Walking into Heinz Hall on Saturday night was overwhelming. It was packed–just the way I like it. How exciting to see such a wonderful crowd on opening weekend! Due to the plethora of activities taking place in the Cultural District that evening (and the subsequent traffic jams such activities cause), my boyfriend Ross and I arrived just moments before the first piece. We hurried into our seats in Family Circle (thank you Kevin!!) and settled in for the night’s sounds and sensations.
Since it was opening weekend, the PSO started things off with the Star Spangled Banner. All of the musicians stood while playing, as did the audience members, and we all joined our voices to sing our national anthem. It was an incredible moment of patriotism and community. It made me smile, hand over my heart during the entire piece.
The Adams piece, Short Ride in a Fast Machine, started things off quickly with its steady pace and contemporary feel. It reminded me of movie music! Four minutes of fun that piece was, and I think the audience really enjoyed it. I loved the way the percussion section kept the beat, sounding almost like a ticking clock in the background. The beautiful brass section made my heart swell (I often have physical and emotional reactions to music, but don’t most people?). All in all, a wonderful way to start the evening.
The second piece of the evening, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, was amazing in terms of the technical skill it requires. Josh Bell, the evening’s soloist, did it absolute justice. At one point, I felt certain that Bell was going to saw his violin in half with the intense movements of his bow! I’ve always been a fan of Tchaikovsky’s works, with Symphony No. 5 being my favorite (particularly the Philadelphia Orchestra’s recording with Eugene Normandy conducting), but I will admit that this Tchaikovsky piece lacked a little something for me–perhaps my boyfriend Ross put it best: where was the story in it? I was so mesmerized by the technical skill that I didn’t notice any sort of "story" being told.
That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable, however. One of the things I liked best about the piece was the way in which Bell played it physically. He played towards the audience, of course, but at times he turned a bit towards the orchestra, as if to say, "Yes, this is for you, too. Enjoy. Feel." My favorite moments, though, were when Bell leaned in towards Maestro Honeck, the two making eye contact, which seemed to convey not only a connection that is needed between performer and conductor so as to make sure that they’re both on the same page (literally and figuratively), but also as if they were having a conversation with each other: Bell asking, "Can you feel it, my friend?" And Honeck replying, "Yes! I can feel it! Keep playing!" What a connection…what comradery.
As is customary, audience members do not clap in between the movements of a piece, but Saturday night’s crowd was too excited to keep quiet! At the end of the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, the Hall erupted into applause. I couldn’t help but smile. I turned to Ross and said, "And that’s only the first movement!" Sometimes customs need to be ignored.
The rest of the Tchaikovsky piece was just as technically demanding and invigorating to watch and hear. At the end, the audience applauded for what felt like a solid 5 minutes, and I sensed that they were hoping for an encore, but Bell clearly was exhausted after such a rigorous piece. It was an honor to host him for opening weekend.
Mahler, on the other hand…
I haven’t heard much Mahler in my life, but I think that will change now that I’ve had the joy of experiencing Symphony No. 1, "Titan." Wow, wow, wowie wow wow. The power of that piece had me on the edge of my seat! Trying to put it into words will not do it justice. Trust me. Particularly the last three minutes or so of the movement. With the horns. Oh.My.Word. I have a new found appreciation for the brass section. You will feel it in your chest!! Here’s a good performance of the last movement on YouTube. (If you want to hear the whole piece, you can download it here.) Be prepared for the SHAZAM! factor.
Saturday night’s concert was, just as I knew it would be, fantastic. I was moved, I was excited, I was smiling. A lot. And so was Ross. I am so deeply overjoyed that Honeck is here with us now, a part of our Pittsburgh family. And I am so happy to know that Pittsburgh concertgoers feel the same way I do. It was obvious by their reactions that night. Once again, the power of music has transformed us.
I hope it transforms you, too.