AMC attended a concert by Chamber Music Pittsburgh featuring the Pacifica Quartet and guest violist David Harding. It was an intriguing program of contrasting musical styles. The Ligeti Quartet No. 1is a lyrical piece that incorporates traditional string playing as well as techniques such as hammer ons and glissandos. Ligeti's musics uses traditional musical phrases and structures in unusual ways, for example, a series of chords that sometimes indicates the end of a piece where here, Ligeti incorporates them into the middle of the piece. Yet, the listener is not fooled into thinking that it is indeed the end. It is not tonal music, but certainly not radical atonal either.
The second piece was the Mozart Quintet in G minor. This work incorporates an additional viola to the usual string quartet. This adds a warmth to the music that AMC often finds lacking in other works by Mozart. The second viola tamps down some of the fussiness and superficiality that AMC finds in much of Mozart's music. The additional viola part was played by David Harding who is Professor of Viola and Chamber Music at Carnegie Mellon University. He played as if he was a long-term member of the Pacifica group.
The final work was Ravel's String Quartet. This work, Ravel's only String Quartet, is reminiscent of Debussy's earlier quartet. Often these two works appear on CDs together. There was something odd about this performance. Maybe the worked suffered in comparison to the innovation of Ligeti and the warmth of Mozart. As the final work on the program it somehow sounded weak and unengaging, at least for AMC, who suggest that maybe something a bit less transparent and diaphanous would make a better concluding work.
The Pacifica Quartet played beautifully. Its odd that the program does not list the individual members. Maybe it was an oversight. The members are: Simin Ganatra, first violin; Sibbi Bernhardsson, second violin; Masumi Per Rostad, viola; and Brandon Vamos, cello. Ms. Ganatra was very expressive, at least physically, in her performance. She acted out the emotionality of every phrase as she interpreted it, going from happy, to satiric, to sad, etc. AMC found it a bit distracting since AMC believes its best left up to the listener to project their own emotional associations to the music. Mr. Per Rostad was phenomenal on the viola. He had a grand tone that added depth to the performance that other violists seem to not be able to do. The concert was held at the sumptuous Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh. It is a baroque masterpiece with a lobby that is truly from the "Gilded Age." AMC was bit disappointed in the acoustics because the instruments seemed to lack presence, usually a sign that the mid-range of the instruments were being lost in the acoustic space. Could be the seat that AMC was seated in- a bit under the overhang of the first balcony. The hall looks small but it has 1950 seats, which is larger than Atlanta's Symphony Hall. The size of the space may have accounted for the lack of presence.
AMC attended the Pittsburgh Opera performance of Verdi's Otello. While the libretto is a retelling of the Shakespeare work, it seems to lack a certain believability given the compressed time of an opera. In other words, it was difficult to believe that Otello could so easily be convinced of the infidelity of Desdemona, but it is theater, not real life! The performance was impressive with Anthony Michaels-Moore as the evil Iago, Carl Tanner as a somewhat confused Otello, and Danielle Pastin as the ill-fated Desdemona. The Pittsburgh Opera has resident artists, but none of these lead characters were sung by them. Ms. Pastin, however, is a former resident artist. AMC was mightily impressed with the Pittsburgh Opera Orchestra, especially the brass and woodwinds. The percussion in the initial were incredible. In fact, if the Orchestra was not miked, the acoustics of the Benedum Center are pretty astounding. It was as if the orchestra was fully on stage in a much smaller theater. The voices of the singers likewise were full and rich and almost intimate. The Chorus had about 60 voices and it had a great dynamic range.
AMC was not impressed with the sets. The first act seemed to work the best. The second act set seemed to make no sense with the exception of a grand chair befitting Otello was introduced. But the rest of the set was leftover from Act I and it had little to do with the content of the second act. The final Act set was better, since the lighting downplayed the portion from Act 1 and highlighted the all important bed. Finally, the simulated red-tiled floor was badly worn, which could be easily seen from AMC's balcony seat. Those in the orchestra seats would hardly notice.
The theater was about 2/3 full. But the Benedum has about 2800 seats and the performance was on a Tuesday night. The theater itself is gorgeous. From the huge walnut doors, to the wonderful and original brown and green colors, to the gold and silver leaf decoration, this is a sumptuous setting in which to see an opera. Pittsburgh patrons dress up for the Opera- there were many tuxes and evening gown . AMC wonders what it must have been like to have attended a movie in such a wonderful space. Apparently the movies in the 20s and 30s, when this theater was built, drew huge crowds.
Pittsburgh, like many northeastern cities have wonderful baroque and Beaux Arts theaters. They may not be as old as those in Europe, but they are a treat to the eye and ear nevertheless.
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