Honeck & a Waltz Tradition

The set of the November 23-25 concerts given by the Pittsburgh Symphony was the much-anticipated, musical opening to the holiday season. Honeck began with his Thanksgiving tradition with fun-filled waltzes and polkas by the Strauss family. I attended Friday’s concert and was drawn in to the aura of Vienna, with the Viennese waltzes.
The performances being during Thanksgiving weekend give it a special atmosphere. It’s a holiday for everyone. It’s extremely entertaining and satisfying, and in the middle of a Strauss Waltz Viennese program comes, well something Viennese, with the Lehár and “You are My Heart’s Delight” and “Volga Song”, sung by Baritone, Gregg Baker. Baker sang four terrific pieces, two of which are by Lehár, Mancini’s Moon River, (which is a special significance since the recent loss of Andy Williams), and Ol’ Man River, a Kern and Hammerstein collaboration. The two Lehár pieces are very interesting, but, I think Honeck’s choice for Baker to sing these selections is wonderful. The Lehár pieces are from tenor arias, which bring me to the realization of just how much talent Baker possesses as he stretches his bass baritone voice seamlessly to portray the beauty so well known to us by a “lighter-tenor” Richard Tauber. When Baker first started to sing I internally exclaimed “the songs are in English!” Although, if the songs were in any other language it wouldn’t detract any more or less from the beauty and message; music transcends all language barriers. Baker and Honeck’s interpretation of Moon River was absolutely exquisite and breathtakingly gorgeous. The authoritative power [Classical] music has to alter and transport your mind is truly unfathomable and wonderful.
The concert opened with Grammy Award-winning pianist, Yefim Bronfman playing the most famous of Beethoven’s five piano concertos, the “Emperor”. The strings indeed play a regal melody before Bronfman makes his entrance. When Bronfman plays I could not help but fall in love with the perfection and attention to detail with which he plays. Music played with such ease and beauty as Bronfman does, makes me realize once more why I adore music so much. Bronfman’s enticing phrasing, specifically when the strings were plucking, brought to mind a ripple in water. Each pluck produced by the strings represented the drops of water gracefully meeting the water. The plucking intertwined with Bronfman’s lighter-than-air touch was the ripple expanding, (essentially becoming a ripple) and cascading over the audience with the gloss of musical perfection.
The 2nd movements of concertos, usually being slower in tempo progression, are my favorite for I feel they are “reflection pieces” which is what I (figuratively speaking) think of the experience at the symphony—a time to reflect in all aspects of life.
As a regular concert-goer I can confidently sit in Heinz Hall knowing I am going to hear a polished, first rate performance given by the PSO, and I just expect it. But, for someone who is a first time concert-goer with an appreciation of the great art of classical music you would most nearly be astonished and leave with such a fulfilling impression of the masterpiece before your eyes and ears, and essentially all of your senses. Along the lines of that realization is similarly true (not only limited to classical music performances, but in this case limited to the arts) for any performance, shall we say, with great effort having gone into it to make it what the audience views. The audience only views the finished product, and quite often is really unaware of the amount of work that goes into the finished masterpiece.
Overall, this weekend’s performance by the PSO was truly enchanting and I can’t think of a more satisfying and inviting way to start my holiday season!

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