Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Growing up, my summer weekends were often spent listening to the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center, their outdoor home. My friends and I would join a festive line of cars snaking down a wooded lane, directed by parking attendants with flares and brown vests, to the graveled parking lots. We’d arrive early and wait with the crowds until the cedar gates opened. People would spread out blankets and picnic dinners on the immense sloping lawn to the concert pavilion –- the aroma of pate, cold roast chicken, and Chardonnay would scent the air. Under the stars and in the deepening twilight, the music sounded especially sublime.
Here in Philly, our hometown orchestra is away for most of the summer, but we do have the Mann Center, in Fairmount Park, where they play concerts in June, and where another Pennsylvania orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, made a rare guest appearance this season. I’d been riveted by radio broadcasts of the Pittsburgh Symphony of late, so I got tickets and dragged my husband and friends along.
The Mann Center does not allow civilized noshing of one’s own gourmet items on the lawn – rather, one has to buy food purchased on the premises, like at a ballgame. So my friend Susan found a restaurant nearby which looked promising, though the surrounding neighborhood is rough. The Cochon Noir, we discovered, is a new jazz club which features ribs and Southern accompaniments. The owner, an elegant man in a three-piece suit, personally demonstrated how the properly cooked St. Louis-style barbecued rib should be chewy enough that one must “tug” the meat off the bone. Susan’s husband Ulf declared with some disappointment that, in his opinion, the ribs were tough. They were also mammoth. We put most of the ribs in a to-go container and made our way to the concert.
Which was sublime. The Pittsburgh Symphony, directed by guest conductor Arild Remmereit, performed an all-Beethoven program, beginning with the Egmont Overture and ending with the Third Symphony. There is an intensity and energy at the core of Pittsburgh’s sound which is electrifying. Aside from some problems in the French horns (perhaps due to outdoor humidity) the winds produced a full, textured choir with gorgeous intonation.
Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto featured teen pianist Teo Gheorghiu, a Swiss-Canadian of Romanian descent. Gheorghiu is an actor too, and played opposite Bruno Ganz in the movie Vitus, which is about, not surprisingly, a piano prodigy. Listening to him was like hearing a pianist of the old school with creamy tone, flawless phrasing and technique. His encore, Rachmaninoff’s transcription of Kreisler’s Liesbesleid, displayed an approach that was mature, without pretense, and beautiful.
At home the next day, we put the ribs in the slow cooker and let them bubble away for hours. They came out perfectly soft and edible, and at last, the food matched our satisfaction with the music.