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.