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Yo-Yo Ma, PSO prove world-class reputations are deserved

Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, 11:30 p.m.

Many dreams came true at Heinz Hall on Friday night when the Pittsburgh Symphony presented its annual gala, “Once Upon a Time.”

The concert portion of the event was the only time this season one could hear cellist Yo-Yo Ma in Pittsburgh. And hearing Manfred Honeck and the musicians perform was proof that the orchestra's world-class reputation is no fairy tale.

In addition, the gala is the symphony's biggest fundraising event of the season, which this year grossed more than $1 million, a new record, according to board chairman Dick Simmons.

Fall might be the busiest time of the year for the famous cellist, who played with the New York Philharmonic on Wednesday night and will play with the Los Angeles Philharmoninc on Monday night.

Ma's immense popularity is based on his wonderful musicianship and communicative powers, but he's also an ideal example of a modern classical music star. He's an elite performer but no elitist. He's a commanding soloist who loves collaboration in the ways he makes music.

Perhaps nothing better demonstrated this facet of his personality than his encore. Ma said his friend and fellow cellist Hampton Mallory would help him while he played music he hadn't known. He then joined the cello section for a Schubert sacred song arranged for orchestra by Honeck in which the cello section take the singer's part and which was used as an encore on the recently completed European tour.

The concert began in high spirits with a vigorous performance of Antonin Dvorak's Carnival Overture. Honeck took a very fast tempo to begin, but eased back to allow the contrasting lyrical idea to soar with warmth.

The Prayer and Dream Pantomime from the opera “Hansel and Gretel,” by contrast, was quite slow and soft in texture.

Honeck and the orchestra fared better in three movements from Sergei Prokofiev's ballet “Cinderella,” which had idiomatic edge, than in two movements from Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's “The Sleeping Beauty,” which were over-interpreted.

Ma's two selections which closed the printed program were by Tchaikovsky, too. The Andante cantable, an arrangement of the slow movement of his String Quartet No. 1, began with natural beauty and became increasingly personal until time seemed to stop.

Contrasts were heightened in Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations, in both dynamics and tempo. The bravura final variation brought the audience to its feet.

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

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