Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Can't Stop the Sympho-Wonkishness

A couple days ago I stumbled on a newish group Metroblog for Pittsburgh. One post from yesterday covers a Pittsburgh Symphony concert from last weekend, which several local bloggers were apparently invited to. It's interesting in that it's written from the perspective of someone familiar with performing arts but not with classical music. Some of his reactions are unsurprising (the last movement of Mahler's 1st symphony is exciting, Beethoven's 1st piano concerto isn't); some of his reactions, while not really unsurprising, at least merit some attention from the organization.

For one, he's dismissive of some Hubble Space Telescope slides that were shown over the stage during a new piece by Chris Theofandis -- he didn't pay attention to them, his companion found them "distracting, annoying, and new-agey". More notably, he was put off by the program notes and an apparently wonky, blogger-specific pre-concert lecture: "I worry that the PSO, and other orchestras, opera companies and others are playing into the perception that one has to have studied these compositions in order to enjoy them."

You could unpack this for a while but I have to go to work, so in short:
1. Halfhearted extramusical multimedia trappings don't trick anyone into liking orchestra concerts better.
2. Trying, albeit earnestly, to explain music to your audience as though they won't get it otherwise is counterproductive.

I probably like this post because I believed both of those things already. The pianist was Yefim Bronfman; Andrew Druckenbrod's PG review provides some contrast.

Elsewhere in the Pittsburgh classical music establishment: The first paragraph of this Post-Gazette article about the Pittsburgh Opera is the single sentence, "The Pittsburgh Opera is going back to its roots." To which I responded, internally, Goddammit. Sometimes your roots are what made you great, but sometimes they're what made you a regional purveyor of never-unfamiliar Italian fare. Anyway they still have a Billy Budd to put on this season; that may be worth a trip back to the Motherland.


Blogger Jack said...

I like that we've latched on to the PSO as our Pittsburgh organization to follow during the Steelers-Pirates interim, as opposed to, say, the Penguins.

The PSO released their 2007/8 schedule recently, by the way. It looks more interesting than I remember their last couple of seasons seeming. A lot of Corigliano on tap — I like that they've taken this approach to highlighting one contemporary composer throughout the season. Honeck's got one concert, with Heldenleben & a new clarinet concerto by a guy named Alan Fletcher.

I've actually only seen/heard the PSO twice since 1998, I think. Janssons did Shostakovich 10 and a recent Rodion Shchedrin piece with them in Carnegie Hall a couple of years ago, and they sounded great.

2/20/2007 1:47 PM  
Blogger Pete said...

The PSO has been, for probably 5 seasons now, been doing that "composer of the year" thing - Shchedrin was one of them, that one year. I think it generally sputters as a concept though, because its tough to program that shit into all the various concerts. Seemed like that year, everytime they played anything Russian, there was a good chance you'd get some Shchedrin in there. Nice music though - there's some piece of his they premiered that year that was real nice. Rouse was also that guy for a year too - that was a shitty year. All his music that they picked blew.

2/20/2007 4:18 PM  
Blogger Nate said...

Hey, the PSO didn't threaten to go to Kansas City when they didn't get a new concert hall in a slots casino.

I heard "Rapture" on the radio during their Rouse year, I liked it well enough. I think I taped it, actually; maybe I'll give it another listen.

Pete and I heard that Jansons program with DSCH 10 when they performed it in Pittsburgh (the Shchedrin piece was a brief Shostakovich memorial; the entr'actes from "Lady MacBeth" plus the revised "Katerina Ismailova" versions filled out a very DSCH-heavy program). In fact we went again on Saturday after hearing it on Friday, which I almost never do. Extremely tight playing throughout, and just a devastating read on the symphony -- especially the first movement, which Jansons filled with a kind of towering, cosmically indignant rage. Hopefully the musicians click under Honeck the way they ultimately did under Jansons, since the quality of their playing has so much to do with their relationship with the conductor.

2/20/2007 7:34 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

After reading that blogger's review of the PSO, I'm curious to read more of the other bloggers they invited. The PSO hasn't linked to any of them from their own blog page (which I don't read often, but is a pretty neat idea they seem to be running with in earnest).

"Rapture" is on CD now — recorded by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra & conductor Leif Segerstam on the Finnish label Ondine. (USA! USA!) Rouse's Violin Concerto is on the CD too, with Cho-Liang Lin, who premiered it. It's worth picking up. (You'll also find one of those pieces Pete hated, the percussion concerto "Der gerettete Alberich," in which Wagner motifs glide around evilly before busting out into a pops-orchestra party scene near the end.)

And we're definitely talking about the same Shostakovich/Shchedrin program, too. The Shchedrin piece was called "Dialogues with Shostakovich." That concept is entirely presumptuous, but the music actually, I thought, channelled a lot of Shostakovich's spirit without speaking the same musical language, which is a neat trick. And it was substantial and entertaining, which is what counts.

2/21/2007 8:25 AM  
Blogger Pete said...

Yeah, that Shosty 10 was fucking awesome.

2/28/2007 4:34 PM  

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