Pittsburgh Symphony takes Stock in its BNY Mellon Grand Classics opener

Composer David Stock, a Pittsburgh native
Composer David Stock, a Pittsburgh native
Photo by Pittsburgh Symphony
| Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 6:15 p.m.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's annual gala was the appetizer for a season of classic orchestral music — old and new, some with instrumental soloists or singers, and with a wide array of conductors on the podium.

While top orchestras have recognizable characteristics, they also are chameleons ready to change personality and style according to the music they play as seen by the conductors.

Music director Manfred Honeck will conduct three vocal soloists (Lisette Oraposa, Andrey Nemzer and Hugh Russell), the Mendelssohn Choir and the Pittsburgh Symphony for the start of the BNY Mellon Grand Classics series at concerts Oct. 4 to 6 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The program is Ludwig van Beethoven's “Fidelio” Overture, the world premiere of David Stock's Symphony No. 6 and Carl Orff's “Carmina Burana.”

The Orff is the marketing attraction, a big, colorful and highly rhythmic 20th-century setting of medieval song texts that have been recorded dozens of times and been used in film, television and commercials.

But the symphony's opening program highlights this season as the year of Pittsburgh composers, starting with the world premiere of Stock's Sixth Symphony, which was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Stock is a Pittsburgh native who founded the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble and led it for 23 years, and also founded the Duquesne University New Music Ensemble, which he led for 19 years. He also taught composition at Duquesne.

Stock completed his new symphony in March, after working on it for about six months. It is in three movements — the first quite rhythmical, the second encompassing the most diverse material, and the finale filled with Jewish music.

Stock has found that the influence of his Jewish heritage can't be avoided. It's present in his Symphony No. 3, his as-yet-unperformed Cello Concerto, in which the solo instrument is very cantorial, and other pieces.

In the case of his Sixth Symphony, Stock says he had no idea where he would go to in the third movement and what came out were Jewish melodies, such as the prayer “Shema Yisrael.”

The long horn solo in the last movement is “literally, note for note, the blessing before the reading of the Torah,” he says.

A lifetime of composing has taught Stock to respect the mystery of creation.

“There are composers who have to plan things in advance, but I always tell my students you have to listen to what the piece wants,” he says. “The piece will tell you where it wants to go. I'm not a preparer, in the main. I sometimes know what the outcome will be. I think one is foolish to resist that.”

Stock grew up in Stanton Heights and graduated from Peabody High School and Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University.

“I'm only the second-best conductor to graduate from Peabody,” he says. Lorin Maazel graduated from the same school, and “I had no chance to reach his level,” he says.

“If anyone had told me 40 years ago that Celia and I would spend most of our adult lives here, I would not have believed them,” Stock says. They returned to Pittsburgh in 1975 after a “hideous” year in Cleveland, which followed several years in Boston while Stock was a graduate student and a year in London on a fellowship.

They live in a condo near Chatham University, having sold their home on Darlington Road in Squirrel Hill more than three years ago.

The Stocks have three grown children and seven grandchildren. They will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary shortly after the premiere with a trip to Chile.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic

for Trib Total Media. He can be

reached at 412-320-7877 or


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