Pittsburgh Symphony triumphs
When one thinks of Pittsburgh, “home of an internationally recognized orchestra” is probably nowhere near the top of the list of things that come to mind. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s concert with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter on Sept. 17, however, proved that Pittsburgh has a musical giant in its midst.
The PSO had just returned from an extended tour in Europe, where it enjoyed a warm reception from audiences. Yet even preceded by an international tour, the orchestra’s first performance since its return to Pittsburgh was anything but anticlimactic. With selections from Bizet’s Carmen, Mendelssohn’s Italian Concerto, and Ravel’s Bolero — not to mention the stunning performance of Grammy-winning solo violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter — the program certainly announced that the now internationally recognized orchestra is a force to be reckoned with.
Despite the orchestra’s excellence, Mutter was the jewel of the evening’s performance, with her strong stage presence and distinct stylistic voice. Crossing the stage in a bold red dress to a round of thunderous applause, she began her solo dramatically and with an unusual abundance of vibrato that at times seemed flowery, even excessive. From any other violinist, this excess of vibrato might be an indication of frayed nerves; but Mutter, far from self-conscious, played with a refreshing combination of confidence and spontaneity, at times even reaching to tighten her bow or pluck off a broken bow hair in the short breath of space between phrases.
Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto certainly highlighted Mutter’s exceptional ability to play vigorously yet also bring out the tenderness of some of the slower phrases in a remarkable juxtaposition of fierce and soft. On the other hand, Sarasate’s Fantasy on Carmen, a true virtuoso piece, showcased Mutter’s exquisite technical ability and her prowess as one of the most celebrated violinists in today’s musical world.
The orchestra, though merely accompanying during the solo pieces, was not to be overlooked. The performances of the Italian Symphony and of Carmen certainly established the orchestra’s capability, demonstrating well-rehearsed professionalism, elegant dynamics, and sheer grace. But the final selection on the program, Ravel’s mesmerizing Bolero, unquestionably showcased the PSO’s potential for greatness as an emerging orchestra on the international stage. The performance — an incredibly slow, nearly undetectable crescendo throughout, carried by a simple and repetitive yet hypnotic dance-like melody — earned the orchestra a wild standing ovation.
The PSO’s recent tour in Europe was only a taste of the things to come for this emerging international presence. Though less established than its peers, the PSO is unquestionably a rising star on the musical scene.