Guest conductor Osmo Vanska creates eclectic PSO program
Concert programs don't get much more intriguing than the one the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's next guest conductor Osmo Vanska has put together. It's especially remarkable since the concerts will conclude with one of classical music's most familiar pieces.
Vanska is widely regarded as one of the world's top conductors and has been music director of the Minnesota Orchestra since 2003. The symphony wanted him to conduct Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 on his return to Heinz Hall, which he decided to precede with three completely contrasting and wide-ranging pieces.
Vanska will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony at Feb. 9-11 concerts in Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall. The program is Dmitri Kabalevsky's “The Comedians,” Igor Stravinsky's Violin Concerto with Vilde Frang as soloist, Einojuhani Rautavaara's “A Requiem in Our Time,” and Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.
The conductor says programming is akin to making a puzzle. The first piece he selected to add to the puzzle was Rautavaara's “A Requiem in Our Time.”
“I like to bring something from my home country,” says the Finnish conductor. “It is a good piece. I have done it several times.”
Rautavaara was still in school when he wrote “A Requiem in Our Time,” which won an award and led to 90-year-old Jean Sibelius selecting him to receive another award to study music in America. It is scored for brass, timpani and percussion and is dedicated to his mother, who died in World War II.
Vanska decided to open the concert with the Kabalevsky, which he discovered only five years ago. It's about as far away from Beethoven's Fifth as one can get.
Vanska's program is completed by Stravinsky's only Violin Concerto, a neo-baroque masterpiece which will be a transition to the evenings' more serious music. Frang, 31, is a high-honored Norwegian violinist who has already performed with many of the world's top orchestras and will be making her local debut.
“I played with her in France just a few months ago,” says Vanska. “She's a really fine violinist. Her playing sounds older than her age and is something very deep.”
Vanska's highly praised recordings of all nine Beethoven symphonies with the Minnesota Orchestra document his historically informed approach to Beethoven.
“I would like us to have the sound of modern instruments but be thinking about what period instruments did 200 years ago,” he says. “It's very rhythmical playing. All music — slow or fast — is dancing in some way. And it should be transparent. There is room enough for middle voices, not only the bass line and the melody.”
Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.