Preview: PSO showcases homegrown music

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In the Chinese zodiac, this is the Year of the Snake, but in Pittsburgh -- or at least, in Heinz Hall -- it is the Year of Pittsburgh Composers.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has supported an individual composer of the year since 2001, commissioning and performing works by artists such as John Adams and Jennifer Higdon. But in a first for the PSO -- and, it appears, for professional orchestras across the country -- the symphony this season is playing works by several composers based in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

With: Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, conductor, Arabella Steinbacher, violin.

Featuring:  Balada's "Symphony of Sorrows," Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade." 

Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown. 

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $25.75-$109.75, 412-392-4900 or

They are Leonardo Balada, Patrick Burke, Nancy Galbraith, Bomi Jang, Mathew Rosenblum, David Stock, Reza Vali and Amy Williams, who together represent a range of compositional styles and cultural influences. Some are transplants, some native Pittsburghers. A few have even taught others in the group.

All are affiliated with higher education in Pittsburgh, from Ms. Jang (who is a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh) to Mr. Balada (who has taught at Carnegie Mellon University since 1970). Mr. Stock coordinated the effort last year, collecting materials from professional composers he knew in the area and, along with the PSO, selecting the group of eight.

"This is really a spectacular thing that the orchestra is doing, and featuring the home team. I don't think there's any orchestra in the country that's done anything quite like this that I know of," said Mr. Stock, professor emeritus at Duquesne University.

Mr. Stock's Symphony No. 6 was commissioned by the PSO and performed at opening weekend in October. This weekend features the American premiere of Mr. Balada's own Symphony No. 6 ("Symphony of Sorrows"). Five composers -- Mr. Burke, Ms. Jang, Mr. Rosenblum, Mr. Vali and Ms. Williams -- are contributing a movement each to a Pittsburgh-themed work, titled "The Elements," which will debut in February. In March, the PSO will perform Ms. Galbraith's "Euphonic Blues," written for the centenary of the CMU school of music in 2012.

For the composers, some of whom are having their music played by the PSO for the first time, working with the orchestra is a special opportunity.

"It's a model, hopefully, for the New York Philharmonic, for the Boston Symphony, Chicago, Cleveland. None of these orchestras have taken this great, bold step to connect with the composers that live in their cities to this degree. And I just think it's a terrific model," said Mr. Rosenblum, professor of music at Pitt.

"We're all in this together. We want to see the future of music sustained. We want to see music as a living art, not as a museum," said Ms. Galbraith, professor of composition at CMU.

In addition to the second installment of the Year of Pittsburgh Composers, this weekend sports a Spanish tint. The single-movement "Symphony of Sorrows" is inspired by the Civil War of Mr. Balada's native Spain, and Spanish conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos will once again lead the PSO.

Born in 1933, Mr. Balada was deeply affected by the war that ravaged his country from 1936-39. The piece draws on the anthems of the two dueling sides.

"What I did with the symphony was bring into musical terms two mentalities, and the drama of these two mentalities crashing into each other," said Mr. Balada.

The work, premiered in 2006 by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, also draws on such techniques as polytonality, polyrhythms and microtones to musically capture the conflict.

"In this piece, I really came to a moral conclusion: Really try to love your enemy, as long as your enemy isn't a [jerk]," said Mr. Balada.

Both he and Mr. Fruhbeck turned 80 in September, and they have been friends for years, said Mr. Balada. The musicians, too, are looking forward to welcoming back the conductor who after these concerts will have conducted the PSO in 22 subscription weekends, as well as on tours of Mexico and Spain.

Mr. Fruhbeck, who debuted with the symphony in 1972, during the opening season of Heinz Hall, will conduct "Symphony of Sorrows," Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 with German violinist Arabella Steinbacher and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade."

"With Fruhbeck, you feel confident when you do the great masterpieces ... that you're carrying on the great traditions of the past," said principal oboist Cynthia DeAlmeida.











Elizabeth Bloom: or 412-263-1750. Twitter: @BloomPG.

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