PSO season shows promise

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s international renown allows it to bring in star soloists like Yo-Yo Ma.  (credit: File photo) The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s international renown allows it to bring in star soloists like Yo-Yo Ma. (credit: File photo)

With the beginning of another season approaching fast, you would think that the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) would be rehearsing away at Heinz Hall in the coming weeks — but actually, these musicians are nowhere near Pittsburgh at the moment. In fact, they’re on a different continent.

Music director Manfred Honeck is currently leading the orchestra on the European Festivals Tour, performing 11 concerts in five countries. The PSO has been touring internationally since 1947, and it’s this international status that explains some of the musical gems of the PSO’s upcoming 2013–14 season.

Anticipation for this season is especially high because of recent fiscal events. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the PSO’s deficit nearly tripled over the last fiscal year, presenting major concerns for the orchestra’s future. But in July, a Point Breeze couple donated $1.2 million to fund salary increases for PSO musicians, which should keep the orchestra afloat in an economy that is increasingly unkind to organizations like the PSO.

As usual, the orchestra will start big this season. Last year, superstar pianist Lang Lang opened the season with a bang; this year, the Grammy Award-winning and ever-popular Yo-Yo Ma will start off the year with a predictably explosive performance of Tchaikovsky on Sept. 27.

Yo-Yo Ma is probably the only household name to grace Heinz Hall this season, but the PSO will invite plenty of established talent back to its stage, along with a few lesser-known rising stars. World-renowned violinist Joshua Bell, who performed Bernstein with the orchestra last April, will return in late February to play Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole. And of course, the orchestra never turns down an opportunity to showcase its own talent; PSO concertmaster and acclaimed violinist Noah Bendix-Balgley will perform Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with the orchestra in late October.

Soloists aside, the orchestra will also make a few gentle forays into experimental programming; every once in a while the PSO likes to spice things up by presenting a classic piece in an unconventional way. Although the orchestra will default to some solid orchestral classics like Carmina Burana and Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, there are a few more creative programs in the series, such as the orchestra’s performance of Holst’s The Planets in conjunction with a NASA film. This season will also feature a new event, the Mozart Festival — a two-week program co-presented by the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society and the PSO.

So far, the upcoming season shows promise. The PSO rarely disappoints in delivering world-class performances and inviting renowned soloists, and hopefully this season will be no different.