“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” ~Plato
Friday’s concert was a rare treat. With Leonard Slatkin as conductor, he opened us with a composition by Cindy McTee — ‘Double Play’ (2010). It was brilliant, luscious, and radiant. As I have stated in past blogs concerning new compositions, it is not easy, to understand and identify with the foreign work at hand. But, was not the case with ‘Double Play’. It grabbed you right away with such entrancing, mysterious and irresistible qualities. It grabbed me as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony would grab you and plead you to listen with such urgency to hear the message the composers hope to convey to the audience. ‘Double Play’ did not have that frightening intensity as Beethoven’s Fifth relishes in, but was unquestionably alluring. The first movement of ‘Double Play’ bears the name “The Unquestioned Answer.” What a fitting name, or apparently McTee would not have chosen it. We were given an answer to a question or incident that went long unanswered. Or, at least that is how I perceived it. We had to draw our own conclusions. Sometimes compositions that have evasive or vague qualities in the message are the most pleasurable to revisit, for we can always try to come to a new idea. “If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.” ~Gustav Mahler The PSO premiered this [Double Play] piece at this week’s concerts. It was first premiered with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra with Slatkin as conductor again. It was nice at the completion of this work that Leonard Slatkin called Ms. McTee from the audience to the stage to be acknowledged for this hauntingly beautiful work.
Next, we were privileged to have the PSO Principal Violist, Randolph Kelly, shine as he so amazingly played Walter Piston’s Concerto for Viola and Orchestra. It is at all times a delight to perceive sound of an exceptional performance on a not-so-common instrument as the viola. Piston manages to have us fixated on the soloist right away. Such warm, clear tones elicited from Kelly’s viola. [Kelly’s] playing is wonderfully compelling and his talent to truly make the instrument sing to the heights of its capabilities is soulful and engaging. A master violist could only achieve the concerto, so technically demanding. The gorgeous lyrical lines throughout the piece, made you appreciate evermore the detail and precision with which Kelly played. He managed to attain such detail to the last existence of the note or phrase. The many chords and melodies were stunning. Kelly made the concerto seems effortless. And, I loved how he was actively involved as he “danced” during the rests.
After intermission, before welcoming the other soloist of the night, PSO Principal Oboist, Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida, they took us on an exquisite journey through Ralph Vaughan Williams ‘Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus.’ This was my favorite composition of the program. The opening by the soft sensual strings and harp, for me evoked connotations of rolling green hills and nature. Until Friday, I was unaware of this stunning masterpiece. For me, it ranks right up there with another absolute favorite of mine, Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Lohengrin Act I. The timeless, nostalgic, and meditative feel that is right before us is incomparable. “A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.” ~Leopold Stokowski. Vaughan Williams most definitely succeeded in that aspect. A magnanimous works to the fullest. “Music is what feelings sound like.” ~Author Unknown
After the thirteen glorious minutes from Vaughan Williams, still with a smile on my face, the next soloist, Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida was front and center stage as she began to perform L’Horloge de Flore (“The Flower Clock”) for Oboe and Orchestra. The name alone is charming. I had made the mistake of not reading the program notes on this piece until after it was over. In the program notes concerning the inspiration for this piece, it states this:
“The inspiration for the work, in seven continuous and varied movements, was the “flower clock” devised by the celebrated Swedish botanist Carl von Linné (1707-1778, known as Linnaeus), which classified various flowers according to the time of day at which each blooms: 3 a.m. — Galant de jour (poison berry); 5 a.m. — Cupidone bleue (blue catananche); 10 a.m. — Cierge à grandes fleurs (torch thistle); 12 noon —Nyctanthe du Malabar (Malabar jasmine); 5 p.m. — Belle de nuit (belladonna, or deadly nightshade); 7 p.m. — Géranium triste(mourning geranium); and 9 p.m. — Silène noctiflore (night-flowering catchfly).” – Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Ms. DeAlmeida showcased her talent, as she was superbly communicative with the audience. The performance and composition was exceedingly French indeed.
Finally, the concert closed with Benjamin Britten’s well-liked The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. This work commences and finalizes with an aperçu of the whole orchestra, inter-sprinkled with manifestation of the capacity of each instrument. Each section showcased their talents and qualities. Britten’s work was narrated by young musicians from across the Pittsburgh region. It was “cute”, but personally I felt it detracted from the piece. This idea of having the young musicians narrate I reason, was in fact staying quite true to Britten’s title: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.
Subsequently, experiencing this evening, I can consummately relate to Plato’s statement at the beginning of this entry. I was surely granted, “wings to the mind, [and] flight to the imagination.”