My mother told me that if you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything at all.
Luckily for my line of work, she didn't say anything about writing.
But in honor of Mother's Day, I will try to tone down my comments about two guest performers hosted by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Friday night at Heinz Hall.
The concert saw the PSO debut of young American conductor Kazem Abdullah. He is a relative unknown in classical music circles, and he may someday be a great one. He is certainly energetic. But he was not at the level needed to guide the PSO.
One of the keys to conducting high-caliber "destination" orchestras, as the PSO is known, is you don't need to mark the beat. The musicians take care of that for you.
From the opening, Mr. Abdullah's baton and left hand bounced for every quarter note or the equivalent. He left himself little room for interpretation and the spur-of-the-moment nuances that a conductor should provide.
In a composition such as Brahms' "Tragic Overture" that opened the concert, it is not as noticeable because every member of the orchestra is familiar with the remarkable work. The sound was stout and the cries of the woodwinds plaintive. The greater sections didn't lock into place as they could have, but it was sonically gorgeous.
Mr. Abdullah's metronomic approach made the next work, Hindemith's "Mathis der Maler" Symphony, bounce around without much direction.
This is especially a problem in a piece that stems from an opera and that uses the 20th-century composer's idiosyncratic system.
Hindemith's music sounds tonal but doesn't function that way. Each chord sounds "normal" but they don't connect the way we are used to. It takes a strong presence on the podium to mold this music.
Lacking that, the performance dissolved into micro-moments: a silvery solo here by flutist Lorna McGhee, a rich one by oboist Cynthia DeAlmeida, soaring strings and thick brass chords. But little connecting into a whole.
Things got less better (trying hard, mom) after intermission when violinist Nicola Benedetti took the stage to solo in Tchaikovsky's venerable Violin Concerto.
I just don't hear what the industry sees in her. She opened with an out-of-tune note and used vibrato to mask many more. She sawed through many a fast-paced section and was mawkish in the slower parts, including the cadenza and much of the middle movement. And even with Mr. Abdullah's constant beating, there were several times the performance got out of sync.
Let's just leave it at that.
Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1750.