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Yo-Yo Ma helps open PSO's season in grand style

Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

o more fairy tales tonight. The giant duck is in the river, the Pirates are in the playoffs, and best of all ... Yo-Yo Ma is here.”

Those weren't the only words from maestro Manfred Honeck that brought a full house at Heinz Hall to its feet during the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's “Once Upon a Time” Gala on Sept. 27 that kicked off the 2013-14 season. To describe the evening in the simplest of terms, it requires a mere four words: They. Rocked. The. House.

Almost instantaneously, cocktail hour turned into breathless praise for the cellist du jour as many confessed to this being the second, third and even fourth time to see him perform. “I shouldn't say there are expectations because it's with certainty that he will be great,” said Steve Hough (with Nachum Golan).

Seats eventually taken, board chair Dick Simmons (with Ginny) welcomed the 900-plus by announcing that the evening had already grossed $1 million before the first note: a record-shattering amount for the PSO.

From there, we were put back into the maestro's capable hands, who injected an infectious energy with Antonin Dvorak's Carnival Overture before launching into ethereal selections from “Hansel and Gretel,” “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty.”

And finally, there was Ma. “I just want to say how unbelievably thrilled I am to play with one of the greatest orchestras in the world,” he humbly demurred. Two selections from Tchaikovsky, “Andante Cantabile” and “Variations on a Rococo Theme,” one lingering standing “O” later, and they were still begging for more.

“I imagine music in heaven, it being like that,” said Sharon Tillotson Gallagher (with Bob).

Following the performance, the crowd split as some tucked into a sit-down dinner catered by the Duquesne Club with the rest of the Tillotson clan (also event chairs) including Carol Hefren Tillotson, Craig and Jill Tillotson, and Curt Fleming and Kim Tillotson Fleming; the Walton family (honorary chairs) including Jim and Ellen Walton, Rachel and Franny Wymard, and Molly and Joe Walton; Gerald and Agnes Hassell; PSO prez Jim and Susanne Wilkinson; Nadine Bognar; Vivian and Bill Benter and Cindy and Murry Gerber.

Meanwhile, the young and the restless filtered into the Fairmont for the soiree after-party with event chair Jensina Chutz, honorary chairs Todd and Margaret Izzo, Erin Starzynski, Michael Herald and Deanna and John Conte.

Contact Kate Benz, social columnist for Trib Total Media, at or 412-380-8515.




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