This year the PSO is celebrating Heinz Hall’s 40th anniversary – it was renovated in 1971. Some of the photos of the construction, the building plans and the program and tickets of the inaugural concert are on display in the lobby, along with a painting of Modest Mussorgsky, who in the year 1874 wrote ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, a suite in ten movements composed for piano. However, what we hear performed by the orchestra is a beautifully orchestrated version composed by Maurice Ravel in the 1920’s.
Listening to the music, I hear for the first time the sounds and music which must have been conjured in the imagination of Mussorgsky by the paintings. I had not seen the paintings until after the concert, but based on the titles of each movement, I was finally familiar with the programmatic content intended. I’ve heard this piece countless times without thinking about the programmatic content – and perhaps that’s good because I could hear and interpret for myself what the music means to me. This evening what occurred to me is that every other movement seems to alternate between something hauntingly beautiful, as with one movement that effectively uses the Saxophone, Bassoon and Oboe to blend an eerie effect, with other rather upbeat and snappy movements like the ‘Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells’ and ‘Baba-Yaga – The Hut on Fowl’s Legs’. The conclusions came in the form of The Great Gate of Kiev, by far the longest and most impressive conglomeration of brass and bravado led by conductor Manfred Honeck and the PSO to bring the audience to an eventual standing ovation.
The surviving works by Hartmann that can be shown with any certainty to have been used by Mussorgsky in assembling his suite, along with their titles, are as follows: