Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pittsburgh Symphony - October 26

Pittsburgh Symphony - October 26
Conductor - Marek Janowski
Max Bruch - Scottish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 46 (with Arabella Steinbacher)
Hector Berlioz - Le Roi Lear (King Lear), Op. 4
Richard Strauss - Macbeth, Op. 23

First of all, let me say that Mark Rohr is my new favorite program-notes-writer. This week included such gems as:
"In his own time he was considered to have a similar stature to Brahms; today, not so much."
"Berlioz was, of course, a nut"
"... and often critics and audiences treat [Strauss' Macbeth] as a batty uncle kept in the attic."

I'm not being sarcastic, I really do enjoy them. His notes make me smile, because often they say what real (non-critic, non-writer) people would think, the way that they would be thinking it, if they were thinking like critics or writers, which they are not doing, because they are not.


I'll give you a minute to sort through that last sentence. Enjoy.


Back to the program. Janowski didn't really leave much of an impression on me, which was surprising considering how much I had noticed the previous two conductors through their respective concerts. I have no theories on why this is, I'm just sayin'. (< channeling my inner Mark Rohr? Maybe not . . . )

The program notes made a big deal out of how much Bruch was respected equally to Brahms in their time, and how it is a shame that this equally great composer has been so forgotten, etc etc. Sorry guys, but I disagree. It was a good piece, I enjoyed it, it was fun . . . but it was no Brahms. Let's just all get on board with that and move on.

Ms. Steinbacher was interesting to watch. She seemed to move her right shoulder much more than most violinists I've seen. But while her playing certainly looked very athletic, it didn't sound that way . . . neat trick. Her sound was lovely and everything went well (and, because I'm girly, she was wearing a knockout red strappless dress that she only pulled off by virtue of being a twig, and I mean that in the flattering, jealous way). There were a few little tears between the soloist and orchestra, but not enough to cause any serious distraction.

For an encore, she played something more modern that I didn't recognize, but in my opinion she shined more brightly during the encore than during the concerto. She seemed more at home in the style, freer, as though THIS was from the heart, while the concerto was from a publicity photo. Not that her playing in the Bruch was bad by any stretch, but it wasn't nearly as *alive* as it was in the encore. I really wish I knew what the piece was.

I don't remember too many details from this one. I enjoyed it, and I remember thinking that it would make a good college orchestra piece. Not too long, nothing too complicated ensemble-wise, but still fun to listen to.

This was the highlight of the concert for me. WHY have I not heard this before?? If you don't know it, go listen - you have been missing out. It was seriously exciting with all the extremes that you expect from Strauss . . . it had all of the personality of his other literarily-inspired works (and yes, literarily IS actually a word), but because it alludes to rather than outlines the plot, it has somewhat more musical freedom. I wish I could remember more details about this performance, but suffice to say that I wandered out with a huge grin that lasted the rest of the afternoon. I must get a good recording of this piece, asap.

Pittsburgh Symphony - October 19, 2008

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra - Oct. 19, 2008
Conductor - Leonard Slatkin
with Hila Plitmann, Soprano and Kevin Deas, Bass,
and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh
John Adams - Slonimsky's Earbox
Derek Bermel/Wendy S. Walters - The Good Life (World Premier)
Dvorak - Symphony No. 9 in e minor, Op. 95 "From the New World"

Please excuse the belatedness of these next few posts. I have no heat in my apartment yet, and ice-cubed fingers are not conducive to typing! But since it warmed up today, here we go . . .

I was excited to see Slatkin conduct, and he truly was a class act in every sense. When he addressed the audience, he was soft-spoken and articulate, and yet was clearly passionate. In his conducting, he was so stable and grounded - quite a contrast from Andris Nelsons the week before (though I did enjoy watching both of them, they were VERY different in style). Also, when he was leaving the stage, he always did a few steps in a very adorable, bouncy half-run sort of gait. It was endearing.

I remember that I really enjoyed it, but not much else . . . guess I waited too long on this one . . . oops! Still, it was my favorite of the Adams pieces that I've heard this season. So here you have it: a generic thumbs up with no corroborative detail.

This was a world premier, the piece was commissioned to celebrate Pittsburgh's 250'th anniversary. It was a big to-do, with two soloists and a large choir. BUT . . . can't say I liked it. It was long, with no breaks between movements, and I thought the libretto was pretty cheesy (sorry Ms. Walters!). Well-done and all, but just not to my taste I guess. The soprano soloist's tone wasn't very appealing, either, although I guess she has a very good reputation so it's possible that I just don't know what I'm talking about (as always). The bass, however, I liked a lot. When he was singing, I kept thinking about how much I wanted to hear him do Porgy and Bess . . . lo and behold, the program notes said that that was his signature role. Now, before I start sounding too negative on this one . . .

LOVED LOVED LOVED IT. Of course, how could you not? It's Dvorak 9! Slatkin gave some really interesting comments at the beginning about the piece being less about America and more about homesickness while in America . . . because after all, while there are melodic elements that reflect American music, the piece is clearly in Dvorak's personal, Bohemian style. It was sort of a different experience listening to it from this perspective. In this performance, I was particularly impressed by the brass - their featured sections were so warm and big and powerful, and really well-blended. Also the big English horn solo was the most mellow English horn sound I've ever heard. None of the harsh buzz that sometimes happens with that instrument. It was another exhilarating finale at Heinz Hall.