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<<  -- 2 --  Kelly Ferjutz    A SPECIAL PERFORMANCE


The musical menu for the evening was Brahms and Beethoven. As it happens, Betsy Burleigh, who is on the faculty at Cleveland State University, and has been assistant director of choruses for The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus for the last nine years, became the music director this fall of the 120 voice Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. She succeeded long-time director Robert Page, who retired from the chorus, but is still busy teaching at Carnegie Mellon University. The Mendelssohn is the chorus that sings with the PSO, and does independent concerts, as well. Three mostly unfamiliar choral works by Brahms would mark Dr Burleigh's début: Nänie, Gesang der Parzen and Schicksalslied. To round out the program, guest conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos chose the Symphony No 5 of Beethoven.

Knowing how different the sound is between the main floor and the upper level in Severance Hall, I asked to be seated upstairs one evening and downstairs on the other, and my wish was granted. The acoustics in Heinz Hall are not only lively (with a fairly long reverberation time) but terrific, although again I liked the sound upstairs more than when seated on the main floor. Even when the Beethoven really cut loose, the sound was never overpowering. (More on that later.)

Heinz Hall. Photo: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Heinz Hall. Photo: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts (to give it its full name) is a former movie theater, built in 1927 as the Loew's Penn Theater. As was the custom in the US before the great depression, these movie theaters were patterned after European palaces and built of the most costly materials; marble, magnificent crystal chandeliers, Persian tiles, gold leaf all over everywhere, silk draperies, hangings and upholstery to replicate baroque splendor. By the early 60s, however, when TV encroached on the movie trade, most of these ornate structures were demolished or put to other uses.

The Heinz Hall lobby. Photo: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
The Heinz Hall lobby. Photo: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Pittsburgh is fortunate in that its founding (wealthy) families have remained attached to their home city, so that when the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra needed a new home in the mid 60s (having outgrown their previous performing spaces), Henry J Heinz II was an active member of the PSO Board. He led a group of forward-thinking foundations and civic leaders to consider the benefits of buying the old Penn Theater (which had been vacant for five years) and restoring it to house various types of performances. It is a truly gorgeous building, right downtown, easily reachable by public transportation.

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Copyright © 7 November 2006 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA


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