Moon Doh Conducts a Midsummer Night’s Symphony
By George B. Parous
While Heinz Hall gets a summer facelift, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has moved across the street to the O’Reilly Theater, for a short series of Summer with the Symphony concerts. As much of the orchestra as fits on the O’Reilly stage, that is – still many excellent instrumentalists – with Moon Doh, assistant conductor, at the helm and ready with a clever quip or two that amused the large audience between a few of the numbers. It was a gratifyingly large audience, and another sure sign that the PSO’s loyal following will never get enough of them and rise up in a hearty ovation that rattles the walls, wherever they may perform.
Moon Doh, conductor
The program was arranged as “short,” or so the notices said; starting at 7:00 p.m. and ending ninety minutes later (in the middle of a tremendous downpour, as the case proved to be last evening). But the concert seemed to fly by in a flash considerably shorter, so well-chosen and played were the numbers on the program. In that hour and a half, we heard some of the best of Felix Mendelssohn and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in the Shakespeare themed program arrangement, and two other fine works as well.
First up was Mendelssohn; selections of Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Opus 61. The orchestra played the best scherzo, intermezzo, and nocturne from the work, and finished with the very well-known Wedding March, and the Dance of the Clowns for Act V of the play. Mr. Doh and the orchestra delivered the music wonderfully, with great color and emphasis stressed on the climaxes. One drawback to such an orchestra in such a theater as the O’Reilly is that the almost inevitable stray horn (the instruments that seem to sometimes have minds of their own) flare out prominently rather than getting squashed by the immensity of the full forces in a much larger space. But these were few and far between last evening.
Members of the PSO, Adam Liu, cello (center)
Gioachino Rossini was next on the program, with a rousing rendition of his marvelous Introduction, Theme and Variations for Clarinet and Orchestra. Believed to have been composed for students as part of their annual exams and competitions, as played last night by the orchestra and Victoria Luperi, this was a masterpiece of astonishing bravura rather than a test piece. Ms. Luperi, appointed associate principal clarinet and principal E-flat clarinet of the PSO by Manfred Honeck in 2016, gave a stellar performance that was little short of astonishing.
Victoria Luperi, Clarinet (center)
One of the most impressive pieces played was Anna Clyne’s Sound and Fury (2019). Clyne has stated that she drew on two works for inspiration – Haydn’s Symphony No. 60 (“Il Distratto”) and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and that she has structured her work as one movement consisting of six sub-sections. In the fifth section, “I looped a harmonic progression from the Adagio in Il Distratto,’ she has said, “that provides for a bed of sound to support the delivery of the soliloquy… delivered by Macbeth upon learning of his wife’s death, and from which my work takes its title – Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow… To the last syllable of recorded time… It is a tale… Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury…” “My intention with Sound and Fury,” Clyne has further stated, is to take the listener on a journey that is both invigorating, with ferocious string gestures that are flung around the orchestra with skittish outbursts, as well as serene and reflective, with haunting melodies that emerge and recede.” Doh and the orchestra accomplished her intention with a vigorous rendition that left the audience delighted.
Closing the program was Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy-Overture. The beautiful music was a soothing balm to conclude a summer evening of music. But nothing could be concluded, of course, before the typical roaring ovation that only a PSO audience can deliver was over, when the audience decided it was over. The Thursday night “Summer Shorts” concerts will continue at the O’Reilly on July 20 and 27. For full program details, tickets and more, visit the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra website.
PS – One of the fun features of the evening was seeing and hearing the percussion folks up close!
Photography by Julie Goetz
Current state of affairs at Heinz Hall