Reviews

Notes from the Cheap Seats

I thought it might be helpful to my readers to understand the kinds of concerts and recitals you will find reviewed in this blog.

I arrange my Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra subscription to include concerts that feature new music, especially PSO commissions and premieres. As a composer of choral music, I also have a fondness for works that include chorus. For newly composed works, I’m interested in how well they communicate or express the composer’s intent, and whether the work has the ability to hold the average listener’s attention. While I will be most critical of and devote the majority of my attention to newly composed pieces, I’ll also take time to mention obvious flaws or outstanding moments when they occur, whether the work is a new composition or an old masterpiece. I’ve also spent many years singing in and writing for choral ensembles. Many of those choir’s concerts will be reviewed here, as well, regardless of the type of music programmed.

Don’t expect to get a lot of program notes or historical background in my reviews unless it’s germane to the success of the music. As I mentioned on my About page, although I’ve been educated to understand and have an appreciation for the new, the avant-garde and the esoteric in new music, my intent is to represent the average concert goer. If the piece didn’t work for me, it probably didn’t work for them either.


  • One Perfect Christmas Song

    Disclaimer: Note that when I write One Perfect Christmas Song. I do not mean to imply that it is the only perfect Christmas Song. I am making the claim, however, that it is possible to compose a perfect piece of music – in this case, a song where lyrics, music and message are perfectly married. A little over a week ago, a niece-in-law of mine posted a request on her Facebook page asking her friends to list their favorite Christmas carols. Those of you who know me would think this was right up my alley. I though so, too. But…

  • Unbelievable Performances

    The first time I had the occasion to watch a broadcast of The Kennedy Center Honors was in December of 2012 when, among others, Led Zeppelin were recipients. Wow! Since then, I’ve watched every award broadcast (this year, Martha Argerich, The Eagles, Al Pacino, Mavis Staples, and James Taylor will be honored) and researched back many years – many performances are available on Youtube. In short, The Kennedy Center Honors are the finest produced award shows you will ever witness. I have listed below my favorites, some are artist introductions, most are wonderful, heart-stopping performances. Please watch all of these…

  • Discovering Wild and Wonderful Jazz

    When asked to name their favorite kind of music, many folks will say they listen to mostly one kind; be it country, hip hop, hard rock, rap, etc. I, and most of my musician friends and acquaintances will tell you we listen to many different styles of music and our current favorite changes often, frequently triggered by a chance hearing of some new piece of music in concert or, as in my case in many instances, on TV. My recording collection is pretty eclectic: it contains classical music from the Renaissance to the avant-garde, lots of choral music of all…

  • PSO – J.S. Bach: St. John Passion

    Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra March 6, 2016 J.S. Bach: St. John Passion Manfred Honeck, conductor Sam Helfrich, director Vocalists: Martin Lattke, Paul Armin Edelmann, Sunhae Im, Andrey Nemzer, Thomas Cooley, Lucas Meachem, Alexander Elliott, Jeffrey Klefstad, Amelia D’Arcy, Jonathan MacDonald The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh Bach, Beethoven and Brahms – the classical music triumvirate, the original killer B’s. I have been a huge fan of J.S. Bach’s music since I had the opportunity to sing his B Minor Mass as an undergraduate music student in Cincinnati. Universally acknowledged as a genius, his music is not programmed by symphony orchestras as much…

  • PSO – Conrad Tao: Pángu

    Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra November 1, 2015 Tao: Pángu Gershwin: Concerto in F major for Piano and Orchestra Strauss: Symphonia Domestica Conrad Tao: Pángu When I select PSO concerts each season to include in my subscription, as a composer, I naturally focus on concerts that include contemporary works. And so my primary interest in this concert was Conrad Tao’s Pángu. Pángu is a short, concert overture length work (7 minutes) for full orchestra. The composer’s program notes first relate the Chinese creation myth of Pángu and then proceed to detail how the composition reflects various aspects of the myth. Pángu is…

  • Casablanca

    Casablanca Released: January 23, 1943 Michael Curtiz, director Max Steiner, composer I’m embarrassed to say that, until the PSO presented it on February 15th, I had not seen the movie Casablanca. I understood well that it is a classic; among the finest movies created, but while I love movies, most of my collection is post-2000. I am a huge fan of film scores, however, and am actually in the process of developing a continuing education course on the history of film scores. So when I received an email from the PSO announcing that they would be presenting Casablanca at Heinz Hall with…

  • Branca & Theofanidis Symphonies

    This post is as much a philosophical discussion of what a symphony is, or should be, as it is a review of two symphonies, so I’ve posted it under both Essays and Recording Reviews. While I was compiling my list of favorite symphonies and preparing to teach a new course on the symphony, I realized I needed to bring  my knowledge of contemporary (post-Stravinsky) symphonies up to speed. So while accumulating recordings for my library, I began organizing my thoughts around what it means to compose a symphony – what are my expectations when I listen to a work titled…

  • Pittsburgh Camerata: Dec 20, 2014

    Pittsburgh Camerata Recounting the Nativity St. Andrews Episcopal Church This was the one concert on my list that I anticipated most. I’ve had the pleasure to sing with the Pittsburgh Camerata and was their assistant conductor for a year back in the early 1990’s. It was the most polished ensemble I ever had the opportunity to conduct and I had a blast. The Camerata was a semi-professional choir back then; it is a fully paid, professional ensemble now and their sound yesterday evening was wonderful. For me, the litmus test for a choir’s sound, professional or not, is the tenor…

Posts navigation