The Holidays- PSO Style – Krista Held

December 16th brought my second, highly
anticipated trip to Heinz Hall. On the spectacular musical menu was Highmark
Holiday Pops: "The Magic Of The Season".

"Magic" seemed to encompass much
more than the title of the show would indicate. The entire venue was inundated
with holiday decorations. Windows in the front of the building glistened with
garland laced eighth notes. Counting the Christmas trees (the Highmark
sponsored beautifully monsterous tree being the highlight) was a fantastic
addition to the events of the evening. The statue of Henry J. Heinz III was
also in on the action- with a Santa hat conveniently placed atop his head.

I felt like I had read the mind of the staff
as I walked into the building with my own Santa hat on. I decidedly put my own
spin on to truly test the waters, waltzing into fifth row seats in blue jeans
and tennis shoes. I giggled profusely at the looks and gestures of those that
were sitting nearby because I longed to feel at home at Heinz Hall, and I
couldn’t wait to come home and write about the impact it had made. I was much
more concerned with how the staff treated me with a new, more casual look. They
were just as helpful, stellar, and top-notch as they had been before. They
understand that it really is all about the music. I was truly impressed,
yet again.

The show’s plethora of holiday treasure was
conducted by a hilarious maestro, Robert Bernhardt. The orchestra played
several Tchaikovsky works – pieces of the Nutcracker ballet. Of the
theatrics last evening, the four ballet dancers that paralled classical and
contemporary music during Tchaikovsky’s "March" stole the
show. The two couples playfully fought to save their own style while the
orchestra bounded back and forth between the classical and jazz perspectives of
the piece. The audience became involved, giggling at the antics. Maestro
Bernhardt told jokes and innately possessed stage presence to ensure the focus
and fun never waned.

One thing was certain in my mind. When the Pittsburgh
Symphony Orchestra plays something with the forte implications of "Trepak",
hold on to your seat. I move to music that moves me, and this piece had my head
nodding and my foot tapping. Being consistently braced for more is something
that I thought was unique to a rock concert. Oh, was I wrong indeed.
Folks that are constantly looking for a rush (a "woohoo!") in their
music experience need to look no further than…the orchestra. It is possible
to have a ball listening to classical music, no matter how ridiculously stodgy
the patrons around you may or may not be. Really.

Since there is always another side to the
coin, the symphony officially performed a musical inversion after intermission.
The Children’s Festival Chorus of Pittsburgh sang the "Evening
from Hansel and Gretel. I saw the faces of the kids as they
sang their hearts out to one of the most discerning audiences in the world.
Highly dedicated and impassioned- half of my hearty applause was for their
wonderful mesh of harmony, the other for their courage. I knew of the
world-class Mendelssohn choir, but seeing them in person revealed first hand
that they are worthy of the accolade. The children and the adults singing along
with the musicians of the orchestra exuded a fire of art in its purest form,
and I was close enough to experience it. It is absolutely overpowering, rich,
and wonderful.

Adding to the connection was a Christmas
sing-along. The orchestra played five classic songs in rapid-fire succession.
For that time, Heinz Hall was filled to the brim with spiritual bliss. I
willingly participated- feeding off the power of the ambience allowed me to
deck the Hall with all I could muster. I will never forget it.

Santa and Mrs. Claus made an appearance,
performing a provocative duet of "Santa Baby". They then went
out into the audience and asked several children what they wanted for
Christmas. Most of the kids were extremely specific about what they wanted,
until one child said with stone-cold honesty: "…um…I don’t know what I
want yet…" It sparked a roar from Santa and everyone else. Wrapping up
the concert was Irving Berlin’s "White Christmas", complete with
"snow" that seemed to fall from the heavens on the first five rows.
How refreshing- it may be the last snow before Christmas, and I didn’t even
have to shovel.

The show was so excellent that I will be
keeping it as a part of my Christmas tradition.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!


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