An Embarrassment of Riches – Peter Greer

When you think of music making and the PSO, symphony concerts
played in Heinz Hall probably first come to mind.  One of the great
benefits of having a world class orchestra in our midst is that its
musicians are very much in demand as chamber music performers and
soloists in other venues easily within our reach.  Two examples come to
mind; both concerts occurred in November and afforded the opportunity
to hear individual PSO musicians make music supremely well.

The first took place on November 13, 2005 at Carnegie Music Hall.
It featured the Duquesne University Orchestra and as solo guest
artists, the Pittsburgh Piano Trio (PPT).  Two members are in the PSO –
Mikhail Istomin, cello and Jennifer Orchard, violin.  In their previous
lives both had been members of highly esteemed String Quartets – the
Leningrad and the Lark respectively.  The third member of the group,
its pianist, is Igor Kraevsky.  Igor and Mischa had become friends when
they were doing mandatory military service in the former Soviet Union.
Both subsequently graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatory and
later separately defected to the United States.

The American Premiere of "Episodes Concertantes" for Piano Trio
and Orchestra was performed by the Duquesne University Orchestra (DUO)
and the PPT.  It was composed by Paul Juon (1872-1940).   Mischa
happened upon it when searching for interesting and seldom performed
repertory for his trio.  Juon has been called "the Russian Brahms", but
the characterization is, if anything, misleading.  Juon’s piece, a
concerto rhapsody in three movements, has lean but highly effective
orchestrations filled with haunting melodies; however, Juon’s
harmonically inventive piece has a decidedly post romantic edge to it.
  It also has some incredibly difficult and demanding music for the
trio to play collectively and as well as individually.  All three
impressed – Juon’s composition, the trio, and the orchestra under the
able direction of Maestro Sidney Harth.  This is a piece I would like
to hear again.  Bob Moir, were you listening to the live broadcast on
QED-FM that night?   

It was an embarrassment of compositional riches that evening as
Mischa Istomin and the DUO led off the second half of the concert with
the Pittsburgh premier of Jean Cras’s "Legende" for cello and
orchestra.  Cras (1879-1932) composed his rhapsody for cello for the
virtuoso Fermand Pollain who called it "a jewel".  Cras was a
renaissance man, equally esteemed as national war hero and musical
genius in is home town of Brest, France’s most westerly port.   The
piece challenges the soloist with its numerous poetic elaborations of
the principal themes derived from folk songs of Brittany interspersed
with demanding cadenzas.  Mischa’s performance was magnificent on all
counts with excellent support from the student musicians.
If you have never heard chamber music in the Rodef Shalom’s
Levy Auditorium, you must.  It has one of the finest acoustics in the
city.  Pity it only seats about 350.  The music series at Rodef Shalom
is offered free of charge to its congregation and the public at large.
On November 21, 2005 the music series at Rodef Shalom presented
the Ionian Chamber Players (its string players are members of the PSO)
in a feast of chamber music that covered a wide range of styles and
moods.  The program opened with a sonically lush performance of the
Beethoven Trio in C minor, featuring Lois Lev (violin), Peter Guroff
(viola), and David Premo (cello) that went by much too fast.
The first half of the program concluded with excellent
performances of two short contrasting pieces by Schubert and Turiga
performed by Dennis O’Boyle (violin),  Jeremy Black (violin), Peter
Guroff (viola) and Adam Liu (cello).   
A twentieth century chamber masterpiece followed intermission. The
performers were joined by pianist Natasha Snitkovsky who announced that
the evening’s performance of the Shostakovich Piano Quintet in G minor
would be dedicated to her Russian grandfather, abducted one night in
the prewar years from his home by the infamous KGB never to be heard
from again.  It was a riveting performance that I will not forget.  To
think that Stalin liked the piece so much he awarded the composer his
prize.  It took a few more years before Shostakovich fell out of favor
with Stalin not so much because of his musical sarcasm but because of
his musical inventiveness.

Fans of the PSO should make every effort to hear our musicians
play in venues where their individual playing styles can be clearly
discerned.   You will hear another side of this supremely-gifted
ensemble that will not disappoint.

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