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Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra strikes Americana chords with 'Arlington Sons'

| Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, 11:58 p.m.

Review

Two pieces of American music and a big romantic concerto filled Friday night's Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert led by principal guest conductor Leonard Slatkin.

The evening at Heinz Hall began with the world premiere of the orchestral version of a remarkable piece called “Arlington Sons” by Scott Eyerly, who wrote the words and music.

“Arlington Sons” is a deftly drawn portrayal of a family visit to Arlington National Cemetary, where the father's father had served in the honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Bass-baritone David Pittsinger commissioned the piece as a gift for his son Richard, who is soloist and head chorister of the St. Thomas Choir School in New York City. The multi-generational story is taken from their family history.

Eyerly differentiates the meaning of the visit for father and son with nicely contrasted musical ideas. The broad melody with which the father leads his son up a hill expressed a dignity that mixes respect and love. In one sense the visit is a lesson to his son about their family history, honor and patriotism. In another, it's the father's touching his father's memory.

The composer and librettist is also keenly attuned to the boy's sense of playfulness. A natural humor is only one of Eyerly's smart choices that lighten what easily could have been cloying sentimentality. But at the end the boy sings what had been the father's long melody. As he grows older, the day will come to have deeper meaning for him.

The Pittsingers gave a memorable performance, assured both technically and in dramatic touch. Richard Pittsinger was a pleasure to encounter. His father added to his list of fine performances in Pittsburgh.

Eyerly spoke from the stage to introduce his piece and mentioned that he thinks it's the first to be written for performance by a real father and son. At the end of his talk he asked the veterans in the audience to stand and be honored.

William Schuman's Symphony No. 3 that followed was an entirely different kind of Americana, written in 1940-41. It is a big and bold score, brilliantly orchestrated, by turns contemplative and dynamic, sometimes poignant but never sentimental, charming or romantic.

Slatkin led an outstanding performance that showcased the excellence of the symphony individually and collectively, which was well-received by the audience.

Sergei Rachmainoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, which was written for the composer's U.S. tour in 1909, was played by Olga Kern to complete the concert.

This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $20 to $93. Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mkanny@tribweb.com or 412-320-7877.

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