The last time my husband and I were at Heinz Hall for a Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performance, I was 23 weeks pregnant with our son, enjoying the magical melodies of The Sleeping Beauty opus. Two months later, as I packed up bottles of breast milk between bags of frozen vegetables to take to the neo-natal intensive care unit after the performance, I was grateful for a Friday night that included classical composers, in addition to hospital monitors and feeding tubes for our perfect preemie.
To celebrate his iconic 70th birthday, musical artist and idol Rudolf Buchbinder joined the orchestra for an evening of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The three movements of Haydn’s Concerto in D major provided an appropriate soundtrack for spring, in classical Hungary or our beloved city of Pittsburgh. Vivace included graceful complements of piano percussion and light and airy strings. Buchbinder scrunched his forehead during his solos, while the full audience eased into their seats and watched the sleek Steinway command the stage, front and center. Un poco adagio was lyrical and tender, as a piece that would be commissioned in the privacy of a grateful Hungarian home. I imagined replaying the melody for our son, Gabriel, as a pensive, quiet lullaby, rocking him to sweet sleep in his new nursery. Allegro‘s playful, upbeat tempo sounded like an original score for a far-away ballet. Buchbinder, staring at the ceiling, seemed to receive graces from a higher power through his furrowed brow. The orchestral intention dynamically progressed to the finale not without haste.
Mozart’s No. 20 in D minor was intense in its transition to a fuller stage. Whispers of anticipation from the crowd heightened the robust performance, full of gusto and swells of musical energy and tension. Always animated conductor Manfred Honeck exuded a great deal of respect for the pianist, who delivered his solos without pause. The minor undertones were eerie and haunting, at times, reminiscent of the inner struggle of a composer in 18th century Vienna. As the concerto progressed through Romanza and its noticeable percussive bursts, I kept thinking of our son, a day before his two-week birthday, and how I wish he were there with us to enjoy the refreshing, romantic music, much like an autumn stroll through the city with your sweetheart. Buchbinder seemed to enjoy the Allegro most, bouncing his legs and swaying to the dynamic progressions, much like the conductor in his ethereal element.
After a brief intermission, we enjoyed Beethoven’s “Emperor” opus, and I realized what a privilege it is to be present in such a beautiful space with ornate sculptures and magnificent architecture, overwhelming art for all senses. Allegro sounded like a progression through battle, triumphant as a warrior march. Lively crescendos kept the audience waiting to hear what would happen next. The violins subtly captured my attention, their synchronicity accompanying each piano solo, where Buchbinder seemed to save the best for last. Adagio delicately blended the string entrance with a romantic piano stanza, channeling emotions through the musicians’ fingertips. Both conductor and soloist demanded our attention, intentional and expressive. The entire orchestra gained a palpable energy to anticipate a large and bountiful finish.
As Buchbinder graciously accepted an ornate bouquet of flowers and then treated us to an encore of Johann Strauss, you knew he was meant for this. The rest of the musicians, along with us concert attendees, sat back and watched in admiration a man who knew how to feel the ivory with every chord and note.
To anyone who loves piano solos or pure classical expression, please visit Heinz Hall this weekend. As we stood for the final ovation, I thought of baby Gabriel and how I hope he will enjoy the symphony as much as we do. During patron appreciation month, he is my light for the next generation of music admirers. Wish you could be here, my darling son. But rest easy that momma and papa will tell you all about the night the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra fashioned memories with a maestro.