PSO at IUP- Theofandis, Mendelssohn, Danielpour and Beethoven – James Householder IV

I've recently become a Facebook friend of a student from Indiana University of PA who is the son of a childhood friend of mine. He's a musician and has a quick wit, I couldn't resist asking him to do a 'guest' post for the blog, based on the PSO's recent appearance in Indiana. Besides, he complemented me on my reviews, by pointing out that I "take on very imaginitive point of view."  So thanks to James for taking the time to compose the following… -Doug Bauman


Pittsburgh Symphony at IUP
by James Householder IV

Since 2001 the Pittsburgh Symphony has been in partnership with the Lively Arts at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, performing annual concerts at IUP and conducting masterclasses and other activities. This year, however, marked a much deserved revisit of the side-by-side joint concerts featuring the students and faculty of IUP. The IUP Music Department along with the Pittsburgh Symphony Chamber Orchestra presented a concert not only unique and impressive, but memorable.

The opening act featured the PSCO strings playing a quartet in three movements by contemporary composer Christopher Theofandis entitled “Visions and Miracles.” A pinnacle of modern repertoire, it was notable that even the simplest gestures such as slowly rising major scales could be made into orchestral textures painted all over the canvas of Fischer Auditorium. Originally for only quartet, this performance with a whole chamber orchestra brought together an endless pallete of colours hardly achievable by four players alone. Next, members of the PSO brought to life the comedy of Shakespeare with Felix Mendelssohn’s opus 61: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Only the “Notturno” and “Scherzo” of the larger suite of incidental music were all they needed to convey the sprightly melodrama of an entire play.

When members of the PSO brass took to the stage with those of the Keystone Winds, I could hardly confine myself to my seat. There has always been something jubilantly unsettling about bombastic brass and percussion; and Richard Danielpour's "Icarus", a work dedicated to IUP's own Jack Stamp, filled the hall with pure tangible energy. The musicians were splayed across the back of the stage in a three dimensional wall of sound flanked by two Steinway grands, paired bass drums, chimes, and other assorted goodies. The spatial qualities of the piece were enhanced further by the inclusion of an off stage trumpet. Sometimes nothing can be compared to the shock of suddenly hearing music coming from behind you when you've been all too immersed in what is going on right in front of you.

The end of the evening was marked by the promised Symphony No.8 of Beethoven. Affectionately referred to by Ludwig himself as "my little Symphony in F" as compared with the 7th, I never quite managed to find anything little about it. Great things can come in small packages and as was the case with the 8th I felt beside myself with the amount of delicate beauty and deliberate humour packed into this 20-some minute work. From its extravagent first movement featuring one of few written fortississimos in classical literature to its metronomic Allegretto and nostalgic Minuet, I felt immersed in the sheer brilliance of a man awash with both classical ideals and romantic proclivities. The substantial fourth movement with its striking harmonic interruptions came to close a work with both serious and humourous tendencies. With its leviathan 236-bar coda, I feel at ease knowing this is stamp that could only be left by Beethoven. I just grow tired of all those tonic chords!

When all the dust had settled (and there was plenty of it!), I asked my fellow classmate and friend, Stacey Burwick, a junior violin major about her experience:

"It was the best musical experience I have had in my life thus far. I've only been playing violin for five years, so being asked to play with professional orchestra players was a dream come true. It was intimidating at first … I had no idea I was sitting concertmaster until I saw my nametag on the first chair seat. I was really taken back with how laidback and down-to-earth everyone in the symphony was. They were all smiles and always willing to help you when you had questions. The concert went so smoothly – I didn't really even feel nervous up there because the symphony members were so noticeably relaxed. When Andrés Cárdenes took my hand and pulled me out of my seat at the end of the concert, it was one of the best feelings I've ever had… I knew I had been a part of something really great, something very few people get to experience. I will never forget it."

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Mar 29