A Chinese Wishing Tree welcomed guests in the Heinz Hall lobby Friday evening as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Manfred Honeck, celebrated the Year of the Dragon with a lavish gala to open the 2012-13 season.
It would be a welcoming evening throughout, with Dick Simmons, chairman of the board of trustees, introducing Gov. Tom Corbett and guests, then thanking those who contributed to the PSO "family."
Mr. Honeck in turn saluted the orchestra with a collection of familiar works that featured the various sections of the ensemble.
But they were cleverly grouped to convey a growing atmosphere of the excitement to come, bookended, as they were, by two overtures, the first from Giuseppe Verdi's "La Forza del destino," with its flying strings, and the last from Richard Wagner's "Tannhauser," here with the brass a standout.
In between Mr. Honeck inserted Felix Mendelssohn's incidental music for "A Midsummer Night's Dream," sprinkled with gossamer winds in the scherzo, but including a rousing rendition of the wedding march (just think about it).
Of course, the impending excitement was not to be a bride and groom, but the appearance of superstar pianist Lang Lang, who himself was welcomed with the Infernal Dance from Igor Stravinsky's "The Firebird," followed by the Lion Dancers from Pittsburgh's Steel Dragon School, who blessed the Heinz Hall stage (if a little late for 2012) and the soloist who obviously channels the intense power and good fortune symbolized by the dragon itself.
Oddly enough, Mr. Lang began with a reflective work, Lü Wencheng's "Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake" (although from his album "Dragon Songs"). But most had come to hear him play Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1, a virtuosic piece composed by the virtuoso of that time and performed by the virtuoso of our time.
Mr. Lang is unquestionably a super-sized talent, although his bravura attack gets muddy in the lower register.
Taken separately, the musical elements were breathtaking -- runs that scampered so precisely along the keys and a caressing pianissimo so soft and so compelling that it all drew you forward in your seat to capture every drop of music.
However, some of the transitions didn't form a connective tissue and, as a result, the overall artistic arc lacked a cohesiveness and the interpretation could occasionally seem jarring.
But then, Mr. Lang is only 30 and it is safe to say that his best years lie ahead -- another welcoming thought.music
Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish: firstname.lastname@example.org.