Beauty of Classical Music

Blog for Beauty of Classical Music

Firebird's newer splendor, uncovered here again

Monday, March 9, 2015

When perusing the program notes for the concert I just attended last Saturday at Heinz Hall with Manfred Honeck conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, I discovered to my delight that two of the selections were All About Birds, in a sense. Birding is a hobby of mine, not as adamantly as some, but in a fun way whenever I get a chance. So here I was ready to listen to and discover for myself a new work which integrates actual bird calls with music.

If you want information All About Birds, try The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Locally there is the Carnegie Museum and the National Aviary. In my backyard there a many migrants that pass through every Spring and Autumn and of course the many residents of Summer and Winter are easily identified. What I like most is listening to and being able to recognize each bird's song or call, often without even seeing the bird. I learned to recognize many species when I helped with the Second Pennsylvania Breading Bird Atlas a number of years ago.

I've never been able to visit or hear the sounds of birds from the Arctic. Are you my Mom? That's why it was a thrill to experience this concert which highlights these sounds. Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara recorded the songs of Arctic birds, which are integrated into his Concerto for Birds and Orchestra, Cantus Arcticus. The birds I did not recognize, and some of their calls were hauntingly eerily alien, not like anything I've heard before. The fascinating way which the composer interwove the birds with the orchestra peaked my interest, yet I found myself trying to discern just the orchestral music, and I found it to be quite interesting all by itself, as if it didn't even need the birds to support the body of work, but the amalgamation was as beautiful as either of the parts.

But I have to return the the beginning of the concert: Mozart's Sinfonia concertante in E-flat major for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra with Noah Bendix-Balgley and Randolph Kelly. I often ask myself what it would have been like to have been there centuries ago to experience this music when it was new. Then I realize that it was probably uncommon for anyone to hear these concerts, as only the rich or well-connected would be able to do so. So my answer is that today we have the best opportunity through prerecorded music, and concerts such as the ones at Heinz Hall to really hear, for all of us, the best of classical music. And this performance was breathtaking, both soloists blended well together and with the rest of the orchestra, lead by conductor Honeck. This morning on WQED-FM I heard an instant replay of the 3rd movement recorded Sunday, and I could sense the difference between hearing it live at the concert hall versus on the radio. Live I could hear the sounds coming from each of the sections of the orchestra, it wasn't stereo, but an experience whereby each point, each source of sound can be instantly tasted, and my attention can be quickly placed precisely where I desire, both seeing and hearing together to savor the essence. This did not happen with hearing on the radio, yet it does have it's own advantages, like being able to instantly adjust the sound at will with the volume control. Or to listen over and over if it's a CD or recording.

The final performance of the evening was another selection All About Birds, so to speak, only this time it was one big bird: The Firebird. There was a short movie before the concert began with Manfred Honeck and some of the members of the orchestra describing their ideas of the upcoming performance. For instance, Principal Harpist Gretchen Van Hoesen showed us literally how much time and how often it takes her to tune up the harp before a performance, and the beauty of its sound when done just right, and as a contrast, the dissonant sounds that could come if not tuned correctly.  It was fascinating for me to hear from Kelsey Blumenthal, member of the PSO first violin section that timing is an import aspect for the musicians, so that, for example, when they are resting, it's not quite as restful as it might seem because they are counting to make sure the join back in at precisely the right instant.

Stravinsky: Suite from The Firebird (1919 revision) was the main attraction to say the least. This music is captivating to me, a walk through nature in so many ways, harmonious to all the aspects of nature and melodic in its formulation. I listen to this music whenever I can, and to hear it with the Pittsburgh Symphony is one of my all time treats that I've savored and hope to do again.

I saw this on a building that I photographed in Rothenburg ob der Tauber a few years ago, and it reminds me of Classical music:
Der Alten kunst gar lang versteckt, hab ich hier wieder aufgedeckt. Das sie nun lacht in neuer Pracht, Und mir und andern Freude macht.
Long ago the art the ancients hid, I've uncovered here again. She now laughs in newer splendor, and makes for me and others joy.


Romance: Softly Rejoined Melody

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Romance: It happens here: A Night in Russia, That's how the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has billed this evening's concert.

It's always my pleasure to enter Heinz Hall seating area, meandering through multitudes of patrons mingling or searching for their seats, each of us as anxious as the other to experience the upcoming performance. After a prolonged period of cacophonous warm-up, the first selection was about to begin.

Appearing on stage were conductor Krzysztof Urbański and Noah Bendix-Balgley and immediately they commence the first selection: Khachaturian: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. I noticed the first movement had frequent changes in tempo. Mr. Bendix-Balgley was impressive, this is an excellent concerto for him to show off his extensive artistry.

The first movement I noticed an orchestra melody solo and another counterpoint. Then followed a exuberant intermezzo solo.  Mr. Bendix-Balgley was seemingly able to achieve robust, stirring sounds of harmony with only his violin. As the movement progressed, at times there was allegro and others softly rejoined melody. I noticed a vigorous descent from the orchestra, then tentative uplifting contemplative passages replete with the aforementioned romance.

After taking some time to re-tune his violin (the first movement was a complete workout for him and this instrument), the second movement began. I could hear the clear soft solo tones from his violin, yet later there were a few hints of slight dissonance, perhaps built into the composition, but the full tones that followed, accompanied by a flirting flute ruled the texture. Orchestra up tempo brought loud momentary volume followed by a passage with low-pitched violas only, a Russian sound deeply textured.

Soon the recognizable third movement came with robust melodic form demanding bravado. All together an extremely well present concerto, which I fully enjoyed. After a standing ovation, for encore he played a little tune he called Yismekhu. I hadn't heard of it before, so I asked him how to spell it at intermission where he was signing autographs. I'm glad he is still around with the Pittsburgh Symphony for now, after recently being appointed 1st Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, I wasn't sure.

After intermission came one of my favorite symphonic creations of all time - Pictures at an Exhibition orchestrated by Ravel and written for piano originally by Mussorgsky. First, though, was a presentation with WQED-FM’s Jim Cunningham and conductor Krzysztof Urbański, describing differences between the original piano versus the Ravel orchestrated versions. This included small demonstrations so that we could actually hear the differences. I had never heard the piano version before, and it was amazing in two respects. First, the piano rendition was amazing.  Second, the way that Ravel could transform each part, ascribing different instruments to just the right parts and components, bringing it all together into an amazing congruous whole, now that was impressive exhibition!

As for the pictures, these photos were taken by my friend Miki Sarkozi before the concert and after intermission. The string ensemble appeared prior to the concert, they were students or alumni of Grove City College and played quite well.


Douglas Bauman,
Mar 27, 2015, 6:54 AM