Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Music I am Being Drawn To

I have been listening to String Quintet by Schubert for days. It is the most delicate, miraculous music experience I've ever had: Often, I found that I was smiling with tears.

For such a music piece, words fail. However, I found a forum and Hoshang Dastoor's comment makes others redundant.

Schubert String Quintet is one of the noblest and most elevated examples of pure and direct communication with the Divine through the medium of instrumental music. One of the great tragedies of music was Schubert's most untimely passing at the age of 31. And yet an intimate experince of the Quintet tends to draw us inexorably to the conclusion that, having created this masterpiece, he realised the greatest heights, and we wonder whether he could ever have surpassed himself had he lived a normal life span.

Through the tragedy, then, we rejoice because here is a soul who has travelled very far indeed on his chosen spiritual path. One of the distinguishing features of Schubert's greatest music is the tremendous power of its expression. This is seen in his String Quartet No. 15 in G Major and also in the "Great" C Major Symphony. But it is in the Quintet that this power is at its most all-embracing and versatile. Here, Schubert takes you into regions of intense concentration, where there is a still centre that nothing can ever disturb or agitate.

The first such oasis is the second subject of the first movement, where you are carried in a gently meandering stream. There is a deep pulse here, subtle and ever-present, and a sense of quietly determined movement. And you wonder, as always with the quintessential late Schubert, how beautiful his tunes are and how difficult it is at the same time to grasp their true inner meaning.

One is soon immersed in that incomparable miracle of inspiration, the second movement, where you are suspended in an intense, dimensionless region, at once bottomlessly profound and unsurpassably lofty, and are utterly quieted in that trance-like meditation. This music cannot be described in ordinary terms - it suffuses the human organism wholly, and cleanses the spirit with infinite wisdom and gentlenes and love. Having said that, we find ourselves plunged into that stormy middle section - only to find to our vastest surprise that the agitation is but another side, a complementary aspect, as it were, to the initial, quietly meditative impulse of this movement. This section is introspective throughout the gamut of its hard struggles; its laboured breathing is worship, and we are climbing up a jagged mountain, returning to peace only after falling many times. And what a return it is! How is Schubert going to make it, we ask ourselves. And yet, the reprise of the opening is a pure miracle - the sense of moving from darkness to light. And even when out of that dim and troublous tunnel, we cannot forget our agitation easily. Schubert lets us come out of it gradually, on our own terms, as if he knows that any more abrupt transition would be shattering to our psyches. Nearing the end of the second movement is that celebrated timeless point where there is an attempt to re-enter that grim tunnel (we wonder why, in the first place), and we hover at the brink in a state of almost unbearable suspense, before we are finally led towards wonderflly calm resolution as the all-pervading tranquility of the final bars descends upon us.

We sonder whether Schubert will ever be able to recapture this state of being, especially after the tumultous and strident opening of the third movement. However, the trio does have a surprise in store - it is deeply mysterious and still, and we are led into yet another brief journey of the spirit. The greatest musical works are those that incorporate many diverse levels of intellectual and spiritual experience, and balance all of these so as to envelope and enrich our whole being. Such creations are indeed rare and the C Major Quintet is a supreme example.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Being of Love

May 12, 2006 Friday

Wolfgan Amadeus Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G. minor
Reza Vali The Being of Love
Ms. DeYoung Mezzo-Soprano


Peter Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 in E minor

Conducted by Manfred Honeck

the night of world premier of Iranian composer Reza Vali’s “The Being of Love”, Heinz Hall was only half filled. It’s a fact that most subscribers are cautious about modern pieces, not to mention that work is originated from Iran’s folk songs. Aaron Copland once said that composing is not a happy art. “The composer depends on someone else to perform. If he can’t get anyone to play his work, he might just as well have not written it. The country is filled with sad and lonely figures walking around with unperformed music in their pockets.” In this sense, Vali is lucky.

In China, music critics used to say “越是民族的,越是世界的”, which can be translated into English as “the more true the music is to its cultural root, the greater potential for universal acceptance”. I partially agree with it with discretion. If so, Peking Opera, which is facing fast dwindling domestic audience, should have acclaimed Vienna golden Music Hall already. In fact, a composer is a universe of his own. He has to speak of his own language based on his cultural environment and educational background. Tan Dun traces back his special experience of working for an opera troupe during Cultural Revolution and clashes it with modern music. Vali explores his cultural heritage in the frame of more traditional western system. But to modulate oriental style into western diatonic scale without losing its authenticity is a paramount job. Tan Dun succeeded with exploring the infinity of quasi-percussion style of Chinese music in the context of modern atonality and sound texture. The premiere of The Being of Love showed that Vali cleverly avoided Persian system by adapting more flexible folk songs as his musical elements.

Born in Ghazvin, Iran, Reza Vali, who began collecting folk songs as well as Beetle’s at the age of 14, began his formal musical studies at Conservatory of Music in Teheran. He moved to the capital of classical music – Vienna later, where he traversed music journey from a huge time span. “I was in a concert of Bruckner by Karajan. It was great.” However, Mahler, he confessed, is his favorite composer. Vali moved to Pittsburgh for Ph.D. study when steel mills were still dominating scenes in the city. Now he is a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University and lives with his big family.

In 1999, Vali made his first visit back to Iran over more than 20 years. It was a fruitful trip in that he brought back a whole suitcase of audiotapes and booklets, all of which were related to folk songs. The premiered work, commissioned by PSO two years ago, was one of his many exploration of those songs obtained from his trip.

I always appreciate the tutorial offered by PSO one hour before the concert. But for such a unique world-premier work, a tutorial featuring composer himself was essential. Modern music is difficult not only because it has recondite melodies and free form devoid of repetition, but also because it comes from a lack of comprehension of the way in which the music is put together. During the pre-concert tutorial, several original Persian folk songs were played. It reminded me immediately of the movie “Prisoner of the Mountains”. (In fact geographically there is some similarity between Chechnya and Iran.) The melodies are picturesquely expansive with prime simplicity, climbing up and down freely. However, the elongated syllables of words keep trembling repeatedly between adjacent notes (with surprising modulation), therefore propel the free-paced songs with energy and dynamics. It sounds remote and close at the same time, as if contradictorily it originates from mountains faraway but lingers just ten feet above. Vali borrowed the idesa from Bartok and divided his song-cycle into two categories, “imaginary” and “authentic”. However, no matter whether or not the melodies were created by composer himself, he completely changed the format, composition and color of those folk songs. It possesses more forms from western orchestra works with only folk song elements and poem stanza remained.

In fact, one can sense the influence of western music on the work without much difficulty. Similar to Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde”, the work also has five movements and is centered on the last one. The last movement, which gives the set the title, is the musical and philosophical culmination of theme. In Mahler’s “Fareware”, every time the return of the theme sang by woodwind section builds up the dark and mysterious atmosphere followed by the parting from soprano. Here, in the last movement of “The Being of Love”, Vali takes full advantage of percussion instruments so that greater and greater momentums are stacked to the final climax. Then with such great energy suddenly to release, the mezzo-soprano sings the ecstasy of love by surmounting the whole orchestra.

The serene fourth movement has delicate small chamber ensemble-styled sections, which are not uncommon in Bruckner’s symphonies. The movement is highlighted by a wind chime in E Minor which was specially made for this work from a company in Montana. The quiet atmosphere comes from space of silence between notes, a feature common in oriental music. But Vali also quoted from Wagner and Messiaen to accompany Persian stanza in order to reflect the sensual aspect of love. One of the audiences asked how Wagner’s work, like “Tristan Und Isolde” influenced on his work. He answered that in Wagner the ultimate destination or outlet of love is extinction, rooted from Schopenhauer; while Rumi, the great Persian Sufi poet whose poem he used for the last movement, states love has the power to move the mountain, therefore provides an opposite explanation of love in his new work.

It was amazing for Michelle DeYoung to sing the love song cycle in Persian. DeYoung’s voice has penetrating power that could surmount the orchestra. She is a Wagnerian singer, which based on Vali’s intention can reflect how westerners see love. Although I doubt that no more than 5% of the audience could understand the lyrics, Ms. DeYoung expressed what she felt from the poems in her voice. She smiled most of the time as if she were blessed and falling in love with the work.


It was also Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck’s debut in Pittsburgh. He conducted both Mozart and Tchaikovsky without score. Under his baton, Mozart’s G Minor symphony was balanced but dramatic although the tempo he chose tended to be on the brighter (lighter) side. His Tchaikovsky was under deep consideration. There was magic chemistry with the orchestra. Michael Rusinek explored the gloomy murky psychological effect with lower register of his clarinet; while playing in high register, he played such a sheer beauty with a sense of uneasiness. William Caballero sang the tender melody in the second movement like submissive sighs. I was probably not the only person who was touched by his solo with tears. The transition from reticent croon to sudden hysteria burst-out from the orchestra was harsh and crude with no mercy. It was these seemed-to-be repellent and exaggerated sections that made Tchaikovsky’s music unique. I, standing there to gave long ovation to Mr. Honeck’s debut, began to wonder what the orchestra would sound when legendary Dohnányi come to conduct Tchaikovsky’s No. 6 symphony next week. (Unfortunately, I will never know, since I have to leave out of town for a conference.)

The Being of Love


The Being of Love,
Is separate from any existence,
Love is the mystery
of God’s creation.

Through love,
The soul of the earth
reached the depth of the universe.
Mountains arose,
moving to an ecstatic, celestial dance.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Thoughts after United 93

Even with British director Greengrass’ effort to deliver an objective documentary-style movie, United 93, with its issuing date so close to 911 event, is destined to be a patriot movie.

Objectivity of movies lies on space and time when a history event will be narrated or reevaluated. When Titanic was on the big screen years ago, a love story had to be added to complicate the straight-line plot. In Spielberg's Saving Pirate Ryan, audience was shocked by the battle in Normandy, but the bloodiest scene can hardly bring any memory to anyone. However, with Ben Laden probably still hides somewhere in the mountains of Afghan and the big geographic scars from falls of WTC remained unhealed in lower Manhattan, 911’s replay, no matter how objective it is, only bring back the darkest moment to American. When the menacing music echoes the engine’s humming from airplane in the movie, the word came immediately to my mind was “TERRIBLE”.

After having talked with a few international students, especially a few Turkish, I was surprised to find that, from their point of view, the movie only tells the world that United States is still in its narcissistic stage. Even though I tried to defend the quality of the movie, I was finally persuaded that at least United 93 is a good movie in a bad time.

What Americans call “Freedom of Iraq” is, in words of other non-alliance countries, “invasion and occupation”, period.

Bush, with his rashness to please warlords and his eagerness to get out of mire from domestic issues, initiated the war without thinking the consequences. For him (and probably with Rumsfeld), to eradicate Saddam’s government can undoubtedly lead to democracy and peace in Iraq. Now with the second gulf war goes well into its fourth year accompanied with more than 2,400 death penalty of American solders, US still sees little light in shedding the possibility of getting out of the mud.

It turns out that there is not that much difference between Bush and Ben Laden in terms of their strategy against each other. When Ben Laden sent his villains to the airplane of United 93, what he cared was only to destroy the Capitol: their lives thus would “sacrifice” in a loft way. When Bush sent his troops to Iraq (let’s forget how ridiculous he related Iraq with 911), what he cared was to get rid of Saddam Hussein. How to make his troops safe home was less important. And both failed. Although WTC disappeared forever, Americans, undeterred and knowing who is the enemy they are facing with, stand stronger. Although Bush applauded the removal of Saddam’s Statue, the new order, the promised peace is far from being established.

Bush Administration once stated, at this stage, decisions of troop withdrawal should be made with speculation and discretion. Otherwise all achievement accomplished in Iraq could be futile. Bush’s statement is based on that only US can build up new orders for Iraq or there is no peace unless US troop IS in Iraq. However, the fact is the world would be better off without one-side international police. There is more than one ideology in the world, more than one religion in the world, more than one possible democracy in the world. What fits America best may fail in other countries.

Americans have somehow lost in their mind in defining whom the war is against. Year ago, Americans called the war as “war against terror”. As an article in New Yorker said, terror is just another word of war. War against terror is like war against war, leading to nowhere to end. Then word “terrorists” was changed to “Islamic extremists”. By this definition, Iraqi civilians are not extremists while it is they who are under control and monitor of US troops. Among them, some may praise the help from US, some may stand closer to some radical groups. But most stay in between. Between yes and no, to do and not to do, there is a gray area where peace and unison survives better under the tolerance of no-definite categorization. That’s what Bush should learn.

