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'Arlington Sons' changes Pittsburgh Symphony plans

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 9:30 p.m.
Olga Kern
Credit: Pittsburgh Symphony
Olga Kern Credit: Pittsburgh Symphony
Broadway and Metropolitan Opera star David Pittsinger, who commissioned the work 'Arlington Sons,' and his 13-year-old son, Richard, will perform the 12-minute piece in their Pittsburgh Symphony debut.
Credit: Pittsburgh Symphony
Broadway and Metropolitan Opera star David Pittsinger, who commissioned the work 'Arlington Sons,' and his 13-year-old son, Richard, will perform the 12-minute piece in their Pittsburgh Symphony debut. Credit: Pittsburgh Symphony

It was opportunity that led Leonard Slatkin and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to change their plans for his first concerts of the season.

Usually, changes result from a soloist becoming unavailable, either because of an illness or a scheduling conflict, or, more rarely, because a new work isn't finished on time.

Instead, the symphony seized the opportunity to give the world premiere of the orchestral version of Scott Eyerly's “Arlington Sons,” a unique score for father and son singers exploring family, honor and patriotism.

Slatkin will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in concerts featuring pianist Olga Kern and singers Richard and David Pittsinger on Friday through Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown.

The lyrical qualities of “Arlington Sons” will provide a good contrast, Slatkin says, with the music that follows — William Schuman's highly dramatic Symphony No. 3. The Schuman is an American classic, written in 1940-41, which Slatkin studied in high school after being turned on to it by Leonard Bernstein's first recording with the New York Philharmonic.

Kern, who gave a remarkable account of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 1 with Slatkin here in October 2010, will play the Russian composer's much-bigger and more-popular Piano Concerto No. 3 to complete the concert.

“Arlington Sons” is an inspired gift from father to son.

“It stemmed really from my work on Broadway and at the (Metropolitan Opera) at the same time,” bass-baritone David Pittsinger says. There were days when he performed “South Pacific” in the afternoon and “Hamlet” in the evening. Pittsinger sang a dozen roles with Pittsburgh Opera from 1986 to 2008, including Sarastro in “The Magic Flute” in 1990.

“My son, Richard, lives in New York City, boarding at the St. Thomas Choir School — where he is soloist and head chorister. He saw what a ride I was on,” Pittsinger says.

At the same time, the senior Pittsinger was “in awe” of the musical progress Richard was making. In wondering what he could give his son that would mean something, he began talking with Eyerly, his son's music-theory teacher and a member of the Juilliard School faculty.

“I knew Scott Eyerly's work as a composer, and he knew my voice and Richard's voice. It seemed a perfect fit,” Pittsinger says. He had realized that what he wanted was a piece about fathers and sons to perform with his son, “a piece of Americana, and art song or an operatic scene.”

In talking with the Pittsingers, Eyerly heard about a family visit to Arlington National Cemetery, where David's father, Richard Mayne Pittsinger, had served as a member of the honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknown. The visit served to introduce the younger Richard and his twin sister, Maria, to a grandfather they had never known.

The composer knew it was time for him to revisit Arlington. He wrote notes of his impressions on the train ride back to New York City from Washington, thoughts and images grew into the text and music of the piece.

“Arlington Sons” was performed on 9/11 this year at the Trinity Wall Street Episcopal church — near where the World Trade Centers stood — by the West Point Band and New York Philharmonic principal cellist Carter Brey. The experience taught David Pittsinger a practical lesson, that “in order to perform this piece, you have to keep your emotions in check.”

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

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