch him play the solo in Mendelssohn's Concerto No. 1 in G minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 25. Indeed, wouldn't it be grand to experience some of those other works he has composed, painted, written, conducted, or otherwise. On this particular occasion the Mendelssohn concerto wasn't one I've experienced before, and it was fantastic. Isn't it nice to discover something new that's really good? This music was amazing. His fingers raced up and down the keyboard with the alacrity we might expect, yet this concerto was a surprise for numerous reasons, like the interplay between soloist and orchestra. To watch guest conductor Donald Runnicles seemingly dance a waltz with the Orchestra was a treat to behold.

  Lobby of Heinz Hall at intermission: Douglas Granger talks to Stephen Hough about his performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto No. 1

I've been waiting a number of seasons to hear Orchestral Highlights from Der Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Wagner. Beginning with Die Walküre, Siegfried and ending with Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods). Needless to say it was a spectacular, yet brief,  journey through this wonderful music. All the sections of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and especially the horns and brass, shined radiantly throughout the concert hall. Sounds echoed and reverberated in seemingly endless patterns of indescribable reflections and combinations of waves joining and separating to form a glorious amalgam perfectly blended just for me. Even at the back of Heinz Hall I was awed by the crisp clear sounds and the strings were not undone. I was also finally able to see a Wagner tuba, a brass instrument that combines tonal elements of both the French horn and the trombone, they had four of them, as well as four French horns (mostly it was 8 French horns and occasionally they would switch).

 Here is a good synopsis of The Ring Cycle including Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung—the four epic operas that make up Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera. 

The complete work of The Ring cycle is of epic scale, usually performed over four nights and lasting perhaps 15 hours. Here we got to hear just four selections in about one hour. But it doesn't matter that I long for more, it was a wonderful journey nonetheless, and I'll listen to much more on CDs or radio. But I'll harken back in my mind, over and over, the wonderful live tones I heard at Heinz Hall as a steadfast baseline to measure against.

After the standing ovation the PSO, led by guest conductor Donald Runnicles, presented a rare encore of the entire orchestra as a treat for Patron Appreciation Month. Here they played a condensed Wagner's Lohengrin - Prelude to Act III. WOW! What a way to end a concert. Afterwards I asked my daughter which piece she liked most. Her answer was Die Walküre, because I've played it so much at home or in the car and she remembers it the most.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Subtle Supplanted Expectations Expose a Smile

It was again my honor to attend a program at Heinz Hall with conductor Gianandrea Noseda, who just flew in from another concert in New York only minutes before, and Joshua Bell as soloist on violin. First up was the Lalo: Symphonie espagnole for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 21, which Mr. Bell said afterwards in a talk he had first learned when he was age 11.

Even now as I write this the full toned voice of Joshua Bell's violin is still ringing harmoniously in my mind. He has conquered the savage temperament of his instrument and masterfully tamed its pinpoint delicacies with such precision as to elicit chords of such beauty

Countenance became an expression of a tempestuous glowing fervor deep within the musical composition, which only he, the soloist could feign to adroitly release before the rapturously assembled audience whose attention could not be broken by nary a cough nor sprinkling of applause between movements. Indeed each of the patrons around me seemed spellbound by the performance unraveling before us.

Enthusiasm expressed by his mastery of the violin and the score exposed a smile in my heart translated to my lips. Simultaneously the music would affect my introspective mind as I discovered the notes were fixed yet offered more: the rhythm and other aspects of his solo interpretations supplanted subtle expectations and were deliriously absorbed by every ear.

The pure notes reached my soul and produced the most exquisite feeling of joy within me. I felt the greatest eagerness to fully hear more, yet at the same time furiously usurp the clock to slow down time so that I may savor the delicious sounds, to bathe in their silky texture and to break the surface of each luxurious tone like a swimmer emerging from a pool, refreshed.

Liszt's Faust Symphony is a joy to experience. The style of Liszt's composition is instantly recognizable, after all, this is one of my favorite composers.

After intermission Gianandrea Noseda joyfully reenters the stage, and commences with vigor. He's full of energy and exhibits it by neatly taking control of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and becoming one with the music. I read in the notes that this piece is rarely performed. There are three movements which dramatically portray the three main characters in Goethe’s rendition of the Faust legend - the fallen scholar Faust, his innocent love Gretchen, and the demon Mephistopheles. Each has it's own character, and full body which seem to programmatically follow their intended path. At once in the first movement I am reminded of another Liszt composition that I really enjoy: "Les Preludes," only with a slightly darker feel. The second movement is very quiet and very compelling. The final movement brings much intensity and a very dramatic conclusion - dare I say loud?

One final note. As I emerged from Heinz Hall after the post-concert talk I noticed Mr. Bell a few steps in front also walking down the street by himself. His anonymity seemed secure with most of the people on the streets, even at this stage of his career. I didn’t see anyone else recognize him. I would think that’s a good thing.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hearing intertwines with watching just as elements combine to form molecules

It's always fun to see that someone retweeted you, or favorited one of your tweets. Such is the life in the modern digital age:
retweeted you
Feb 8:
The rocked the planets, elements, elementary, my dear maestro!
Ohiopyle waterfall I received a message from a fellow blogger, Natalie: "back to the Elements. In the one picture they showed of the water for the "Flowing" movement, it said the photo was taken by you! How cool and exciting is that?"

Well yes, it was kind of cool. The PSO asked to use one of my photos of Ohiopyle I took a number of years ago that I keep on flickr. They wanted to introduce a new composition called “The Elements.” In the video composer Reza Vali references the Youghiogheny river.

At Heinz Hall I very much liked the Elements composition. Each of the five parts, done by five local composers, was unique unto itself, and each was very well done.

Most of all, I remember that the second of the composer's works was the most emotionally like what I might describe as representing urban decay of sorts. It was very interesting. I like the effects on the strings and other instruments of a downward push with the left hand where the note would change in very chilling ways. I wonder what that effect is called? Certainly it was creative in the use of non-traditional techniques.

Yes, it would be GREAT to hear this new composition again while I write about it. It makes writing easier.

One final thought on 'The Planes' which was performed after intermission with a slideshow of NASA space images and simulations. I had binoculars, and looked mostly at the musicians instead of the slideshow of the planets.

That is not to say that the presentation was not interesting. I do like planets and the images, but somehow one reason I enjoy the symphony so much is because I like to watch the orchestra. As I watch them, I learn more and more about the compositions because the way they are played is fascinating to me. It adds to the enjoyment and to my understanding of how music intertwines with each individual's exemplification of the notes before them and the way I hear and listen helps me become a part of the music. I can watch planets at home, but when I'm at Heinz Hall or any musical performance I'd rather watch the players. That's the true 'show'.

Hearing intertwines with watching to form a better whole just as elements combine to make molecules.