Among passengers in United 93 on 911, they are fathers, daughters, employees, as ordinary as you can find in any airplane. Those terrorists are human flesh too, not tall, not strong, not unafraid. It is the hatred which has oppressed Muslim so long from western countries that finally sent some extremists to take the one-way plane. It is also the hope of survival that launched the heroic fight-back from passengers. In United 93, there was no gray area.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Heavy Dancing

May 5, 2006 Friday

Yakov Kreizberg/Conductor
Johann Strauss, Jr. Emperor Waltz
Felix Mendelssohn Concerto in E minor for Violin and Orchestra
Janine Jansen/Violin


Richard Strauss Also sprach Zarathustra
Johann Strauss On the Beautiful Blue Danube

When I got the program note, I immediately noticed that PSO had changed the title of the concert from “Shall we dance” to “Epic Masterpieces” at the last moment. It is odd to link Johann Strauss and Richard Strauss on one night. It seemed that previously PSO’s marketing strategy is to emphasize on those Waltzes. Its posters featured violinist Janine posing with her graceful slender body slightly curved. However, for some serious classical music lovers (especially those subscribers) the once minority-taste Bruckner and Mahler are giantified and for the same reason, Richard Strauss is more appreciated by connoisseurs than caricatured dance music composers. Thus, it seemed that changing the title to “Epic Masterpieces” added much weight to the perspective view of the concert.

Nevertheless, Strauss’ waltzes were the first few pieces I became familiar with when classical music in China was confused with Richard Clayderman’s piano. For years China’s Central TV station has been broadcasting the annual Vienna New Year’s Concert live. No sooner had my family finally got a colored-TV than I began to get bored of the concert even though it happens only once a year. The freshness fades away after the first few waltzes and even in each waltz the music is filled with several melodies which seem to never grow. Moreover, it has been institutionalized to a social event with special etiquettes. Everything is predictable: music, audience and even who would host the event from TV station.

During the pre-concert tutorial, WQED Classical program producer Jim Cunningham talked about those waltzes with a retiring violist in the orchestra. Although mostly people think them light, a lot of conductors take music seriously including former music director of PSO Mariss Jansons. If it is true that only those Viennese knows the essence of Waltz, then Yakov Kreizberg definitely has some advantages since he holds the post of Principal Guest Conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Before the concert, he talked a joke of Leonard Bernstein’s conducting VPO. Every member of VPO claimed to master the technique to play those waltzes and unfortunately they differ from each other. Then Mr. Bernstein took up the rein of the orchestra and declared that it had to be performed only in HIS way. “Although it looks easy,” Mr. Kreizberg said,” they are only easy in that it is easy to play them BAD.”

It turned out that his statement was quite right. The Russian-born conductor seemed to be bothered by the concert’s grand title and treated Emperor Waltz like Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. There was something that was going to explode from him but couldn’t find its way to leak out. His torso was tight and his arm movements ungainly. Correspondingly, the orchestra lost its luster in string and exaggerated its brass and percussion. (Actually PSO’s sound has become less and less refined after Mariss Jansons’ leaving and only a few conductors like Peter Oundjian, Charles Dutoit and Andrew Davis have succeeded in meliorating its sound balance.) Yakov Kreizberg succeeded in making dynamics in some sections but failed to attain easy-going rhythms.

Janine Jansen came onto the stage with the overheated atmosphere in the air. Her 1727 Stradivari “Barrere” has exceptional beautiful muscular sound, especially in lower register its sound is abundant and extensive while still keeps sweet tone. The Stradivari Society which funded the extended loan for Janine sets the goal to help artists find the most suitable instruments for them. The Dutch violist is taller than conductor and has beautiful long arms to match the great instrument. Unfortunately, they two didn’t match Mendelssohn’s Violin Concert.

Hanslick once said: “there are four violin concertos in German repertoire (Beethoven, Brahms, Bruch and Mendelssohn). The sweet and most inward belongs to Mendelssohn.” I attended a concert last year in Chicago and listened to Znaider’s performance of the same piece. It was sweet, limpid, meditative, and unmannered with sheer beauty. Yehudi Menuhin’s elegant and vivacious performance with Furtwangler is my favorite. It is as mind-freshening as walking in late spring breeze. However, if the virtuoso in violin is eliminated by Mendelssohn in favor of purity and beauty in the piece, Janine tried to rebuild virtuoso and glamour through her rapacious interpretation. My friend said he liked her performance in that she played precisely and didn’t miss notes even though she played it loud and rush. I can’t agree with it more. However, for me, the unwieldy outward performance, precise and passionate as it was, secretly betrayed Mendelssohn and left me untouched.

The concert was saved in the second half by Richard Strauss “Also sprach Zarathustra” because that’s totally new experience to me. I am not a fan of Richard Strauss and seldom listen to this piece even though I enjoy so much of the first movement thanks to Stanley Kubrick and Karajan’s famous DGG recording. The title borrowed from Nietzsche doesn’t instill philosophical depth into the music; instead Strauss cleverly chose some headings to describe the mood in music. The Dance song reminded me Straussian waltzes in the first half but the orchestration more Wagnerian. Mr. Kreizberg finally found his way to explode and shine and the whole orchestra responded promptly.

