By Andrés Franco, Assistant Conductor, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
As assistant conductor for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, my responsibilities include serving as cover conductor for Maestro Honeck and the guest conductors, as well as conducting the orchestra in a variety of concerts throughout the season. After a few months of attending rehearsals and listening from the audience’s perspective, I finally had the opportunity to step on the podium and conduct the orchestra at the end of November. The wait paid off nicely, as my first week was truly a PSO immersion course: I conducted three different programs in three rehearsals and five concerts in FOUR days!
The week started with an all-Mozart program we created to introduce fourth-grade students to the music of the great composer. Over 5,000 students came to Heinz Hall and heard Mozart’s very first composition performed by Joseph Thomas, a 10-year-old pianist. Also included were the overture to The Marriage of Figaro, selections from Mozart’s first and last symphonies, A Musical Joke, a movement of his third Horn Concerto performed by Principal Horn Bill Caballero, and the Alleluia from Exsultate Jubilate performed by soprano Katy Williams. The audience also heard students from Mt. Lebanon performing Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony. We talked about Wolfgang and his family, including his talented sister, Nannerl, and father, Leopold, who were very influential in Wolfgang’s musical training. From their reaction, I suspect many students went home wanting to learn how to play the horn, and I know all of them left with a new favorite piece by Mozart. Most importantly, they saw several children their age perform on stage at Heinz Hall, a memory I hope will stay with them for a long time, and inspire them to keep attending concerts.
The next day we went to Grove City to perform a program of music written in America. The concert was performed at the main Performing Arts Center in town, and I could tell the audience was very appreciative of the opportunity to hear the orchestra in their hometown. But in addition to bringing great music to this community, the concert also had an educational component. A few weeks before, I had visited Grove City College and rehearsed its symphony orchestra on repertoire it was to perform later in the semester. I also worked with a group of students who had been selected to perform side-by-side with the PSO on Copland’s Variations on a Shaker Theme and Hoe-Down. The evening concluded with multiple curtain calls after the Pittsburgh Symphony’s wonderful performance of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9.
The last concert of the week was the annual Light Up Night Concert at Heinz Hall. The free concert launched the holiday season with the festive sounds of Dvořák’s Carnival Overture, Strauss’ Die Fledermaus Overture, and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. Fifteen-year-old violinist Nathan Meltzer, winner of the Duquesne University Young Artist National Concerto Competition, performed Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and vocalists Claudia Rosenthal and Brian Vu, from the Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist Program, sang music by Strauss and Lehar. This was a community-wide celebration of a Pittsburgh tradition. After the concert I got to walk around downtown, visit the Holiday Market, and see the fireworks. It was the perfect end to a very intense week.
As a conductor, I believe it is very important to build relationships with the local community, educate the musicians and audience of the future, and share my love and passion for music. My first week on the podium was highly rewarding in all aspects, and having the opportunity to conduct so many masterpieces with this wonderful group of musicians was a dream come true.
One of the things I like the most about this orchestra is its committed, expressive, visceral playing. Audiences flock to Carnegie Hall, the Berlin Philharmonie, the Wiener Musikverein, and many other major halls around the world to hear it. It is amazing that the residents of Pittsburgh get to hear this world-class orchestra without having to leave town. Whether you are a fourth grader discovering the music of Mozart, a student at Grove City College, or a visitor enjoying Light-Up Night, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is here for you!