PSO brings the romance this Valentine’s weekend |

PSO brings the romance this Valentine’s weekend

Mark Kanny
Emanuel Ax

A perfectly apt concert program for Valentine’s Day weekend, which culminates in a setting of “Romeo and Juliet,” will also exemplify another type of love.

The Russian romantic composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was active when many of his colleagues were working to establish a Russian style for concert music. Tchaikovsky, however also loved westernEuropean music – above all Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Manfred Honeck will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Feb. 15-17 concerts at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall. The program is Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17, and Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Emanuel Ax will also play a “PSO 360” concert without orchestra on Feb. 15 at Heinz Hall, at which the audience will sit on stage with the pianist.

“Tchaikovsky’s wrote his Serenade for String because he wanted to follow Mozart’s style,” says Honeck. “It’s not only the title ‘serenade,’ which Mozart used many times. It’s also the Viennese classical forms, which he learned from Mozart and Beethoven.”

The serenade was composed in 1880 and shows how Tchaikovsky made the older forms his own. The introduction to the first movement not only reappears to be the conclusion of the first movement. It also returns in the finale. But Tchaikovsky also incorporated Russian folk music. And the Serenade has one of this composer’s most beautiful waltzes, which given his ballets is saying a lot.

“I wrote (the serenade) from inner compulsion,” commented the composer. “This is a piece from the heart and so, I venture to say, it does not lack artistic worth.”

Honek says he doesn’t know any piece by Tchaikovsky that doesn’t have a love theme or love element.

“His melodies always touch you because he has such a feeling for human emotions,” says the conductor. “For me, Tchaikovsky is the most emotional Russian composer.”

One of Mozart’s loveliest piano concertos will follow the sereande. Honeck is particularly glad to be performing it with Ax.

“He is one of the most perfect pianists who is able to achieve sensitivity on the piano,” says Honeck. “I am always impressed with his way of touching the music. He never violates the piano and achieves a singing element. It is always a great experience, an emotional experience. to see this humble person play, always true to himself. And he’s a good friend of ours and of the symphony.”

Tchaikovsky wrote his overture-fantasy “Romeo and Juliet” when a young composer, and at the suggestion of an older colleague. The elements which correspond to the William Shakespeare’s play are easy to recognize. The slow introduction portrays Friar Lawrence. The ensuing rapid music represents the conflict between the Montagues and the Capulets. Later in the piece this music will pick up cymbals on off-beats, imitating the clang of swords. The love theme is one of Tchaikovsky’s most inspired melodies, and is shrewdly shaped with room for soaring climaxes. The piece ends with the lovers’ deaths and Friar Lawrence’s final comment.

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.