Adams, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler – David DeAngelo

Outside the streets were still a little wet from the evening’s rain and my wife (she’s so smart) decided to bring an umbrella with us.  She did this in order to stave off any further chances of precipitation, doncha know.  Had she left the umbrella at home the ensuing monsoon, of course, would have been devastating.

Despite the traffic, we made it into the opulent-as-ever Heinz Hall with about 15 minutes to spare and arrived as it was beginning to fill up.  Filling up with concert-goers eager, I presume, to hear Manfred Honeck, the PSO’s new Maestro, conduct.  Janet and I,  thankfully dry due to her precipitious umbrella decision, waited eagerly as well, surrounded by some of Pittsburgh’s spiffiest.

What a night.

These three words can best be used to describe the night’s performance:

Wow.  Frickin’ wow.

After tuning and the traditional season opening National Anthem, Honeck and the orchestra got down to business. 

First the Adams.

With it’s sadistic woodblock keeping time, this intensely rhythmic piece chimed in at a short-ish 4 minutes.  Post-minimalist, with a compositional web shimmering effortlessly from brass to strings and back again (not to mention the screaming piccolo oftentimes above it all) the piece, once concluded, was recieved with a more than respectful amount of applause.  A very nice piece, very nicely played.

I can only imagine the immense amount of work both Adams and the orchestra put into this piece, as it was all certainly well composed, well conducted and well performed.  However, and it may be an act of sedition to say this, but the piece left me a little cold.  Perhaps that last sentence says more about me than about the piece.

Now the Tchaikovsky.

After a very short stage switch, the large orchestra used for the Adams was whittled down to perform the Tchaikovsky violin concerto.  If there were a piece for me that could counter my post-Adams slight chill, this would be it.  Filled with late-Romantic romanticism (Russian romanticism, no less), it did the trick, hit the spot, got -‘er done.  The orchestra, to its credit, gave up a sound that while full and rich, never ever overpowered Joshua Bell, the soloist. 

From his first quiet opening, he simply assumed control of the stage and of the piece.  No exessive swaying, no foot stomping, just control.  I especially liked the cadenza.  A lesser, less mature violinist would probably have pounced on every trill, every tricky fingered run, every place to show off.  Bell, well, didn’t.  He took his time.  He leisurely wrung out the delight of the notes (molten-golden as they were).  I noticed as well that Bell plays as much to the orchestra as he does to the audience, and the transitions between solo and orchestra were very very good.  The crowd loved it.  Gave him a standing O.  Got 4 curtain calls.

The Mahler.

I was somewhat sheepish, I have to admit, approaching this piece.  "Mahler’s much too long," I could hear my inner child scream.  "And much too complicated," he added as an unecessary clarification.  Partly to get revved up for the second half of the concert and partly to silence the insolent inner DeAngelo, I wandered a bit at intermission.  Janet stayed at the seats and read through the program notes.  It was best she didn’t see my inner turmoil.  Outside in the lobby, P-G columnist Ruth Ann Dailey was there chatting away with someone.  I wanted to stop and say hello but I also needed to find a men’s room.  Mahler’s a great composer and the First Symphony is a great work, but at 55 minutes, it’s best not to take any chances.  I got back to my seat much more relaxed than when I left it.  It’s always nice to see Janet.

Then the piece began.  Wow.  Frickin’ wow.  Mahler used a huge palate of colors, a huge canvas, and created huge works and Mahler 1 does not disappoint.  The number of tone colors is simply stagering.  You have to hear it.  You simply have to. The performance tonight was being recorded for a CD to be released next spring.  Go buy it.

The music itself is struggle.  Druckenbrod of the P-G calls it "tortured" and I can’t see that that’s too far off.  The performance was superb, mesmerising.  Honeck was amazing and each section of the orchestra shined, as the Trib’s Kanny wrote, "with purposeful vitality."

It’s an amazing piece (my inner child, as you can guess can be a bit puerile at times) and it was performed amazingly well.  When Mahler was over, the final movement completed, and the audience put through an emotional roller coaster, the Pittsburgh Symphony was rewarded with a well deserved standing ovation.  3 curtain calls for Honeck, too.

This should be the start of something good.

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