A Sound, Perfectly Balanced – Doug Bauman

Words cannot fully say, but notes can — notes beautifully transcribed by conductor and musician into music played on the finest of instruments, and music transduced into space and time which circles and surrounds throughout the atmosphere of the concert hall with its final destination: my ears, my heart and my soul. Those lovely sounds written hundreds of years ago by composers such as Saint-Saëns with his Piano Concerto No. 2 and Hector Berlioz, with his Symphonie fantastique.

And what a sound, perfectly balanced and matched for each section of the orchestra with power to reverberate down to the very core. This particular selection, this piano concert by Saint-Saëns, I had not heard before this last weekend’s performance. What a flavorful mix of piano and orchestra. As it said in the program notes:

“Acclaimed French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet makes a rare PSO appearance in Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No.2, a concerto the composer remarked was a reflection of a sea voyage.”

And a voyage it was, especially with the acoustics of Heinz Hall. Watching the hands of Mr. Thibaudet was fascinating, and amazing; his ability took us all on a journey through breezes and storms and smooth sailing beyond what my imagination could conceive, without the inspiration of notes provided by Saint-Saëns.

After intermission, Conductor Marek Janowski took us on another form of journey, this time one that was strictly fashioned from words to a story, a story outlined by the composer Hector Berlioz himself. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra followed the direction and put forth an overwhelmingly robust performance, but as an individual in the audience, I was not required to interpret the score strictly as portrayed. Instead, I listened hoping to feel an abstract flavor, but it was too late, my mind kept running back to the words I’d previously read in the program, and it somehow fit too well, very well, and marvelously well. So I accepted it in turn and went with the flow.

I want to make a special note that the Tubas and Harps were my favorite aspects of this piece. The harps, in that there were 4 of them, and they were easy to hear and accented several of the movements. It was fun to watch these four musicians perform with such synchronization. The tubas were fabulous, and stole the the last movement because they drove the special melody which so fantastically forms the foundation of this music. A melody that many would instantly recognize.

Afterwards, a friend commented amidst the loud applause: “Now that would overpower any stereo system, no matter how big.”

Symphonie Fantastique – an abstract flavor, by me…

Hello, hurrah, herald garish hooray,
Heed Halloween with Hector Berlioz;

Heard hectic haunting ghoulish dismay,
amidst half notes wholly grandiose

Hell hath no fury, quotations oft do say,
Quell quaff nor stray, elation cannot bray.

Delinquent syncopation inverted contra-play,
rhythm under reason, sanctioned as ballet.

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