PSO Preview, from Hoe-Down to an American in Paris – Doug Bauman

Last night a preview concert at Heinz Hall afforded me a chance to re-immerse myself into the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s particular flavor of classical music. Seating was not assigned, so my friends and I eagerly occupied the Grand Tier section, upon choice ornate chairs. It was a great vantage point to see and hear the orchestra, but my preference is still in the upper sections, as far as quality and even distribution of sound are concerned.
Conductor Lawrence Loh opened the concert with Copland’s “Hoe-Down” from Rodeo, an instant crowd pleaser to say the least. Following, host Larry Richert, announcer from KDKA radio, infused his humorous impression of the music: ‘Beef, it’s what’s for dinner’, as the old TV-ad would say.
Next came a new piece of music for me, Shostakovich Symphony 5, II. Allegretto. All evening the selections were only parts of a composition. This was a way to present as much to the attendees as possible, as an introduction of what will be heard in the upcoming season. We heard one of my favorite composers, Johann Strauss Jr’s “Long Live Hungary.” My friend, also in attendance, appreciated the work since he loves waltzes and his father was born and raised in Budapest. It was an excellent performance. His comment: “Very good expression – very crisp”
Ellen Chen-Livingston played the violin in the Adagio middle part of the Brahms concerto. Her long flowing red dress was beautiful, as was her rendition of the solo parts of this excerpt. My friend and I were really impressed. Her two daughters presented Ms. Chen with beautiful roses. Then came Mozart Symphony No. 30 IV Presto, which Mr. Richert indicated was the first time the PSO had played this piece. I would like to hear the whole symphony, all of Mozart’s symphonies are very pleasing. The ‘presto’ projects a fascinating picture of the season to come.
Finally, before intermission, the PSO rocked the house with a fantastic exhibition of “Mars” from “The Planets” by Holst. Wow, the dynamic range of this symphony orchestra is hard to believe if one doesn’t hear it in person at Heinz Hall.
After intermission came Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (the music most associated with the movie “2001, A Space Odyssey”). This is another one of those ‘WOW’ pieces that the PSO does so very well. Then came a piece commissioned for Richard Danielpour “Zoroastrian Riddles.” I enjoy new music, especially when I can hear it more than once, so I look forward to experiencing the whole piece in the upcoming season. If you think about it, new classical music is really very much a collection of riddles, because to hear, absorb, and fully appreciate a composition, I find it is best to sample it again and again, to transcend first impressions, to build a deeper understanding and appreciation. Riddle me this Batman: Why not try it yourself? Come and listen to the PSO.
Music Director Manfred Honeck, who was not there up until this point, was introduced and presented an explanation of his thoughts on the music this season. He talked of his favorite composer, Mahler, and the heights to which his music transcends emotions like sadness, joy and love. His admiration for Pittsburgh was revealed in his comments about our energy, vibrancy and renewal, along with our passion. It was Honeck’s passion for music that always kept me en garde and yearning for more last season.
The two last performances of the evening, were Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” and Prokofiev’s “Symphony No 5.” Both highlighted the PSO very well, in their range, depth, and especially subtleties and clarity of expression. Don’t forget next week’s ‘Enchanted Evening‘ with Itzhak Perlman, violin, and Manfred Honeck conducting, Wed, Sept 9, 7:30pm

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