I fully enjoyed all three compositions presented by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on Friday night. The works seemed at times like a falling star, like a meteor in speed and scope, with transience only limited by the duration of this set performance, yet forever extrapolated throughout the brilliance of a universal time, ever to be repeated in brevity and glory.
I was lucky to get a ticket at the last minute as it was sold out. All three works were played extremely well by the PSO and the soloist Denis Matsuev, including his beautifully haunting encore (Friday night). A friend also attended on Sunday afternoon, and emailed me to ask why the one review in the newspaper seemed to be rather harsh. I was surprised. In his words:
“We were at the concert on Sunday afternoon and were blown away by the concert. Particularly by the pianist. We had full close up view of the his facial expressions, keyboard, foot and finger action. His encore was an improv of jazz, Duke Ellington I believe.”
“The funny part was when we entered the hall hearing some banter between a male usher and some patrons at the rear doors commenting on the review that they had previously read about this concert. The usher was irate. At intermission we were wondering if the bad review was on the Saturday performance because we thought it could not have been for this one.”
Friday’s Concert Prelude: Robert B. Moir, Sr. Vice President of Artistic Planning for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, interviewed Music Director Manfred Honeck. Mr. Moir indicated that there would be a sellout full house. “Tonight we have the living embodiment of the great Russian tradition in Denis Matsuev playing the Sergei Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2.”
[Then he went on to introduce Manfred Honeck]: “who recently debuted with the New York Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic. Coming up: London Symphony Cleveland Orchestra. His premiers were well received. Tonight we will discuss Beethoven’s 7th symphony, your personal favorite.”
Honeck: “Beethoven was deaf and was described as basically a grumpy old man. Yet he was an idealist and individualistic. Goethe described him as a talent but utterly untamed [‘His talent astounded me; nevertheless, he unfortunately has an utterly untamed personality, not completely wrong in thinking the world detestable, but hardly making it more pleasant for himself or others by his attitude. Yet he must be shown forgiveness and compassion, for he is losing his hearing, something that affects the musical part of his nature less than the social. He is naturally laconic, and even more so due to his disability.’].
“To loose hearing in your ear as musician, that must be terrible, yet to Beethoven it was a testament. Beethoven would at first ask himself – how can I live, yet he did. When I visited Bonn, I visited the Beethoven museum. There I saw 20 different kinds of ear instruments, which was amazing – how could he compose without hearing?
He heard his own music on the inside.”
“In 1812 Austria lost battle to Napoleon. It was said that on a personal level Beethoven was not nice, but he had a wonderful soul. He composed this music for the seventh symphony and on the premier the hall was full of wounded soldiers. The 2nd movement, which was repeated at the end, was basically for the wounded soldiers. It could be considered that this music was also a tribute for the many who would leave their lives in the battle against Napoleon.”
“Beethoven had in his orchestra the very best musicians, including Louis Spohr. Beethoven was the hero, they respected him. About his Immortal Beloved, we don’t know much. Für Elise [which could have been Für Therese] was composed for her. We know that he was secretly in love. How the 7th symphony is connected we don’t really know.” [Richard Wagner called it “the apotheosis of the dance”]
“The reactions back then to this symphony were not always nice. The expectations based on his previous works were for melodies or connections to nature as in the 6th, they didn’t understand. The symphony brings lots of energy and rhythm (the essence of dance rhythms). “
“The second movement, Allegretto, has a slow rhythm, as if soldiers marching behind a coffin, a misterioso march. In the fourth movement we have the ‘craziness,’ as crazy as possible, open strings, accents, brutal entertainment. Tonight there is an aspect where I wanted to surprise you.”
“Looking at the metronome marks, Beethoven meant the tempo to be quick. Also with this symphony, for the horn it is demanding on the lips. The players with the PSO are the best in the world, it’s so fantastic what they can do. During rehearsals I asked if they could save the power a little, and Bill Caballero said they were saving already.”
“The third movement has Wiegenlieder (Cradle songs or lullabies). These musicians must have been good fathers.”
[In response to a question]: “Beethoven did compose with optimism, a spirit which would never give up. He had a lot to gifts to give.”
To introduce the actual concert before the sellout crowd, Honeck spoke of the meteorite that hit parts of Russia, and that in an upcoming concert the PSO will present compositions by two musical meteorites, Wagner and Verdi.