Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Give Second Performance of a Brilliant Program

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Dancers Make Ravel’s “Boléro” More Thrilling Than Usual

By George B. Parous

Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra gave one of their most memorable performances last evening, and a throng was gathered at Heinz Hall to enjoy every note of it. Road closures and the Arts Festival made getting to the hall somewhat of a challenge, but nothing could keep the immense crowd of music lovers away. The auditorium must have been an inspiring sight from the stage, for the conductor and his orchestra played splendidly, and the audience most definitely was inspired by the sights and sounds coming from the stage.

Mere mention of the pieces on the program and the performers who brought them vividly, thrillingly to life would seem to defy any criticism, and tempt a writer to state simply: “They blew the roof off the joint. The end.” But since the concert has its final performance at 2:30 this afternoon, a few words describing its high merits are in order, although tickets at this point should be grabbed as quickly as possible. As of this writing, rear orchestra seats are available, and the family circle and gallery are filling quickly.

The program opened with what was, hands down, the best of the short curtain raisers played by the PSO this season, with Friday night’s performance being its world première. In her Forging Steel, commissioned by the PSO, Stacy Garrop has composed about ten minutes of original, brilliantly orchestrated music that thrills on a first hearing. In a style entirely her own, Garrop has set to music exactly what her title implies. The piece begins with tremendous chords, powerfully, loudly depicting what one would imagine the works of Pittsburgh’s defunct steel mills might have sounded like if set to music. The orchestration makes the listener feel the heat and chaos. The music swirls with excitement and is a perfect performance length. Ms. Garrop was on hand to receive one the heartiest and most sincere ovations of the evening.

Igor Levit, piano

Igor Levit, the dynamic pianist, was the guest soloist who added much excitement to George Gershwin’s Concerto in F major for Piano and Orchestra. Unlike Gershwin’s earlier and well-known Rhapsody in Blue, this concerto was orchestrated entirely by the composer himself. The concerto is composed in the traditional three movements: Allegro (F major), Adagio – Andante con moto (D-flat major), and Allegro agitato (G minor → F minor → F major), but the thematic links between the movements all show jazz influences. Levit played in a manner that justified his world renown from start to finish. The music and his talents complement the other to a startling degree, and after the usual number of recalls that PSO audiences insist upon, he returned and played a very brief, delicate encore.

As amazing as the first part of the program was, the second managed to be even more of a thrill. It began with the second performance of a Symphonic Suite from Salome. The concept of the suite is Maestro Honeck’s and was arranged by Tomáš Ille. Those familiar with Richard Strauss’ one-act shocker of an opera can well imagine what a brilliant idea this conception was, but it by no means is a tiresome “Best of Salome” medley. Every motif used in the piece is immediately recognizable, as is the fact that not every obvious, best bit of the opera was squashed into the suite and in order. It’s a wonderful arrangement, and Honeck and the orchestra played it in their usual style. It was a truly astonishing performance and received the massive ovation it deserved. Yet the best was yet to come.

Manfred Honeck, conductor, PSO, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Artists – Corey Bourbonniere (center)

The Boléro, the rhythmic masterpiece of Maurice Ravel, is familiar to just about everyone, whether they know it by name or recognition. It may be taken for granted that an orchestra such as the PSO, under a conductor such as Honeck, gave a magnificent performance of the work. Their brilliant playing was augmented by a tremendous performance by dancers from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. In costumes of red and black, the dancers performed Susan Jaffe’s choreography in grand form. The closing ovation was as long and vehement as the performance deserved.

A fair-sized part of the crowd remained for the post-Concert pieces. Those who didn’t missed wonderful performances of Three Preludes for Four Violins and Piano (George Gershwin) and Hora Mӑrṭiṣorului (Anghelus Dinicu). All of the numbers were arranged by Igor Kraevsky, who played the piano accompaniments, and the four talented violinists were Irene Cheng, Yeokyung Kim, Laura Motchalov and Dylan Naroff. These works will not be a part of today’s matinee.

PSO, Manfred Honeck, conductor, Igor Levit-piano

The program will be repeated a final time this afternoon. Try to reserve tickets at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra website. Go to or call the box-office since tickets frequently are returned for various reasons – just get there and witness a performance you won’t forget.

Photography by Julie Goetz

Categories: Our Posts, Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: