PSO shows top form on Europe tour so far
The PSO hasn't played in Paris' La Salle Pleyel since its days with Lorin Maazel, but the audience took to the orchestra, says the orchestra's current musical director, Manfred Honeck.
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Things are going groovy so far for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on its 2010 European Tour. At least, that's one definition of "fetzig," the German word one music critic used to describe the group's playing in Basel, Switzerland's Musiksaal Stadtcasino:
"The orchestra, under Manfred Honeck ... showed itself in top form: groovy in the tutti passages, full of presence in the woodwind (with fabulous oboe and flute solos), precise and not too bombastic in the brass, supple in the strings," wrote Sigfried Schibli in the Basler Zeitung about the PSO's performance of in Dvorak's Symphony No. 8.
The audience apparently felt the same, honoring the PSO with rhythmic clapping.
"The presenter in Basel said it is not always that enthusiastic there," said Manfred Honeck from Frankfurt Wednesday. It was a response that was matched when the PSO played the Salle Pleyel in Paris, where the PSO had not performed since the Lorin Maazel days.
"We had not been in Paris for a long time, but we were enthused that the audience took [to us] immediately," said Mr. Honeck.
In each hall so far, the shows have been sold out and the orchestra was immediately invited back, he said. If these responses sound typical of PSO tours over the years, consider this twist: In five of the six concerts so far the orchestra has not been the top name on the marquee. That went to violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, probably the most famous classical music performer in Europe, performing one of the most beloved works in the repertoire, the Brahms Violin Concerto.
The second half of those five concerts revealed some empty seats following Ms. Mutter's packed performance. But the situation actually helped to reveal the talent of the orchestra rather than put a damper on it.
"If some people are coming because of Anne-Sophie, that is fine. She is a great artist," said Mr. Honeck. "As a critic in Stuttgart said, it was hard to believe that after the first half it could be better, and that is the best compliment that the orchestra can get."
"With a star of her caliber, you always risk being overshadowed, but the opportunity is there to impress people who might not have come to hear the Pittsburgh Symphony, to get them to say, 'I am glad I stayed,' " said principal oboist Cynthia DeAlmeida Wednesday.
That is exactly what happened in Paris, where the Salle Pleyel also resounded with rhythmic clapping after the concert.
Ms. DeAlmeida was the one applauding earlier that day when she and the oboe section paid a visit to the famed Loree oboe factory showroom on Rue de Rome.
"Our oboes are made in Paris," she said. "Most American oboes are."
She and oboist Scott Bell bought new instruments, and she invited the owners of the store to come to the concert. "I felt a great sense of pride in Paris to try my best to sound a way that would make them proud."
Principal horn player William Caballero took some pride in the Paris concert, too, but it was in seeing a poster touting the American orchestras playing at the Salle Pleyel this year: Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic and Pittsburgh Symphony.
"We are right there with them," he said, his voice beaming.
For Mr. Caballero, a tour highlight came when he wasn't playing at all. In the third movement of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, the brass players are silent, letting them sit back as audience members.
"We are thoroughly enjoying it," he said. "We marvel at the sensitivity and pianissimo that the strings are getting."
With the rigorous first leg of this European tour now over (four concerts in four days, getting up early each day for travel), orchestra members are finding time to relax, get a good meal and, yes, practice. But what is most interesting is that many of the members don't spend much time on the music they are performing. One, they already know it by now; two, they play it every night; and three, there is more music to prepare for future concerts.
"A portion of my day practicing is maintenance and doing some spot checking with some solos, and then I do some upcoming repertoire," said Mr. Caballero.
Specifically, he is working on the programs for the last two PSO concerts of the season back in Heinz Hall: Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and Mahler's Symphony No. 3. The former will be performed only a few days after the orchestra returns to Pittsburgh. No rest for the weary.
"Both are large-scale pieces that require a tremendous amount of energy," he said. "Something like Mahler 3 requires preparation and endurance and pacing."
As does the tour itself.
"The first part of the tour was by far the most difficult," said Stephen Kostyniak, associate principal horn player. "It is the life of an orchestra on tour."
He is looking forward to the four days in Vienna, as is Mr. Honeck, who will introduce his visceral, dramatic and onomatopoetic interpretation of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 for the first time in his and Mahler's hometown.
"Those who know the [old] Viennese style will hear it," he said, acknowledging that his reading might raise some eyebrows.
But for now, Mr. Honeck is more than satisfied with the audience reaction to the PSO's performances. "People have said that the orchestra plays so well together, like chamber music, and that is a great compliment for an orchestra."
First Published May 21, 2010 12:00 am