A Day – a sequence of events – Rapture

She was there, at Heinz Hall, and I shook her hand. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Writing is hard. Writing is difficult. Difficult is writing. I never once had one lesson. Just a few random thoughts as I prepare to describe tonight’s concert. And of course I’m sitting here in front of the computer thinking of what to write, yet the concert was several hours ago, and I’ve already forgotten umpteen fabulous thoughts I wanted to say.

Manfred Honeck spoke at the WQED reception following the concert this evening. He is very soft spoken – his tone of voice is almost hypnotic – one can’t help but like him for this intonation and of course for his marvelous smile which we see after the conclusion of every piece he conducts, during the applause, when he appears at the beginning of a composition, and of course tonight at Heinz Hall.

This day has been a long and deliciously full one. I took off work to take my daughter and her friend to the 3 Rivers Art Festival. The weather was perfect and the art was just amazing, yet that was just they day. Now it is night and I’m looking out the window – I see darkness. What many fail to realize is, is that a writer is working even when looking out the window, night or day. But I digress.

Whence the transition from day to night first began to happen, I cannot pinpoint precisely. Between the last shadows of sunset, and the beginning of the first selection came a horde of concert goers into Heinz Hall, a time of waiting as I watched the PSO musicians joyfully practice, and Manfred Honeck enter the stage with his usual grinning flair, where he would quickly commence Walter Braunfels’ Fantastic Appearances of a Theme by Hector Berlioz. I took notes during the Fantastic Appearances, and of course I can barely read them now. I see the word ‘chase’ – oh yes, one of the movements certainly seemed like a chase, a marvelous fancy of flight, with the various sections of the orchestra each dancing their way in and out of the movement. Then came a slower more romantic movement which showed off the beauty and power of the string section, followed by a scherzo with a sort of question, brewing, building, with a hypothesis of thought – a conjecture which was only to be answered by ‘Mit Breite, doch nicht zu langsam und etwas frei’ which, translating myself means: ‘with breadth, just not too slow and somewhat free’. I really enjoyed this piece (even thought it wasn’t the whole composition) and am glad Manfred Honeck brought it to us this evening.

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with Emanuel Ax, piano. Now that’s enough to draw me to the concert this evening. Ax’s performance was simply magnificent. I also enjoy watching him play. I spoke to a few friends at intermission. One indicated that Ax’s hands remind him of Beethoven himself. Another sat close enough to observe that as Ax would strike the keys, occasionally it seemed as though he was moving his hands in a sort of vibrato, normally associated with a stringed instrument. [Vibrato is a musical effect consisting of a regular pulsating change of pitch. It is used to add expression to vocal and instrumental music. Vibrato is typically characterized in terms of two factors: the amount of pitch variation (“extent of vibrato”) and speed with which the pitch is varied (“rate of vibrato”).[1]]

As I listened to Mr. Ax play the piano, I was struck by the sheer number of notes being played. They say that Mozart wrote a lot of notes, but I’d say that Beethoven has him beat. This particular concerto is so full of notes for the piano, it prompted me to try to estimate the number. Let’s say he played for 20 minutes, at 6 notes per second per hand. That comes out to about 14400 notes. Anyone know if I’m close?

I also noticed how peppy Mr Ax is when he plays and when he enters the stage. He seems to be truly enjoying himself in his performance. Between phrases of the music, I often see him looking up at conductor Honeck, and of course that’s all part of the timing, but when he looks he’s smiling.

Ok, so when I write I sometimes procrastinate. Even this late at night. Yes, I put on the TV. And I see there’s a show called ‘What makes Pittsburgh Pittsburgh’ Which reminds me, after the concert Jim Cunningham gave Manfred Honeck several presents. One was a case of Austrian Beer: Another present was some Polish beer. Okay, I think I’ll try either kind, but my preference might be for the Gösser Bier. Sind Sie über 18 Jahre?

Brahms’ Symphony No. 4. Now that’s rapture. What else can I say? The first movement seemed to be the same kind of development that was made famous by Beethoven. Somehow Brahms took 2 notes, and developed them. At least to my ears that’s what I heard. Sure, there were many complex dynamics built into the movement, yet you can’t mistake the various places where those same two notes (not the same pitch every time) are repeated again and again, sometime going up, sometimes going down. And then there are 3 then 4 notes.

The PSO seemed very well balanced with this Brahms symphony. Ever part of the orchestra was easily heard. The 2nd and 3rd movements are very familiar selections to anyone who’s familiar with classical music. Yet when they got to the 4th and final movement I couldn’t recognize it – I’m not sure why.

I met a fellow blogger again tonight – Jennifer. And that opening line was just the hook, and now you have the resolution. Jen and I were both at the reception following the concert. I didn’t see any of the other bloggers, even though I thought there might be a few. It was a nice event, hosted by WQED, and of course coordinated by the staff and employees of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, who did a great job of making it so much fun.

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