John Williams' pageantry of inauguration brought to PSO stage

Concert Review

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Violinist Andres Cardenes brought a little bit of President Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony to Heinz Hall last night.

Joined by guest pianist Gabriela Montero, who performed at the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday, Cardenes and other members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performed John Williams' inaugural commission, "Air and Simple Gifts."

As conductor, Cardenes also led the PSO through Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 5, "Reformation," Barber's Symphony No. 1 and Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" with Montero making her PSO debut as soloist.

The premiere performance of Williams' commission at Tuesday's inauguration ceremony has been somewhat maligned by reports that the marquee quartet -- Montero, violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo-Ma and clarinetist Anthony McGill -- played sotto voce on the cold day while the sound broadcast over the loud speakers had been pre-recorded. This accommodation for the weather made perfect sense because string instruments and cold weather do not mix. What Montero, Cardenes, Associate Principal Cello David Premo and Principal Clarinet Michael Rusinek brought to Pittsburgh then, while technically not a world premiere, was the first definitively "live" performance of Williams' composition.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
  • With: Andres Cardenes, conductor, and Gabriela Montero, piano.
  • Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown.
  • When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
  • Tickets: $12.50-$72; 412-392-4900.

Premo's lyrical cello above Montero's rumbling chords developed into a haunting and misty air. Rusinek's delayed entrance with a quotation of Copland's "Simple Gifts" effectively introduced the theme that Williams developed into an ornamented dance among the quartet.

This ornamental treatment of Copland's quintessential melody played better on television with images of hundreds of thousands of citizens waving American flags in the distance. However, the composition's ending stability, interrupted by what can only be described as foreboding chords of reality, is an artful statement by Williams to the dire social and economic situation the new administration is confronting.

This year marks Felix Mendelssohn's bicentennial birth year, and the performance of the "Reformation" symphony begins the PSO's celebrations. Composed for the 300th anniversary of Martin Luther's Augsburg Confession, the symphony incorporates Luther's original hymn, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott," in the final movement.

Cardenes paced the tune's introduction well, approaching the orchestration buildup like an organist gradually releasing his stops.

Cardenes brought out the vivid orchestral tapestry of Barber's First Symphony. It is a virtuosic work for each choir, and the winds were especially strong in the Scherzo. James Gorton gave an exquisite oboe solo to begin the Andante Tranquillo movement.

Montero's performance of Gershwin's "Rhapsody" highlighted the work's rhythmic rubatos that Cardenes balanced through strict, up-tempo orchestral statements.

The program repeats tomorrow afternoon at 2:30.

Burkhardt Reiter is a Pittsburgh-based composer, lecturer and writer.


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