A Grand Finale

I can’t exactly pass judgment on this year, only having attended four concerts, but if the grand finale can be any way of measuring this year’s wealth of PSO concerts, I’d say it was a pretty good year. It was certainly packed in Heinz Hall as the season drew to a glorious close.

Anticipation was high as I saw the stands waiting to hold the Mendelssohn Choir, and the chairs open and ready to receive the soloists. The first piece, I had no doubt, would be breathtaking. The piece by Fauré, ‘Requiem,’ surprised me many times. The first movement was somber, full, as if the orchestra was slowly heating up. The second, ‘Offertorium,’ sounded almost medieval, and when Lucas Meachem, the dignified baritone, joined in, the deep undercurrents showed through. Though his voice was not the most captivating I’ve ever heard (but impressive nonetheless) the way he enjoyed the music delighted me. His eyes drooped, head swaying with the rhythm of the piece, and I myself felt the music more deeply because of his passion.

The third and fourth movements were gentle and sweet, and the clear tones of Ms. Cabell’s singing added to the beauty of ‘Pie Jesu.’ (Her dress was pretty too!) In the fifth part I had a moment of panic as the organ came in and I was immediately reminded of bad 70s music. ‘What is that thing?’ I whispered to my friend Bethany. It was a moment of jarring reality colliding with my musical fairyland. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Fauré was going for… but the steady clarity of the choir soon wiped the memory of the organ from my mind.

The sixth movement, a mix of the choir, Mr. Meachem, and the steady plucking of the strings and beating of the drum, blended into an anticipatory sound that was a prelude to another moment of horror as the organ was back, staccato and loud. Again, however, it gave way to beautiful music, and I enjoyed watching the faces of the members of the choir, who all sang in different ways.

The end of the piece was not what I expected, trailing off and not leaving the audience with the bold, brilliant finish that is more common. But ‘Requiem’ still delighted me with its subtle challenges and answers, its sweet harmonies mixed through with dignified grandeur.

After coming in from the lovely outdoor garden, I sat down not quite knowing what to expect. ‘Organ Symphony,’ by Camille Saint-Saëns, however, was wonderful. The first part was grand and sweeping, complicated with sneaky plucking smoothing out into a sweet melody. The piece seemed to alternate between deep, dark notes and light, flitting strings, the contrast making each part more interesting.

The second part traded singing strings for a more imaginative, colorful melody that reminded me of a children’s story with its dips and turns. Eventually it became more fast-paced, then tender and slow with a dark undercurrent. At last, the triumphant organ made its entrance (this time doing its job and not throwing me back to long hair and lounges). The horns called the other instruments together, uniting them and then going out, organ in tow, on a booming note. The music burst into the air through Yan Pascal Tortelier’s splayed arms, sending the audience to their feet before the last note had vanished.

As I stood to leave I found myself wishing I could have attended more concerts, but the few that I did were enough to whet my appetite for more classical music. Another year, another wonderful PSO season.

1 thought on “A Grand Finale”

  • Ruthie,
    Thanks for all your incredible writing, you definitely capture the essence of the programs that you come to, and to put it into words so eloquently is a wonderful gift to those who haven’t been into Heinz Hall for those programs. Next season will be truly magical, I’m sure…..as I’ve said before the stars are aligning with Maestro Honeck’s arrival and the exciting dynamic created by The Simmons Family’s structured gift to the PSO. Along with all the concerts that the PSO will play for the home crowd, we will be playing concerts around the globe…bringing Pittsburgh with us as we play. We have already seen the energy that the PSO brings to concert halls around the world, and we are starting to see the excitement coming home with us in the form of businesses from other countries making Pittsburgh their home. Who could fault them for knowing what a special place Pittsburgh is? I’m proud to be a small part of what makes Pittsburgh great.

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