By Francesco Lecce-Chong, Assistant Conductor, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
It has been a terrific and busy start to my time with the PSO. I had the unusual task of leading four separate programs in four days during my first full week of concerts from October 21st to 24th. While it certainly kept me on my toes, it was also a wonderful opportunity to get to know everyone at the PSO as well as dive into our diverse education and outreach programs.
My first program was leading the North American premiere of the Tim Burton classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas, for accompaniment with live orchestra. Although I love conducting for movies, the preparation can be tedious. With a complex score like this one, I had both the aid of an audio and visual click track. (For the visual click, it looks a little like the video games Guitar Hero and Rock Band.) We had a lively audience filling Heinz Hall to the brim for the concert, and the anticipation could be felt on stage. So many fans came out dressed up as their favorite characters, and it was great to experience their enthusiastic reactions. Movies with live orchestra are a fantastic way to not only reach a devoted audience, but also remind ourselves of how important orchestra music is to great cinema.
The next day, it was off to Wilkinsburg, where I took part in the PSO’s 13th annual concert to support the arts and education in the neighborhood. I think I was struck most by the students who were part of the program. First, Chirelle Ray read a piece she had written about what makes her happy, and all of us were amazed with her articulate writing and great poise in reading it aloud. Next, four students at Kelly Elementary performed a few pieces on recorder with the help of their teacher, Lois Clark. I think there are few things more inspiring than to watch these young people showing their big personalities through music while having the time of their lives performing for us. It is always great for us on stage to remember how we ended up as professional musicians.
On Friday, it was off to the Allegheny Valley School. We performed in a gym where we could be right amongst our audience, bringing the music up close to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to see the PSO play. Personally, this is the way I wish we could perform all our concerts. When PSO violinist Jeremy Black performed the first movement of Mozart’s Fourth Violin Concerto, I could not help feeling that this music was meant for this intimate setting, and indeed, most music before 1800 was written to be performed in residences. I was also touched to see the effect the music had on our audience, whether it was the melodious lines of the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana or the dances in Bizet’s Carmen.
Last, but not least, I finished off the week back in Heinz Hall with my first Fiddlesticks Family Concert Presented by Macy’s. Our theme for this concert was “Sing,” and we certainly put both our young friends and their parents to the test. They sang four separate songs with the orchestra – joining soprano Katy Williams and the Pittsburgh Youth Chorus. I was perhaps most pleased by some clever arranging I did so that the audience could participate in Beethoven’s famous “Ode to Joy” from the Ninth Symphony.
Looking back on a wild week, I am incredibly thankful for an orchestra that remained cheerful and flexible as we jumped between programs, as well as a great operations team that kept everything running smoothly… and me from getting completely lost! There is much to look forward to, and I cannot wait for our next projects together!