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3 eras of music performed by PSO still fresh

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The three eras of music performed by conductor Leonard Slatkin and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on Friday night felt extra fresh, perhaps because the romantic 19th century was skipped, or perhaps because the evening's new music was instantly appealing.

Composer of the year Mason Bates joined in the performance of “The B-Sides.” He stood with the percussion section at the rear of the stage to play electronica, which brings the world of club dancing into the concert hall.

The title “The B-Sides” is a reference to the old world of vinyl records and their use by disc jockeys, which Bates was earlier in his career. The five pieces also were inspired, loosely, by Arnold Schoenberg's “Five Pieces for Orchestra.” Those are two very contrasted worlds.

Bates' music is physically invigorating, and not only from the drive of dance rhythms. His melodic ideas avoid the four-square, while his coloristic imagination and skill in orchestration are a delight to the ear.

The remainder of the first half was given to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25, in C major.

Emanuel Ax was the riveting soloist, as he has been so often in Heinz Hall with this composer. His mastery goes far beyond the clarity and tonal appeal of his playing. He makes the music come alive with special freshness, slight changes of pacing and articulation for the sake of a change in the music's character.

Ax played Alfred Brendel's wonderful first movement cadenza. Ornamentation heard in the rest of the concert was by Ax and further satisfied the appetite for variety, new elaboration and humor.

Alas, the orchestra was much less articulate than the soloist and less energetic, too.

Slatkin led a wonderfully perceptive account of a symphony by Mozart's contemporary Joseph Haydn earlier this season. Perhaps he merely overemphasized the contrast with Bates' music.

Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 provided the large-scale conclusion for the evening. Slatkin led a moderately paced but decisive performance, with superb playing by the orchestra.

Ax did not play an encore, but the orchestra did, the fun paraphrase “Carmen's Hoedown” by the conductor's father, Felix Slatkin.

The concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $20 to $93. Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org.

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

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