Pillbox

PSO has hot Spanish date

Recently returned from its tour across Europe, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra played Mozart and Barber as part of Saturday's CMU Night at the PSO. (credit: Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) Recently returned from its tour across Europe, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra played Mozart and Barber as part of Saturday's CMU Night at the PSO. (credit: Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)

Confession time: I am no music critic. Like most people, I listen to music, but I would not consider myself to have “refined taste.” So let this serve as a disclaimer. I am a classical music fan, not an expert. This means I may use amateur language that might make music majors cringe. I am a real person reviewing real music — that’s all.

Last weekend, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) performed a set of three pieces with special guest guitarist Pablo Villegas. The evening was titled Spanish Strings and was conducted by Omer Meir Wellber.

The first piece was Claude Debussy’s Petite Suite. This piece swirled and swayed for the majority of its length, but concluded with a “IV Ballet” that refused to be forgotten. The cheerful and joy-inducing melody of Debussy’s “IV Ballet” captured the audience with its catchy tune. This piece was a good lead-in to the more specialized taste of the second piece of the evening.

The second piece of the night welcomed Villegas to assist with Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. The first section was to basically establish how fantastic Villegas is as a guitar player. His fingers appeared electrified as they meticulously slid up and down the guitar neck in a basic interaction with the orchestra.

It was in the “II. Adagio” that the ugly disparity of the sound between the soulfully played guitar and strictly trained orchestral instruments unfolded. There was an uncomfortable mix of sound when it came to the universally recognized classical sound and the culturally specific Spanish-sounding guitar.

However, it was in an encore performance that Villegas really displayed his talent. He exuded a certain confidence as he strummed along to an Argentine song without accompaniment of the PSO, which resulted in multiple standing ovations.

Despite all the wonderful music playing, it was clear that the centerpiece of the concert was really the conductor, Wellber. The Israeli’s apparent enthusiasm for the music is rivaled by few other modern conductors. During the third and final piece of the night, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony, Opus 58, Wellber contorted and moved with the music as it flowed from loud to soft, to loud again and back to soft. You could hear the excitement in his breath as he deeply inhaled with anticipation of the fortissimo that was to come in between each silence. Wellber exerts himself so much that if one were to take away the symphony he would look absolutely deranged.

But at his core, it is plain to see that Wellber, simply put, just really loves music. It takes over his entire body (He has the physical musicality present in Disney’s Fantasia 2000). His dedication to music is obvious and made me realize that symphonies surround us. Of course, there are the ones that are composed by Bach and Mozart and Liszt, but there are symphonies during intermissions where it is mostly a composition of voices, as well as the symphonies of honking cars and noisy buses outside on the street. It is clear to see that Wellber lives in the music and that his attitude is infectious to anyone in the audience.