Sarah Chang returns with the PSO

Tonight at Heinz Hall Sarah Chang performed, along with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Max Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1. Bruch’s brooding first movement is really a prelude, and Ms. Chang’s abilities are immediately on display. The orchestra chimes in with louder building lines, and they take turns slowly introducing the mood.

I’m struck by the flair and entertaining style she uses when playing, often leaning back after a phrase to rejoin the orchestra, or during a cadenza following through with a 360 degree broad sweeping motion of her bow like poetry in motion, her beautiful long dark hair flowing along with her and following as if part of the animation. When she played, her fingers of her left hand danced along the strings while her right hand, its reflection also seen in the sequins of her beautiful dress, expertly moved the bow across the strings. When the concerto finished, she beamed a broad gleaming smile at conductor Ludovic Morlot, then bowed multiple times for the audience, saying thank you with her lips.

In the post concert chat Ms. Chang mentioned that she was very glad to see Concertmaster Andrés Cárdenes return this weekend again. I was glad to see him too, and it was nice to hear his solo at the end of Joan Tower’s ‘Sequoia’.

Joan Tower introduced her compositions last week and this. All three of the pieces were very nice new music, but I must say that Sequoia, which she indicated that she wrote 30 years ago, was by far the longer, more dynamic and grand composition. I believe she said there were 64 percussion and/or timpani – indeed there were quite a lot of instruments and players arrayed on the stage. She said the piece was very difficult, and almost apologized for it to the orchestra members, in a fun way during the introduction.

I must admit that even though this is the first time hearing this music, I instantly became enamored with it. Several times the music portrayed a feeling of vertigo, a fitting metaphor which coincides with the title – I could envision a camera panning up the length of a huge sequoia tree, going on and on, as did the music, almost mesmerizing. There were beautiful reverberating sounds with the xylophones and winds playing together in a wonderfully synchronized blending. I’d really like to hear this again someday.

The last piece of the evening was Ravel’s suite 2 from Daphnis et Chloé. What can I say – this is really beautiful music played flawlessly by the Pittsburgh Symphony and with the added treat of the vocals of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. With the choir, this piece comes really alive! I could see smiles on the faces of so many of the choir members during and after the music, they all seemed so happy to be up there and indeed I was happy to be in the audience. I couldn’t ask for a better evening of entertainment.

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