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'Casella, Prokofiev and Schumann' at Pittsburgh Symphony

| Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, 6:27 p.m.
Conductor Gianandrea Noseda 
Credit: Sussie Ahlburg
Conductor Gianandrea Noseda Credit: Sussie Ahlburg
French pianist Jean Efflam Bavouzet
Pittsburgh Symphony
French pianist Jean Efflam Bavouzet

Conductor Gianandrea Noseda has an inquisitive mind in the way he shapes music and in his choice of repertoire.

He returns to Heinz Hall for two weeks of concerts with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra after introducing a new production by Dmitri Tcherniakov of Alexander Borodin's “Prince Igor” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. The Met hadn't done it for nearly a century.

Noseda will lead the Pittsburgh Symphony in concerts Feb. 21 and 23 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The program is Alfredo Casella's “La Donna Serpente” suite, Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 5 with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet as soloist, and Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 2.

Noseda says he's happy to open the concert with Casella's music because he admires the neglected composer, who lived from 1882 to 1947. He says the suite from the composer's best-known opera shows his “incredible skills as an orchestrator.”

Noseda had planned to conduct Casella's Symphony No. 2 with the Pittsburgh Symphony three seasons ago, but performances were delayed. He says the composer absorbed all the elements of late Romanticism and early 20th-century music. Casella admired Claude Debussy but was particularly attracted to Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss.

And when Casella fell in love with Igor Stravinsky's music and neo-classicism, he did so “without losing the lyricism, the expressive quality of his music,” according to Noseda.

Casella was music director of the Boston Pops in the late 1920s, right before Arthur Fiedler. He also had a successful piano trio and played an important role in reviving the music of baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi.

“The problem with Casella is that he had been associated with the fascists and Mussolini until the laws of 1938,” Noseda says. “At that point, Casella realized what fascism was about and tried to disconnect himself from Mussolini, but he was late and had to pay. After World War II, it was forbidden to play his music, but now, 70 years later, fascism is behind our back. Now we can re-approach this composer and connect with his musical values.”

The concerts also will mark the debut of French pianist Bavouzet playing Prokofiev's Fifth Piano Concerto, the least frequently heard of his concerti and written in 1932, one year after Casella wrote “La Donna Serpente.”

Noseda will complete the concert in the heart of standard repertoire German romanticism, Schumann's Second Symphony, which he says he loves from the bottom of his heart.

“I think Schumann touched the peak of his inspiration with this symphony,” he says. “The fluency of the music is so natural. The ‘idea fixe' or leitmotiv in the trumpet (at the start) comes back in every movement.”

He mentions aspects of every movement that are impressive, and says the finale is a virtuoso work, “like fireworks,” well-suited to the quality and artistry of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

“The way Schumann makes this music so tender, so moving, so touching,” he says, “we have to avoid making it over-sugared.”

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

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