A new perspective (or, the greatness of the PSO)

I saw Heinz Hall through new eyes on the 15th, as I took my friend who comes from a small town in Wisconsin to see Pittsburgh’s beloved PSO. I wanted the halls to be graced by women in evening gowns with tuxedoed men waiting on them, adding to the elegance and timelessness of the shimmering red hallways and white pillars. Yet even with people wearing regular 21st century clothing, I know she was impressed by the grace of Heinz Hall.

As we sat down I longed to regale her with Pittsburgh history, to mix my own numerous experiences at Heinz Hall with stories about the man who built it. I began to tell her about pickles and ketchup and then abruptly stopped. I could never do the place justice, and by the look in her eyes I knew I didn’t have to try. The atmosphere—where history met present day and people all longing to be swept away by superior music—consumed her. When the music began, I ceased to worry about the impression Pittsburgh was giving my friend; I didn’t need to worry when the PSO was on my side.

The first piece was familiar to me, and as always I enjoyed hearing the sweet strains of Ravel dance through the audience. There was a last minute change in the program, so unfortunately there was nothing for me to read about the pretty piece, but it was an apt choice to begin the night with. The second piece, ‘Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major’ by Beethoven also delighted me (and my friend). Mr. Ax was, as usual, unassuming and superb. The audience was certainly delighted with him as they encored him and would probably have kept clapping right through a second encore had Mr. Ax not tapped his wrist to remind them of the time.

At the intermission my friend and I wandered through the halls of the building and again, I saw the finery through new eyes. She told me how much she was enjoying hearing the music, and I was suddenly very grateful for the fact that I can call the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra my home orchestra and have the opportunity to see them play.

The second half saw the size of the orchestra swell until it seemed to be bursting from the stage. The two pieces—‘Suite from Pelléas et Mélisande’ by Fauré and ‘Suite No. 2 from Bacchus et Ariane’ by Roussel were both gorgeous, with lush sound and dramatic changes—going from playful to haunting to sorrowing and back to joy.

I enjoyed the music immensely, but I have to say that for a time I was quite distracted by the percussionists. My seat gave me an excellent view of them, in the back row, and I found myself wondering how they could be so precise. I have never given them much thought, back there with their drums and such, but I was intrigued at how they only played here and there, and then often a single tap on the drum or beat of the tambourine. My initial thought was: how can they keep their places? I suppose they followed along, but I would find it extremely hard to come it at just the right moment. Then I began noticing how what seemed like such a little thing could have such a great affect on the music. I would watch a percussionist and hear his instrument clearly in the flow of music, and then I would look away and listen for, say, the sound of the drum. It was amazing to hear the difference it made in creating the mood and rich sound of the music.

As we left the theater my friend was quiet, but I knew it was because she was still basking in the glow of the beautiful music. I, on the other hand, was thanking God that the PSO is right in my own backyard.

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Mar 24