Tuesday evening was "NYRO Goes to Carnegie Hall" as a small group of us ventured north of our usual Times Square neighborhood to the city's most famous concert venue for a performance by the Pittsburgh Symphony and Anne-Sophie Mutter. I hadn't seen the Pittsburgh Symphony in about eight years so it was a treat for me to have my "hometown" orchestra here in my adopted hometown. And I was glad to see familiar faces like Andres Cardenes (concertmaster), Anne Martindale Williams (principal cellist) and Randolph Kelly (principal violist) in the orchestra. For a few moments the experience took me back to my childhood, when my mother took me and my brother to concerts at Heinz Hall and I would be fascinated by everything: the musicians, the conductor, the program, and the sheer size of the hall. Carnegie Hall is no less impressive, though I forgot how steep the upper balcony is.
The first work on the program was Johannes Brahms' dazzling Violin Concerto, with Anne-Sophie Mutter as soloist. I've been a fan of Ms. Mutter's work for many years. I could listen to her play all day long. She attacked the double-stops with a vengeance and handled the lighter melodic sections delicately and with ease. I thought the orchestra balanced well against the solo violin, as music director Manfred Honeck kept his players in check and allowed Ms. Mutter's virtuosity to show. The third movement was especially spirited, and Honeck practically danced on the podium.
After intermission the concert resumed with Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1. Frequent readers know that I love Mahler almost above all other composers, and that his Symphony No. 1 is one of my all-time favorite works. As fond as I am of the Pittsburgh Symphony, I couldn't help but measure their performance of the symphony against my favorite: Alan Gilbert's performance with the New York Philharmonic last May. At first I was slightly disappointed as some of the strings seemed unable to find the right harmonic for the ethereal opening of the piece. Honeck took some liberties with the tempos, which my friends found excessive but I didn't mind as much. It was a crisp performance but not as energetic as I would have liked. I didn't think the musicians or the audience got into the music until the climax of the first movement, which gave me chills despite my earlier misgivings. As the concert went on the orchestra improved. The brass, especially the horns, were outstanding. But the brass and winds also overpowered the strings in a few places, upsetting the delicate balance Mahler indicates in his score. The finale was appropriately bombastic and I couldn't help grinning when the horns stood up near the end (always my favorite part of any performance). The audience erupted with applause and Honeck and the orchestra took several curtain calls. They played Josef Strauss' "Die Libelle": Polka Mazur, Op. 204 for an encore. At the time we couldn't hear Honeck when he announced the name of the piece so we had to play "name that tune" until my friend Susanna tipped me to the title this afternoon.
Based on last night's concert I think the Pittsburgh Symphony is in good hands with Honeck at the helm. I'll have to try to hear them again the next time I'm in Pittsburgh. I love the New York Philharmonic but I'll always have affection for the group that defined orchestral music for my childhood.