Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra- incredible music making

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert on March was in two words, nearly perfect. There is nothing quite like sitting in the sumptuous Heinz Hall for Performing Arts listening to wonderful classical music.

But first- prior to the start of the concert, a 16-year old young woman, Elenora Pertz, gave a recital in the Grand Lobby. She was sponsored by the Steinway Society of Western Pennsylvania. Her program contained works by Scarlatti, Chopin, and Haydn. The two Chopin Nocturnes were particularly beautiful. Ms. Pertz performed them admirably and it was apparent that she deeply felt the music.

The PSO program included:

Gianandrea Noseda, conductor

Benjamin Hochman, piano

Gioachino Rossini: Overture to La Cenerentola

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 19, K. 459

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3, "Polish"

The Rossini overture is, well, so Rossini. The orchestra played it flawlessly. It’s not particularly memorable but it’s enjoyable enough. I really began to appreciate the artistry of the PSO, as well as the talent of Hochman, in the Mozart piano concerto. This is not a frequently heard concerto, so I did not have any history with it. Both the orchestra and the soloist played elegantly. The balances between the two were impeccable, especially when a theme is tossed back and forth between them. The orchestra plays with incredible precision. It seemed at times as though three different woodwinds were being played simultaneously by the same person, rather than by three different musicians. The audience gave repeated curtain calls for Hochman, Noseda, and the orchestra. During intermission, I met Hochman, who was in the Grand Lobby signing autographs. I now have another to add to my collection.

The real treat of the evening was the Tchaikovsky Third Symphony, subtitled “Polish”, although that was a name attached by the published rather than the composer. The final movement is marked “Tempo di pollacca,” or polka, but it bears no resemblance to actual Polish music. The first of the three Tchaikovsky symphonies are not performed nearly as much as his final three. The first three are obviously less mature, but they also don’t show the composer’s emotional state nearly as much as the final three do. Because of his depression, Tchaikovsky’s final symphonies are full of despair and sadness. But, that cannot be said of his Third. It is bright, melodic, balletic, and colorful. Tchaikovsky’s symphonies do not have a lot of melodic development as one might find in the works of the classic and early romantic periods, such as Mozart and Beethoven. In fact, Beethoven could take a few notes and build a whole movement around them by changing the key, inverting the notes, embellishing the theme, and so on. Tchaikovsky on the other hand created more fully developed melodies and built a movement around having the melody picked up by the various sections of the orchestra, and adding various types of accompaniment. He frequently used the woodwinds, for example, to provide ascending and descending runs behind the melody. But the melody remained paramount. The Third is so full of melody and wonderful orchestration that structure is less important. This symphony is in five movements, rather than the traditional four. The PSO played this music with great aplomb, for example, the end of the third movement, the composer included some of the most piano of pianissimos. This includes plucked strings and French horns. This section was played with such skill that the sound never wavered and even the horns remained smooth and controlled. Throughout the work, the trombones sounded polished and never shrill or piercing. The strings had great ensemble, and played with precision. As noted above, the winds played so accurately that I find it hard to believe that there are multiple musicians involved. Tchaikovsky’s music was so brilliantly and confidently played that the PSO and Noseda received at least four curtain calls.

Heinz Hall plays a role in the PSO’s sound. I sat near the rear of the orchestra section and it was apparent to me that the hall’s reverberation did not blur the sound, and it is not so dry that the brass, for example, sounds cold or harsh.

Kudos, however, must be given to Gianandrea Noseda. He is a tall man in his mid-40s and he connected well with the orchestra. During the curtain calls, they refused his invitation to stand and they too applauded Noseda. His conducting style is interesting. Because of his height, he seems to reach over the orchestra, providing the beat as well as direction to the players. He has long fingers that seem flexible, almost as if he had no bones in them. The last time I saw such hands were those of the legendary Leopold Stokowki, who was a great showman when he conducted. Noseda’s interpretations seemed right on the mark, even if I thought that the tempo in the second movement of the Tchaikovsky was a bit fast. But that is such a small quibble. It was a great pleasure hearing this concert. Noseda and Hochman have great futures, given their ages and talents. The PSO never fails to impress.


1 comment:

  1. Very nice description, you've said things here I had forgotten, like the balance between the piano and the orchestra.
    Thanks for leaving a comment on the PSO blog.

    >The PSO never fails to impress.
    I agree!