Monday, June 8, 2015

Dovetail the Immortal Beethoven, Stepping Outside the Box

I wear my passion for classical music on my sleeve, and in the audience it's not often I see the same, with the notable exception being the applause when everyone is enthusiastic. So it was a pleasure to observe two members of the audience one row in front of me even more spirited than myself. One of the two was obviously a musician. The first half of the program during the Beethoven violin concerto I noticed mannerisms that suggested a depth of knowledge for music.

At intermission they couldn't contain themselves, and we spoke right after the applause, comparing notes on the the performance. One of the two, a flautist, was visiting from Alabama. She was in Pittsburgh for the week to visit her sister -- a perfect opportunity to see the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. During our pleasant conversation I learned a few items of note, for instance, apparently a conductor ought to stay inside his space, or box. Apparently Manfred Honeck does this well, perhaps because the PSO is quite adept at being led. I found out that what I was calling 'improvisation' actually is called 'cadenza' -- an elaborate flourish or showy solo passage, sometimes improvised. Additionally, she indicated that the PSO executed what she described as 'dovetails' or transitions between instruments or sections harmoniously.

Christian Tetzlaff lent emphatic emphasis to the solo violin with his physical movements, often rotating his upper torso in tempo to the beat. To me, his sound seemed bitter and sweet, with pure tones sometimes accompanied by rough edges, yet his prowess and technique ruled the day and drew me in to the composition in a compelling way.

Pizzicato on the strings formed concentric circles as the tempo began to slow down. The drums began a march like progression of notes along with an alternative cadenza with which I was unfamiliar. Yet I was pleased to hear this concerto in a new light, as I've heard it the traditional way many times on CD. This was the beauty of the cadenza.

If one were to say the conductor or musician should stand inside their predetermined 'box', like the area above the podium, and from that vantage point boldly go forth with the music, adding sound and soul to the ensemble, building consensus in the well balanced orchestra, then one would prescribe the tradition of the form. But sometimes the music or the musician is stepping outside the box, wildly yielding flourishes somewhat beyond their boundary, building enthusiasm and vigor.

I think of a juxtaposition like this with the placement of Beethoven's violin concerto next to his symphony number 9, the Ode to Joy. The former stayed somewhat inside the box, except for the cadenzas, but the Ode to Joy launched itself outwards, with the help of Manfred Honeck, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the four vocal soloists and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. The music went well beyond the bounds that bind, encircling Heinz Hall and visiting the ears of every patron with the utmost joy this symphony could possibly dispel.

During the third movement I improvised a few poetic words that immediately came to mind:

Cantankerous bellows drum their accord below the din
of flautist lines weaving gently beyond the bows
drawn in tandem along vibrant vibrating dashes.
Horns enunciate gently below the brow of dark waving chords,
trilling, trembling tremolo excite the bend of flesh,
fingers pluck pizzicato in rhythm to the tempo.
Trumpets rudely interject temporal disharmony,
yet robust fullness returns undaunted by the blunt phrase,
again the brass sounds the alarm as if to announce a premonition.
Drums and strings insist their harmony: they will not be undone,
flowing, meandering, forever transforming, sometimes flirting,
and eventually pausing, making ready- building one last time,
level, the music subsides, all words and notes are done.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Pictures from the Floating World

I find it quite exciting to experience new classical pieces for the first time, especially a new composition like the one by David Ludwig: "Pictures from the Floating World, for Bassoon and Orchestra." This was classical in the old style, akin to the Debussy romantic music from which the composer's gained inspiration. Other works like "Pictures at an Exhibition" demonstrate how listening to a composition more than once can profoundly expand the underlying meaning of the music. I feel that "Pictures from the Floating World" would have that same depth of meaning if heard again. Yet I liked it the first time, this first experience was to me a profound exhibition.

Before the piece the composer David Ludwig spoke to the audience. "It is a delight to be here with this unbelievable Orchestra." He indicated that each of the movements "leaps off from a piece by Debussy." "The music lives in melodies, music that brings forward beautiful flowing bassoon lines." It also is based on the Japanese art tradition of Ukiyo-e print making (the 'floating world' of our every day life). Mr Ludwig indicated that the composer should not talk longer than the piece is."

Nancy Goeres did a fantastic job with the solo part, especially the long drawn out notes that seemed impossible to sustain, but she did so beautifully. The first movement seemingly had the notes always flowing down the scale, yet somehow sneaking back up. In the second movement I enjoyed the interplay between the Bassoon and the two lead Cellos. The 3rd brought forth grand sweeping melodic uplifting orchestra harmony, and an intermezzo with some carefully placed dissonant or discordant sounds, and returning again to the grander feel, more typical of a close of a piece. The next movement seemed more like a Scherzo with lots and lots of quickly spaced notes and finally with a bassoon melody line that suggested to me the possible lyric "Once under a Moon River."

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under the baton of guest conductor Juanjo Mena began the evening with Debussy: ”IbĂ©ria,” No. 2 . This is a typical Debussy composition, with abstract harmonies and melodies with a romantic flavor. I fully enjoyed the whole piece, with only the last movement being familiar.

Drumset on display at Heinz Hall for "Alternative Energy"

During Concerts On May 15-17, 2015, the Pittsburgh Symphony performed Alternative Energy by Composer of the Year Mason Bates. The first movement, "Ford's Farm, 1896", evokes a rustic Midwestern junkyard in the late 19th Century by using a bluesy fiddle and a 'drumset' made of car parts. With the help of the Pittsburgh Symphony stagehands and a few junkyard connections, Principal Percussionist Andrew Reamer sourced and assembled this drumset, which includes a tailgate, bumper, battery bracket, glove box door, and various handmade wind chimes. Please feel free to touch, but be careful -- it's made of car parts!