Concert review: PSO, guest conductor craft a musical picture
January 31, 2015 12:00 AM
Fred Jonny Hammeroe
Conductor Krzysztof Urbanski made his Pittsburgh Symphony debut Friday night in Heinz Hall.
Dave Waddell/Siousca Photography
Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley soloed in a pieceby Khachaturian in Friday night's Pittsburgh Symphony concert at Heinz Hall.
By Elizabeth Bloom / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Like the visual arts, music requires the constant building of individual strokes, colors and shapes with an eye toward the whole.
The analogy comes to mind for Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” a piano suite written to commemorate an artist-friend of the composer. In the hands of Polish conductor Krzysztof Urbanski and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, “Pictures” became a well-curated gallery.
Mr. Urbanski, who is the music director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, was making his Heinz Hall debut Friday night.
Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown.
When: 7:30 tonight (see note below on program change); 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $25.75-$105.25; www.pittsburghsymphony.org or 412-392-4900.
In his patient, sculpted interpretation, thoughtfully hewn solos and chamber-like sections were the individual sketches working toward a triumphant final image. The piece jumps between divergent musical moods and is buoyed by a “Promenade” that appears throughout. Performing Ravel’s orchestration, the PSO nimbly moved between each transition, and the conductor and musicians together molded solo lines and ensemble sections. Some moments felt precious, but overall the effort paid off with the impact of the closing picture, “The Great Gate of Kiev.” Mr. Urbanski conducted this work (and Prokofiev’s “Russian Overture,” which opened the concert) without a score.
“Pictures” was the best opportunity in this program to see Mr. Urbanski’s interpretive skills. In Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto, it was concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley’s turn.
Mr. Bendix-Balgley, who is also first concertmaster in the Berlin Philharmonic, is dividing his time between Pittsburgh and Berlin this season.
Mr. Bendix-Balgley has a superlative sense of musical timbre, although in this performance it took a bit of throat-clearing to get there. His phrasing in the movement felt belabored, and the orchestral quilt briefly came apart. But the second movement seemed to focus his performance: Every color was deliberate, with each entrance and phrase an opportunity for surprise; that lyricism carried into the finale. He used the cadenza by David Oistrakh, for whom the concerto was written.
“Russian Overture” was an underwhelming opener. Mr. Urbanski seemed more confident about his vision for the piece than the orchestra was in executing it.
This program repeats at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. At 7:30 tonight, the orchestra presents a “Behind the Notes” performance, featuring a discussion of the Mussorgsky with WQED-FM’s Jim Cunningham and musicians. “Behind the Notes” will replace the Prokofiev.
Elizabeth Bloom: email@example.com or 412-263-1750. Twitter: @BloomPG.
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