The Finnish connection

I had two tickets with me Saturday, and one was a sure winner – it was the ticket to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra – the other, the lottery, no I didn’t win that one.

On the way to Heinz Hall I listened to Igor Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps” – “Rite of Spring” – it seemed like it would be a fitting introduction to the firstComing in for a landing selection also by Stravinsky: “Scherzo fantastique,” both compositions have the same style, but the Scherzo was more light and airy. Presumably this was based on a hive of bees, and certainly it wasn’t hard to image that analogy. Yet I was also able to conjure deer, birds, various scattering ground animals, a waterfall, a gently elegant swan arriving to the scene, and then back again to the bee analogy. A very pleasant scherzo.

Next up was Jean Sibelius “Symphony No. 7” in one movement. It opened with the rich depth of the strings blending their full force in a fabulous amalgamation: one of my favorite sounds from a symphony. Throughout this continuous symphony I sensed a continual building – a motion up and down in sight and sound, an emotional outpouring from the various sections of the orchestra as if an interaction between two people. It was mesmerizing in its effect. Toward the end the metaphor continued to build until an obvious climax of symphonic sound, and followed by an emotional aftermath of finish.

It was fitting that a Finnish conductor, Susanna Mälkki, lead the PSO on this emotional roller coaster written by Finnish composer Sibelius (when he was around age 59). I saw in the lobby that the piece we would hear later, Finlandia, was written much earlier, around 1900.

After Intermission came the fantastic Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovitch. What a treat, the music, obviously much more modern than the rest of the program, was invigorating. The superb style of Leila Josefowicz, the violin soloist, was amazing to hear. The music began Nocturne in a somber tone with cello, then the violin. Then came the Scherzo with a quality I’ve heard before from Shostakovitch. It sounded very much like his Piano Co. 2, which I first heard in Disney’s Fantasia 2000, subtitled “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.”

Leila Josefowicz just blew me away with the Passacaglia third movement as well as the final Burlesca. Throughout the performance she played with sustained determination on her face. One thing I wondered: How could she remember all those notes, and the synchronization with the symphony, it must have required a lot of practice and a great memory, not to mention the work done in practice with the PSO before these concerts.

reflections of grassI enjoyed beyond expectations all three of the compositions as prelude, but I have to say, the highlight can never fail to be one of my favorites: Finlandia by Sibelius. I could see the audience around me appreciably perk up when conductor Mälkki began this composition. It started with a powerful brassy kind of brass, yet not over-damped nor overpowering to my eardrums simply for the sake of volume, only the very best and cresting of sound. The adrenalin is pumping now, and everyone is in rapt attention. Halfway through the composition begins a softer melody that to me seems to be a very patriotic tune, one that I hear in my mind’s ear over and over after the concert, and I’m humming in the lobby when it’s over, even while waiting for Leila Josefowicz for the post-concert CD signing in the grand lobby.

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