For those who are not familiar with Kennywood, it’s a charming little amusement park that touts a unique roller coaster called The Thunderbolt. It cleverly utilizes the hilly topography of Western Pennsylvania by plunging the train down a steep ravine immediately upon leaving the leaving the station. There is no tension-filled, clanky ascent—the thrill begins straight away, without granting the rider any time to prepare.
And that, my friends, epitomizes my experience at the symphony on Sunday.
Honeck began with flair, choosing a “mystery piece” that was absolutely brilliant. (It was Franz Schmidt’s “Notre Dame: Intermezzo and Carnival Music.” The orchestra played the first movement, “Intermezzo.”) I have never connected with a piece of music as completely as I connected with that one. I don’t know if Schmidt meant the piece to be painful but it was, all at once beautiful and terrible. Wave after wave of emotion overtook me as I absorbed the extravagant sound that the orchestra dolefully wailed. I wailed along with it and my face was a disgusting, snotty mess by the end. Schmidt got it—the music struck all of the right chords, emphasizing the vulnerability of my own heart. I wanted to scream, “Do you know what you’re doing to me?!” and yet, despite the pain, it was maddening when it ended. It was truly a raw, human connection, an emotional catharsis.
And then there’s Mozart. He annoys me greatly. Yes, he was a musical genius and remains a timeless composer but that does not negate my constant irritation. His music is light and dreamy in a Stevie-Nicks-is-my-fairy-godmother sort of way. The very fact that he reminds me of Stevie Nicks is just creepy, like Mozart himself. Concerto No. 21 was quirky and surprising, though I did not find it to be nearly as engaging as “Intermezzo.” I would absolutely love to duke it out with Mozart, though fact that he has been dead for a few centuries poses a slight problem. I guess that our issues will remain forever unresolved.
I must mention that Honeck was extremely chatty and charming on Sunday! I completely adore his wit and the music is greatly enhanced by his commentary. I was also fortunate enough to have my very first “a-ha!” moment, which I hope that everyone who visits the symphony is lucky enough to experience. I was mesmerized by the volume fluctuations in Die Libelle. I thought that they were merely “interesting” until I realized exactly what was happening—the orchestra was mimicking a dragonfly using musical imagery. The realization struck me like a thunderbolt; it was quite extraordinary.
Sunday’s performance was packed with a plethora of goodies and surprises, not the least of which included a spoof of Western Pennsylvania's obsession with hunting (it’s the most wonderful time of the year, of course). It was absolutely my favorite performance thus far… and next time, I’ll be sure to remember the water-proof mascara and tissues.