Russian repertoire enchants audience
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra had a concert on Friday Jan. 30th. The concert, conducted by Krysztof Urbanski, was held at the ever opulent Heinz Hall. If you’ve never been, I would greatly encourage going to a symphony just for the ambiance of the Hall. The auditorium is beautifully lit, with impressive chandeliers adorning the ceiling in an arrangement that is reminiscent of a necklace. The stage itself is surrounded by impressive, modern-looking auditory buffers and wood paneling, and the wall-to-floor red velvet carpeting completes the experience, making a potential viewer feel like he stepped into an old European opera house. The concert itself opened with “Russian Overture,” a piece composed by Sergei Prokofiev. The piece started out with simple call and response melodies and never extended its reach to elicit any emotion from the viewer in its relatively brief 14-minute runtime.
The second piece was the highlight of the show, due in no small part to soloist Noah Bendix-Balgley, a violinist of international quality who is soon going to be Berlin Philharmonic’s concertmaster. The piece, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra by Aram Khachutarian, featured Balgley, who lent immense emotional gravitas to the solo parts. The Concerto’s opening movement is performed in the traditional sonata form, with two contrasting themes and a full development section. After a brief introductory outburst by the orchestra, Balgley presents an animated motif that soon evolves into a bounding, close-interval folk dance. This theme, punctuated once by the strong orchestral chords from the introduction, continues for some time before it gives way to a lyrical complementary strain of nostalgic emotional character. As the movement unfolds, the soloist is required to display one dazzling technical feat after another, culminating in a huge cadenza that serves as the bridge to the recapitulation. The finale is a whirling showpiece for Balgley that evokes the energetic world of jazz as Balgley’s violin playing drops in with blazing orchestral color.
The final piece, “Pictures at an Exhibition” was composed by Modest Mussorgsky. The piece is composed of ten different sections. According to Mussorgsky, the first section, called Promenade, depicts the composer roving through the exhibition “now leisurely, now briskly, and at times sadly, thinking of his friend.” The piece’s opening act is a mixture of triumph and quiet introspection. The soloist Balgley calls forth the feeling of matchless beauty and sacred enchantment during this part. The middle section is fairly standard material, and then the piece ends in an epic orchestral movement, with booming brass and swelling score. If anything, I would recommend one see the orchestra simply for the soloist, whose masterful playing creates emotional depth throughout the three pieces.