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BNY Mellon Grand Classics concert showcases Mozart’s Symphony No. 33 |

BNY Mellon Grand Classics concert showcases Mozart’s Symphony No. 33

Mark Kanny
Shahnar Vali
Reza Vali

The Pittsburgh Symphony will present three concert options over four nights in a busy week that began at the Three Rivers Arts Festival. The centerpiece will be two BNY Mellon Grand Classics concerts, the classical subscription series, conducted by music director Manfred Honeck and featuring five works including a world premiere.

In addition, Yo-Yo Ma will return for a single concert on June 9 to play Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with Honeck conducting.

The June 7 concert will present music by Reza Vali, composer of the subscription concerts’ world premiere, at City of Asylum on Pittsburgh’s North Side.

Honeck will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra‘s BNY Mellon Grand Classics concerts on June 8 and 10 at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall. The program is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 33, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with Igor Levit as soloist, the world premiere of Reza Vali’s “Isfahan,” Franz Liszt’s “Les Preludes,” and Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of “Die Meistersinger von Nurnburg.”

The five pieces will provide a wealth of contrasts. The Mozart symphony was written in his 20s and is energetic, witty and utterly charming.

Levit’s insightful sensitivity seems to be an excellent match for Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, with which he’ll make his Pittsburgh debut. The extraordinary lyricism and harmonic adventure of the concerto’s first movement is followed by an unforgettable contrast between agitated and calm spirits leading to a playful finale.

Composer Vali emphasizes the honor he feels to have been chosen to write one of the commissions honoring Honeck’s 10th season as music director. The new pieces were written to express Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspectives. Honeck conducted Vali’s “The Being of Love” at his first concert with the orchestra in 2006.

“I love Manfred,” says Vali. “He’s such a wonderful person and great human being.”

Vali, 65, moved to the West from Iran when he was 20 to study music in Vienna, Austria, and completed his graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh. A longtime U.S. citizen, Vali has taught music theory and composition at Carnegie Mellon since 1988.

The new piece’s title, “Isfahan,” has two relevant meanings. It is a city in the composer’s native Iran and also identifies the music’s harmonic realm.

“Isfahan is a beautiful city, one of the most beautiful in the middle east. For more than a millennium Muslims, Christians and Jews lived there in piece,” says Vali. “When Manfred asked me to write this piece it got me to use the name Isfahan.”

Since 2000 Vali has been writing music based on Persian harmony, rhythm and counterpoint. It’s his way of journeying to a homeland he misses. Persian music is based on modes, the harmonic structures that were bypassed by the major and minor key system in the 18th century in Europe. Isfahan is a mode which has the fewest notes that fall between the notes of a keyboard.

The concerts will conclude with two rousing pieces of 19th century Romantic music – Liszt’s most popular symphonic poem, “Les Preludes,” and Wagner’s uplifting and deeply songful prelude to his only comic opera, “Die Meistersinger.”

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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