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PSO goes ‘Haydn-centric’ with next performance |

PSO goes ‘Haydn-centric’ with next performance

Mark Kanny
Pittsburgh Symphony
Guest conductor Bernard Labadie
Pittsburgh Symphony
Guest conductor Bernard Labadie

Top professional orchestras plan and announce their seasons far in advance of the actual concerts. When the Pittsburgh Symphony announced its current season there were blank spots for its next set of concerts, apart from being part of a survey of Ludwig van Beethoven’s concertos for piano and orchestra and the soloist.

The full program for these concerts turned out to be exceptionally interesting and unexpected, and will provide an enlightening context for the concerto.

Bernard Labadie will lead the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at April 6 and 8 concerts in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall. The program is Henri-Joseph Rigel’s Symphony No. 4, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist Jan Lisiecki, and Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 98.

The Canadian guest conductor was music director of Les Violons du Roy, the chamber orchestra based in Quebec, for 30 years before stepping down in 2016 and greatly increasing his appearances with major orchestras around the world. He has concentrated on classical music’s classical period – Viennese classicism at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries.

Labadie picked a “Haydn-centric” program because of an important similarity between Haydn and his student Beethoven.

“Although the specter of Mozart is all over the place (in Beethoven’s First Concerto) because of Mozart’s piano concertos, young Beethoven, like Haydn, is very interested in making music with short cells that he plays with,” Labadie says. “Mozart in his symphonies and piano concertos has these amazing moments of development and even counterpoint, but there’s an amazing fluidity of melodies. Mozart is so amazingly gifted as a melodist. Haydn is not and Beethoven is not, even though, of course, they wrote incredibly beautiful melodies.”

The concert will start with the local premiere of a symphony profoundly influenced by Haydn, who was the father of both the symphony and string quartet as central voices in concert music.

Henri-Joseph Rigel was a German born and educated composer who moved to Paris, where he prospered as a pianist, teacher and composer. His orchestral works were performed at the prestigious Concert Spirituel, where Haydn’s symphonies were often played.

The outer movements of the Rigel Symphony in C minor, published in 1774, “bear eerie similarities to Haydn’s symphonies, roughly 40 to 49, which were often in minor keys or unusual keys with very abrupt shifts of dynamics and huge contrasts,” says Labadie. “The slow movement is a different story, more typically French. It could come out of a ballet and is very jovial and very simple – definitely not as developed as Haydn would have done. It bears a distinctive naturalness that for me gives it a very French flavor.”

The concert will conclude with Haydn’s Symphony No. 98, one of the masterpieces he wrote for his first visit to London in 1792. It has several unusual elements, but Labadie rightly questions whether there is a typical Haydn symphony, given the composer’s unceasing creativity. He notes that the opening theme of the slow movement he’ll conduct is a “rhythmically twisted” version of “God Save the King” – “obviously a wink at the English audience.”

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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