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Jansons still a hit in New York

| Wednesday, March 17, 2004

NEW YORK CITY -- The Eighth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven provided an aptly bold opening for the final Carnegie Hall concerts of Mariss Jansons with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

It was not that the Eighth is one of the infrequently performed of Beethoven's symphonies, but that it bursts upon the listener as though the composer had just entered the room and simply commanded attention through force of personality.

The winter storm that struck the Northeast may have inhibited attendance but not the enthusiasm of those in the hall Tuesday night. The performance was even better than the first one in Heinz Hall -- no less vigorous but more refined.

As the performance unfolded, the musicians drew upon the famous acoustics of Carnegie Hall, producing better balances and more shapely phrasing.

The woodwinds were especially rewarding as a section, while the artistry of not only the clarinet and bassoon, but also flute solos enchanted the ear. And the way the horns played the pickup to the middle section of the third movement perfectly set up their memorable phrasing.

The concert, which also included Igor Stravinsky's "The Firebird" Suite, featured Yefim Bronfman in Serge Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto after intermission. The soloist's power was undimmed from what Heinz Hall audiences heard, but the different Steinway piano and hall acoustics helped Bronfman extend his expressiveness in softer passages.

The audience, which included New York Philharmonic executive director Zarin Mehta and retired conductor Skitch Henderson, shouted its enthusiasm for Bronfman, Jansons and the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Monday evening Jansons went to a party of Pittsburghers at Le Parker Meridien hotel. "This is the end of an era, the seventh time we've come to New York City with a group of friends for Mariss' concerts at Carnegie Hall," said Connie Bernt, co-founder with her husband, Benno, of "Friends of Mariss."

The Bernts formed the organization after talking with the symphony's former managing director, who passed along Jansons' suggestion based on a similar group that had been formed in Oslo, Norway, where he was music director before coming to Pittsburgh.

The activities of "Friends of Mariss" -- which have numbered about 400 each season -- are mainly local, including pre-concert cocktail receptions each season with such guests as Yo-Yo Ma, Neville Marriner and Isaac Stern, as well as pre-concert dinners.

A much smaller group goes on tour, which is enhanced by special events, such as Monday morning's visit to the Steinway piano factory in Queens, N.Y.

After Jansons conducts his last concerts next month at Heinz Hall, the group will look at its future, perhaps adopting the name "Friends of Music."

"We're forming a core of people with a broader relationship with the symphony," said Benno Bernt. "We've developed a camaraderie after getting together socially and learning more about the music, musicians and management. (Artistic adminstrator) Bob Moir was really great."

Membership is $45 per individual, $85 per couple. More information: (412) 681-7030.

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