Brahms symphonies are NOT fungible

10.31.07

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Amid all the local news of Andrew Davis skipping out and Mark Weinstein sallying forth there was this announcement, reported by me Saturday:


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The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will switch Brahms symphonies in the next two Mellon Grand Classics concert weekends, Nov. 2-4 and Nov. 9-11.

On Nov. 2-4, the PSO will now perform Brahms' Symphony No. 3 along with several of his Hungarian Dances and Haydn's Cello Concerto in D Major with cellist Alisa Weilerstein. The previously scheduled Brahms Symphony No. 4 will now be heard the following weekend, along with additional Hungarian Dances and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with Nikolai Lugansky.

The PSO says the change is due to the process surrounding the recording of the programs for release next year.


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This irks me. I can understand programming changes due to illness, but to switch symphonies a week (!) before the first performances to satisfy the efforts of the live recording process is not being considerate to the patrons actually attending the concerts.

With the recent move to seven-concert subscription packages, there are certainly subscribers who will not have chosen both concerts, so they, and any single ticket buyers, will not be hearing the Brahms symphony they paid for or expected. I am sure that there is fine print somewhere that says the PSO reserves the right to change any program, but that doesn't make it right. The PSO is treating two magnificent works as fungible items, when they are most certainly not.

What would Brahms think?

The difference between Brahms' Symphony No. 3 and Symphony No. 4 is akin to the difference between the Beatles' "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver," Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blond on Blond" or Radiohead's "OK Computer" and "Kid A." It's the difference between two novels by Hemingway, two films by Kurosawa or two paintings by Picasso. They are two towering works that are equally great, but totally different. If you went to a movie theater to see "The Maltese Falcon" and got "Sabrina," you might still enjoy Bogart, but it certainly would be a different experience.

You get the point.

So, don't tell me this program change is not a big deal, that I am overreacting or that only so many patrons will be affected. The difference between these two works is the stuff of what makes classical music worth listening to -- the magical nature of orchestral form and expression that the PSO offers. If it is no big thing just to switch pieces around by the same composer, then we have ceased to recognize the individualizing art in classical music. At the very least, PSO management should have apologized to patrons for the lateness of the switch, something the press release, dumped on a Friday, did not do.

If it was so important to switch the two symphonies for the recording process, it should have been done and announced months ago, not a week before. The PSO performs for its patrons first, and if this new method of recording music live to avoid massive union costs results in situations such as this then it will have to be revisited.

Let's hope this was a once-in-a-long-while occurrence, because live patrons come before live recordings!



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