Friday, October 17, 2008

Pittsburgh Symphony - October 10, 2008

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra - Oct. 10
Conductor - Andris Nelsons
John Adams - The Chairman Dances
Christopher Theofanidis - Violin Concerto (World Premier) (with Sarah Chang)
Sergei Rachmaninoff - Symphony No. 2

First off, the conductor. I had never heard of Andris Nelsons, but wow - I have never seen someone conduct with their entire body like that. And not in the showy, pretentious, "look-how-musical-I-am" kind of way . . . the movement was so organic! Even his knees and feet were conducting (and I could see his movements this clearly from the next-to-last row of the top balcony). I couldn't take my eyes off of him most of the night. He's young (early 30's I think) - watch for this guy, I guarantee that you will hear about him if you haven't already.

Adams - The Chairman Dances
I wasn't into it at the beginning, but as it went on it developed a really neat groove. My favorite part was the ending. I didn't even realize it was happening until it was almost over, but the orchestra fades out bit by bit to leave the piano playing solo. Very neat effect.

Theofandis - Violin Concerto
Had never heard of this guy, but really enjoyed the piece. Since it was the world premier, he was there, and gave a little talk about the piece before they played it. It was interesting to hear the conductor talk about the creative process and talk us through the ideas that he used (illustrated by the concertmaster playing the excerpts as they were discussed).

The first two movements are lyrical, and the third is a technical showcase. The first movement was especially beautiful - at one point the violin section is playing a unison melody really softly on these whispered high harmonics while the soloist played a quiet countermelody . . . . I actually teared up a little. Eerie and haunting and gorgeous.

Sarah Chang - amazing. She is so musical. There was one particular passage where she played a series of repeated notes (sounded like one eighth note on beats one and three, separated by rests, or something to that effect), and I was just blown away by the fact that each individual eighth note sounded like a phrase in itself. How can one short note be so expressive???

I was ever so slightly underwhelmed by the last movement - not that she didn't play the ridiculously difficult thing perfectly (it was written for her to play at this performance, after all), but I just wanted some more power from her sound. I'm assuming this is because I was about as far away as I could possibly be, and she appeared to be about 4 inches tall from my seat. ;)

So, whenever a recording of this piece comes out, buy it. Stunningly beautiful. Modern, interesting, but still seems to be grounded in a lyrical aesthetic (even the fast part).

Also, Sarah Chang moves A LOT when she plays. At one point I was a little worried that she would fall over on some string players. She kicks her feet around and paces a bit. This is neither good or bad, just an observation, and it surprised me a little bit.
(And also, I just have to note that her dress was fabulous! Silver and sparkling in the light, backless, long, with a flared skirt.)

Rachi V was great, of course. Not quite as goosebump-worthy as Mahler was a couple of weeks ago, but it was so unbelievably solid and they really took it up a notch at the end. Great fun. Also, I'm pretty much in love with the principal clarinet player. He nails it every time - it's just perfect - his solos make me hold my breath.

National Symphony Orchestra - October 4, 2008

National Symphony Orchestra - Oct. 4
Conductor - Miguel Harth-Bedoya
Beethoven - Overture to "The Consecration of the House," Op. 124
Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58 (with Helene Grimaud)
Shostakovich - Symphony No. 5

Nicole and I showed up only to be told that there were no student tickets that evening - bummer! But the awesome guy at the ticket office said that somebody had just cancelled two $78 tickets in the tenth row, and he gave them to us for $20! More ticket luck!

The Beethoven Overture was, honestly, disappointing. There were numerous ensemble tears, the string sections didn't always line up within themselves (violas playing undulating 8th notes, I'm talking to you), there were tempo problems (rushing, first violins!), the winds hung over on some cutoffs, the last stand of first violins were slouching back in their chairs and not using much bow . . . AND a clarinet played in the rest before the final chord. Talk about a buzz-kill. At this point, I was wondering if it was worth even the $20 we paid.

The Piano Concerto was better . . . still, the orchestra played like they were bored. The soloist was golden in the soft moments - so delicate and musical and perfectly played - , but didn't seem to have the power that one expects from a pianist playing Beethoven. It was good, but not great - I fell asleep a couple of times.

Intermission - we were nervous. A lackluster Shosti 5 would be a little soul-crushing.

FORTUNATELY - the Shostakovich was awesome. I would have liked some more precision from the first violins in the first movement (some of the moving figures after sustained notes didn't start exactly together). The rest though . . . stunning. Movements 2, 3, and 4 . . . SO great. And after sitting for the third movement, you'd better bet that the brass section let it rip on the finale opening! There was plexi-glass in front of the brass, and it was still just a wall of sound! Very impressive.

Overall - the strings weren't as together as I expected, the winds were "nice" but didn't have as much depth of sound as I'd like (the principal bassoon did have a killer solo in the Beethoven overture, though), the brass were pretty kick-ass.

So it turned out to be a great experience after all. Ok, so it was a guest conductor . . . but still. My disappointment was less because of the occasional imprecision and more because the whole orchestra just seemed BORED most of the time! Because really - if they can play Shosti like THAT, why did they waste my time with that sad, half-hearted excuse for Beethoven?

*Disclaimer - I am, of course, well aware that that orchestra is full of amazing musicians who are all a great deal better than me. But the fact remains that the first half of the concert was just not exciting. Sorry.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pittsburgh Symphony - September 27, 2008

Pittsburgh Symphony - Sept. 27
Conductor - Manfred Honeck
John Adams - Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto (ft. Joshua Bell)
Mahler - Symphony No. 1 "Titan"

First off, the hall is freaking gorgeous - marble and gold leaf everywhere. That alone was an experience! And hooray for student ticket prices - Chuck and I got seats in the first row of the balcony for $14 each. Watching the strings from above like that was awesome - with the exception of occasional short bow strokes from the last couple of stands, they were pretty militant in their precision. It was mesmerizing at times.

Adams -
I was really wrapped up in the performance, and I was paying attention . . . and yet I don't really remember the piece! It was . . . . hypnotic, then it stops. Very cool, had never heard it before (except in a piano arrangement.)

Tchaik -
Well, it was Joshua Bell. The fast movements were amazing - perfectly clean, sounded easy. But the slow moments didn't move me as much as I would have hoped. A great piece, of course, and it was fun to listen to (especially the first movement - I was so glad everybody clapped for it! Silly stodgy conventions and their no-clapping-between-moveme

Mahler -
Amazing. I should have written this sooner, because now all I remember was that it was amazing. Especially the third movement and the finale . . . just, wow. Yay PSO!

Overall - it was so exciting, I literally had goosebumps at the end. Such a fun night. And this was so early in the season (2nd concert of the first weekend) with a brand new conductor . . . I cannot wait to hear how they sound together by the end of the year! (Also, he's working on recording a Mahler CD with them - when it comes out at the end of next year, BUY IT.)