A Dinner With Brahms

Besides music itself, there is no better way than food to celebrate Brahms’ 173rd birthday. David Torrey, who decorated his dinning room with Brahms theme, hosted the party for Pittsburgh Frontrunner.

Actually, it was also the birthday (May 7th) of Tchaikovsky. Unfortunately, there are no members who know Russian Cuisine in the running group. On the other hand, Brahms and Tchaikovsky cannot reconcile in music. To Brahms, Tchaikovsky is too sentimental and shallow while to Tchaikovsky, Brahms is too derivative. For Pittsburgh Frontrunners, who to celebrate seems less important than what to eat. Considering Pennsylvania has the largest German descendants in the states, what food to choose or who to honor can be answered easily.

Based on portraits of him, Brahms should be no runner. Luckily, more than 150 years ago, food industry was not plagued by calorie-bombed fry-prone fast food trend. It turned out the food he enjoyed mostly is quite simple and delicious.

A son of a poor family in the poor neighborhood from North Germany, Brahms was humble and never extravagant on food. However, His love of food was well recorded in many biographies and anecdotes. Once he was gravely disappointed when he contracted an illness for which his doctor prescribed a strict diet. "But this evening I am dining with Strauss and we shall have chicken paprika," the composer protested. "Out of the question," the doctor ruled. "Very well, then," Brahms replied. "Please imagine that I did not come to consult you until tomorrow.”

According to Jan Swaffod’s book “Johannes Brahms: A Biography”, after he moved to Vienna after 1862 where he spent the rest of his life, He lived simply in modest lodgings and enjoyed his food by mostly dinning out. One of his favorite restaurants in Vienna is The Red Hedgehod. The menu, which also served me in the party, includes:

Hungarian goulash

Pumpernickel bread


Bavarian Tort

(And of course) German Beer

Other runners also brought some dishes like dissert, salad and sauerkraut. Although the latter food sauerkraut is served in most German restaurants, it is said that sauerkraut actually dates back to c200 B.C. China where the workers building the Great Wall of China ate it as a supplement to their normal diet which consisted mainly of rice. Admittedly, it was made with wine at that time, but nevertheless, it was the origin of today's recipe. Whether Brahms liked it or not is unknown, but one thing for sure, I cannot enjoy it no matter whatever healthy recipe it has. (My dad once frowned his face and commented when eating sauerkraut:” In Germany, vinegar must be free!”)

Dave, who read through Jan’s 700-page biography book of Brahms, found the menu information above and made the main course goulash. The paprika he chose does not have chili in it therefore the taste of goulash is as mild as Brahms. With Brahms’ Hungarian Dances in the air, I promptly finished two dishes of goulash and left no space for any dissert.

To me, Jan’s book is definitely for very serious readers, same as Solomon’s biography of Beethoven. Recently, I begin to read a Beethoven biography written by Edmund Morris, the Pulitzer Prize winner for his book “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt”. Although his book of Teddy Roosevelt is lengthy and detailed so that I haven’t gone through the first few chapters, his book of Beethoven is enticing even for laymen like me. (There are less than 250 pages.) Edmund is non-analytical in music but pedantic for events. His writing style forces him to take a stance from the very beginning even though he keeps an objective tone in narrating Beethoven’s life. He has the capability to weave all those facts together to support his subjective statements so that all the judgments sound natural and unobtrusive unless you are hostile to Beethoven or to the author.

Here is an excerpt that I enjoy. It is about how Beethoven reacted to his deafness.

A distinguishing characteristic of the creative mind is that it can accept reversals of fortune without emotional damage—indeed, process them at once into something rich and strange. Ordinary psyches often react to bad news with a momentary thrill, seeing the world, for once, in jagged clarity, as if lightning has just struck. But then darkness and dysfunction rush in. A mind such as Beethoven’s remains illumined, or sees in the darkness shapes it never saw before, which inspire rather than terrify. This “altered state” (raptus, he would say) makes art of the shapes, while holding in counterpoise “such dualities as intellect and intuition, the conscious and the unconscious, mental health and mental disorder, the conventional and the unconventional, complexity and simplicity.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Emanuel Ax Speaks His Own Beethoven

April 28, 2006 Friday

Sir Andrew Davis Conductor

Ralph Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending
Andres Cardenes/Violin
Dmitri Shostakovich Symphony No. 9 in E-flat Major


Ludwig Van Beethoven Concerto No. 3 in C Minor for Piano and Orchestra
Emanuel Ax/Piano
Richard Wagner Overture to Tannhauser


the pre-concert tutorial, Emanuel Ax and Sir Andrew Davis played Faure’s “Dolly Suite” together. Both dressed in casual. Sir Davis had a black V-neck knit sweater which loosely covered his big belly. Mr. Ax was wearing a light blue sweater, a pair of old black shoe contrasted with white socks.

