Sunday, November 2, 2008

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.

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