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Symphony artfully combines contrast, interest with Honeck

| Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, 11:53 p.m.

Real balance in programming classical concerts assures success when its elements are so well contrasted and interestingly performed as they were at Friday night's Pittsburgh Symphony concert at Heinz Hall led by music director Manfred Honeck.

The program began with “Mothership” by Mason Bates, the first music of the symphony's composer of the year to be heard this season. He gave a fine spoken introduction, briefly explaining the visual image and the music means he used to achieve it.

The nine-minute composition is a showpiece for orchestra, contrasting fast and slow dance music in the manner of a 19th century's scherzo with two trios. Bates joined the orchestra for the performance, sitting at the rear to play electronica evoking techno music.

“Mothership” is a bold and energetic piece. Its two contrasting sections featured solos with improvisational qualities which were played by concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley and bassist Jeffrey Grubbs. The piece was immediately appealing and whetted the appetite for next week's world premiere of Bates' Violin Concerto.

Complete contrast was provided by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Clarinet Concerto performed in a reconstructed version for basset clarinet.

Principal clarinet Michael Rusinek played it with surpassing fluidity and breathtaking dynamic control. Honeck, who has performed the piece with basset clarinet before, led a thoughtfully shaped performance. The first movement didn't dawdle and was free of romanticism. The sublime slow movement had that distinctive mix of contrasting emotions that makes Mozart's music so touching.

The concert concluded with colorful Russian romanticism in Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. Honeck presented a very individual interpretation of the first movement. He downplayed the balletic quality of the main section of the movement by focusing on touching nuances in the wonderfully supple melodies.

This concert will be repeated at 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 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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