Saturday was Carnegie Mellon University Night at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I didn’t get a chance to join the pre-concert reception or meet CMU president and his wife, Dr. and Mrs. Subra Suresh, but I was pleased to see so many students from my old alma mater in attendance.
Barber: Adagio for Strings, literally there were only strings. When the music progressed to a higher octave in a fever pitch of vibrating passion, it sounded like sustained synchronized fingered tremolo; the crescendo lingered for moments that spilled out from the stage into every nook and crevice throughout Heinz Hall. Not just my ears, but my whole being felt the goosebumps of the rich lush strings, and then the music suddenly stopped—as intended by Barber, and executed wonderfully by Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony, only to return again to a lower octave, as if the symphony needed to take a breath. What mood is intended? Sad, subdued, passionate, perhaps all and more, I’m really not sure, but I can say the music is profound in its effect emotionally and musically, and I’m yearning for more.
More is what I get, because next Music Director Manfred Honeck brings us the American premier of Janacek: Symphonic Suite from Jenufa arranged by Manfred Honeck and Tomas Ille. This is a real treat as this widely ranging suite visits so many symphonic themes. It began with the xylophone as sort of a metronome. There were tempo changes that sparked interest. At one point, it seemed like the horns went wild, followed by subdued strings gradually becoming uplifting and sprightly. Then a pizzicato walk—an awakening of sorts. Next moment, it was stormy like an announcement by the orchestra of an upcoming event. Again, slow with harps and strings, bassoon and flute and a beautifully rendered strict ending.
Next, Yulianna Avdeeva came on stage to play Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. She was wearing a suit with long tails, and her long dark hair augmented the outfit admirably. The first movement showed a special synchronicity between the symphony and the soloist, and Honeck kept it flowing with great harmony throughout. The slow second movement evoked a beautiful sense of emotion, with the tune hard to forget, I was hearing it in my head even the next day. I was really impressed with Avdeeva’s technique on the fast final movement, her fingers were impressive as they spanned the keyboard, sometimes crossing over for selections.
After intermission came the grand and beautiful Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 in G major. To me, it’s like an excursion to the country. Manfred Honeck used no score, he obviously knows this music well. Throughout we were treated to rich strings to rule the night as if morning were approaching, creatures would take flight. Music to range vast land and sky. Power to engulf regions beyond my reach. Birds landing on a branch, then each one in turn flutters overhead. Outstretched wings and breezes lifting with sustained flight. It was a memorable night.