The Oldest Symphony in the World – Ruthie Snoke

‘Foreign Bodies,’ said Esa-Pekka Salonen, ‘can mean a lot of different things.’ The screen descending from the ceiling at once made me assume that the first piece of music would have, like ‘Rainbow Bodies’ a month or two ago, corresponding pictures. Instead, it was simply a chance for an eccentric composer to explain his work a little better.

Not that he really needed to. I found ‘Foreign Bodies’ a very clever and pleasing piece. I was a little worried that, like some newer pieces the PSO has played this season, the length would be too much and I would end up sitting and anticipating the end, but it was not a bit too long. When it ended I was able to whole-heartedly join in with the applause.

Haydn’s ‘Concerto in C Major,’ was also very pleasing, especially as played by the unassuming Mr. Harrell. He played so that there was no doubt of his talent, yet watching him, one would hardly believe he was sitting in a concert hall. His boyish enthusiasm gave off the impression that he would be content playing anywhere—in a school, a basement, or a packed concert hall—for he played simply for the joy of playing. And when, at the end of the first movement, he slid off into his own little performance his twinkling eyes seemed to tell the audience to stop being silly. Just enjoy the music, he said. Lighten up and loosen your collars. Then, displaying as much skill as he had just displayed humor, he rejoined the orchestra for the last two movements of Haydn’s magnificent cello concerto.

I was quite startled to see that the first performance of Jean Sibelius’s ‘Symphony No. 2’ by the PSO was in 1035, until I realized that it must be a typo. (But I didn’t realize that until I had reminded myself that 1035 was before Heinz Hall, before the PSO, before Pittsburgh, before the United States AND before Jean Sibelius’s great great great great…well anyway, before he was born.) That, combined with conductor Michael Christie’s (who, by the way, was quite good and seemed quite young) explanation of the music made me anticipate hearing it very much. I wasn’t disappointed in the least. It was attention-grabbing, and the climax I thought was especially beautiful. My date and I discussed, as we left, the breathless, pounding feeling that a good piece of music leaves you with, and Sibelius’s symphony was no exception. It may not be quite as old as I at first thought, but it was every bit as good as I have come to expect.

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