Emanuel Ax speaks very softly as if every syllable is rounded like a refined note (He studied French in Columbia University). When he speaks, he is as charming and humorous as modest and even humble at the same time. Faure’s four-hand lovely pieces served more like a warm-up for the coming Beethoven Piano Concerto and definitely there was little rehearsal beforehand. To address that, he said: “Faure’s work is beautiful. But sometimes there are some unusual harmonies. I just want to let you know that, hmm, not all that sounds strange is the mistakes we’ve made.”

Faure’s Dolly Suite is very family oriented with an amicable feeling. The second piece is even titled “Mi-a-ou” as Sir Andrew Davis pointed out, but it was the first piece “Barbeque” that soothed audience and performers. The fact that the work is relatively easy in technique freed both from delving hard into the notes. They skimmed through the program and chose the first take of each movement straightforward. The cordial tempo touches a sense of improvisation, therefore the four-hand work, to some degree doubled the pleasure of both audience and pianists.

Emanuel Ax plays the piano in an unusual expressive way. He can communicate what he feels though his fingers (not from his facial and gesture performance) and as an ardent chamber music player, he “talks” with orchestra instead of “speaks” by himself. He is a pianist of least percussion style in that he strings those long sentences naturally and makes each cantabile.

I am not a fan of his tone color however. In Beethoven’s piano concerto, mostly the sound was well-rounded and polished, smooth but lack of nuance. But in the slow movement, he skimmed the keyboard and sustained the damper pedal half way to make hazy sound. The gossamer texture from this tranquil section was surprisingly sensual.

This echoed to how Mr. Ax and Mr. Davis treated the whole Beethoven’s work. Actually Beethoven gave up concerto style at fairly early stage. He must have sensed that the symphonic style intrinsic to concertos would finally force the form to merge with symphonies. His successors didn’t solve the problem either. Brahms’ two piano concertos are more like symphonies with piano accompany while Chopin put orchestra as mere background support. The third piano concerto was a work of Classicism vs. Romanticism. Although bound in a classical form, Beethoven’s emotional expression is in essence romantic, full of enriched color, surprising harmonies and astonishing energy. Mr. Ax inclined to a more romantic interpretation. His recapitulation was more forceful than expected and his second movement was slower. The balance in Classicism was broken by Sir Davis’ less pushing manner. Mr. Davis let the groove come onto the orchestra and didn’t push it to a vivacious status. As a result, the orchestra, although full of colors, was light-weighted and simply made piano sound more eminent.

Emanuel As returned to the stage and played Chopin as an encore. The encore unfortunately was accompanied by the fireworks from PNC Park after the baseball game. Nevertheless it was so breathable and charming. That made me wondering what is the criterion that who should be included in the “Great Pianists of 20th Century” series. American pianists are well represented by Earl Wild, Byron Janis, Van Cliburn, William Kapell, Stephen Kovacevich, Julius Katchen and Andrew Watts. But Emanuel Ax, the winner of the first Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition is not in the list. It is true that Ax spent more time collaborating with other musicians like Yoyo Ma, Isaac Stern, Peter Serkin in chamber music so that his solo career hasn’t been really big, but some listed pianists haven’t convinced me their superiority either from CD or from their concerts.

To everyone’s surprise, Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams was actually the first PSO’s subscription performance. My friends said it sounded like new age music. (I personally once used it as background music for poem recital.) Shostakovich’s No. 9 Symphony is new to me. I read the program notes and understood the dark, sardonic meaning behind the magic number No. 9. However, I always have difficulty in connecting to Shostakovich’s work from heart. Always does it give me cold feeling under composer’s magnificent technique as if the political background has intrinsically weaved into music thus eliminates any deep personal confession. Interestingly, 2006 is 100th anniversary of Shostakovich’s birthday and his works are now performed throughout the world. There are more his works coming in the next music season and hopefully I can learn more in future.