Deconstructing Claude

It was ‘The Pursuit of Beauty’ that directed my path to the steps of Heinz Hall on my quest to discover that emotion in the form of music, though nobody ever knew exactly how many forms of beauty really exist, nor how many I was in pursuit thereof. I took a few friends for they also desired to hear the best the form has ever offered, by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. In the garden outside I met fellow blogger Jennifer Pizzuto and her friend, and we discussed the upcoming concert.

In deconstructing Claude Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” I’m going directly against my covenant with Jennifer. She indicated that it would be interesting to describe the emotions felt while listening to and experiencing this beautiful piece of abstract music. Yet I can’t help myself. Certainly she’s right that the emotions are what grab most patrons who enjoy hearing the compositions by Debussy, especially when played so very well by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. Yet even when I try to focus on these so-called emotions, I always fall back into my usual mode of listening, trying to pick out individual aspects of the whole, and trying to see how the pieces of this complex puzzle fit together in such an intriguing fashion. At the concert hall this is possible; with prerecorded music, or radio, it is not. In the upper sections of Heinz Hall, I’m able to view each part of the orchestra as the music plays and match their part to the pinpointed sounds made by their instrument.

And what did I discover? I realized that too much introspection can somehow take away from the overall magic of the piece as a whole. Deconstructing Claude was a fun exercise in discerning different aspects of the music, sort of like reverse engineering a piece of software or technical innovation, but in the process I’ve lost my view of the overall composition, the beauty of the piece was somehow diminished. I do, however, still have a great appreciation for the complexities of the composition.

What emotions was I feeling… I really didn’t explore that question, beyond the mere wonderment at the ability of Debussy to construct a visionary entity out of all these individual components, in complex creative ways that I don’t suppose I would have ever thought of myself.

The next piece was Lili Boulanger: Psalm 130 with Stephanie Lauricella, mezzo-soprano, Juan José de León, tenor and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. There was so much this composition had to offer. The singing lent a wonderful aspect to the music as a whole. Yet what I liked most was the orchestration.

After intermission Lise de la Salle played the piano solo with the PSO for the concerto by Ravel. Her premier this evening was truly a treat. This concerto began with music that to me sounded like Gershwin. Who knows, perhaps it’s just coincidence. The technique used by Lise de la Salle on the piano was fascinating to watch. The way she would attack the keyboard was enthusiastic, and after a phrase she would move her head in a way that suggested a sort of implied Vibrato. First hearing this piece this evening, it became to me an instant hit, something I’d like to hear again.

Ravel traveled to the U.S. in 1928. In a way it must have been his desire to compose the piano concerto in order to play in the U.S; from the program notes: “With a view toward having a vehicle for himself as a pianist on the return visit (to the US), he started work on a concerto in 1929.” With that in mind, perhaps it is fitting we are hearing Ravel’s concerto in Pittsburgh, performed by Lise de la Salle, piano.

Last but not least was everyone’s favorite Bolero, with fantastic lighting effects which highly enhanced the experience. All the lights were dimmed, and a spotlight shone on Manfred Honeck. The audience laughed when he turned with a wry grin. Then as the drummer commenced, and each individual instrument played, the spotlight would highlight their solo as part of the composition. This progressed and then large sheer curtains lowered behind the players, with lights illuminating with interesting patterns.

After the concert Manfred Honeck and Lise de la Salle were introduced by Jim Cunningham for the Wqed night at the orchestra. I was able to meet Manfred Honeck and discuss the variety in the different compositions this evening. For instance, the Lili Boulanger: “Psalm 130” to me had a very somber tone, and reminded me of Mozart’s Requium, to which Mr. Honeck indicated that it will be returning next season. He seemed glad to hear that we were happy with the program, including favorites along with music that is not often heard, a nice mix of classical music.

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