A Guide to the Orchestra – with a pop quiz

According to guest conductor Leonard Slatkin, “Tonight is Show Off Night.” He was referring to showcasing the talent of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and two of their players as soloists. Randolph Kelly began with the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra by Walter Piston. This was not one of my favorites compositions perhaps because it’s very brooding, yet it provided a great showcase for the solo viola. Kelly’s style was direct and straight forward, the volume worked well against the orchestra. I liked the second movement, yet at times it seemed like two unrelated compositions were attempting to weave their way amongst themselves. The third movement I liked best, more a classical style with pizzicato on the orchestra strings, bold brass, drums, woodwinds, the while orchestra as backdrop to the whirling viola. Kelly’s best was during the small solo part in the midst of this movement – his command of the viola accented the performance.

After intermission Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida was the soloist with the PSO in the L’Horloge de flore [The Flower Clock], a beautiful amalgamation of 7 movements representing a different flower at various times of the day – a marvelous way to programatically represent music. DeAlmeida’s oboe sounded enticing with an abundance of pure tones and perfect transitions between notes. The composition was simple yet elegant, each hour and flower providing a different melody and mood. Here are a few thoughts I had for each:

  • slowly, blooming, pizzicato, tempo
  • scherzo, sprightly, spread forth, bickering, beautiful
  • awake, swaying softly, subtle, breezy, silhouette, shine
  • jumble, tapping, spinning, dance, skipping
  • warmth, floating, reaching, endeavor, asking
  • prancing, curiosity, sneaking, ruffle
  • racing, pause, derive, hurry, jovial

At the conclusion, DeAlmeida bowed to much applause – then she indicated to her fellow woodwind players to stand, but they would not, deferring all the applause to her alone. When Slatkin came back out he asked them to rise, and this time they did. I heard one person exclaim: “It takes a conductor to get the orchestra to stand up – now we know why they make the big bucks ”

The final showcase was the use of young speakers, between the ages of 10 and 12 to introduce each of the sections and instruments during the performance of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (Variations and Fugue on a theme of Purcell). This was the highlight of the evening, and was a lot of fun too with the use of the young people seated amongst the orchestra players. A few of their introductions include:

  • Sabine – Woodwinds
  • Anna – Brass
  • Abby – Strings
  • Elana – Percussion
  • Harry – instrument variation
  • Giovanna – Oboes
  • Weston – Clarinets, Bassoon, Violins
  • Lance – Violas, Cellos
  • Cassandra – Bass, Harp
  • Adam – French Horns
  • Alex – Trumpets, Trombone, Tubas
  • Sophia – Percussion, Timpani
  • Kendall – Bass Drum, Tamborine, Triangle
  • Riley – Xylaphone, Castinets, Gong, Whip

Then they all play together in a final Fugue where each instrument enters one at a time.

Slatkin joked: “As you leave there will be pieces of paper for the pop quiz”

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