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Make a splash with the Pittsburgh Symphony

By DANTE A. CIAMPAGLIA

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Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Symphony with a Splash: Classical Covers

Thursday, Jan. 8,… Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Symphony with a Splash: Classical Covers

Thursday, Jan. 8, 6:45 p.m.

Heinz Hall

(412) 392-4900

The symphony isn’t for just the stuffed-shirt crowd anymore. Thanks to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s “Symphony with a Splash” series. With it, the symphony has been made more accessible to a younger crowd who might enjoy more recognizable pieces along with the classics, as well as a less stuffy atmosphere through a multimedia approach to the music.

Every night in the series begins with a cocktail hour in Heinz Hall. The series’ target crowd – young people, both in college and in the professional world – is given a chance to unwind and network with other young people in a stress-free environment.

When this happy hour ends, though, is when the evening’s real fun begins.

The world-class Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, along with conductor Daniel Meyer and charismatic host Greg Sandow, got the series off and running on Oct. 23. The program, titled “Listen Up!,” began with Ennio Morricone’s “Childhood/Manhood” from the film “Cinema Paradiso.” Played swiftly and effortlessly, the piece, which also serves as the theme song of sorts for the UPMC Health System in their commercials, eased the audience into the night’s program.

From here, pieces by George Frederic Handel (the overture of “Music for the Royal Fireworks”), Gioachino Rossini (the overture of “La gazza ladra [The Thieving Magpie]”), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Allegra Assai of “Symphony No. 31 in D Major”) and Gustav Mahler (Adagietto of “Symphony No. 5 in C-Sharp Minor”) gave the audience a diversity of sounds and feelings.

But the selections weren’t played straight through, one after the other. Instead, host Sandow – a composer, classical music critic and member of the Julliard School’s graduate studies faculty – introduced each piece. History of the piece and the composer was given with the aid of slides and a screen that would come down behind the orchestra, as well as the utilization of Sandow’s vast knowledge of classical music.

In these introductions, he even went so far as to encourage audience participation. For example, he told an anecdote about the premiere of the Mozart piece in Paris and how the audience burst into applause in the middle of the piece. Sandow wanted the audience to do the same. Loud, enthusiastic applause and cheers came from every corner of Heinz Hall, jockeying with the performing orchestra for the loudest sounds in the auditorium. But the orchestra wasn’t put off by this. In fact, they looked like they were having as much fun as the audience.

This wasn’t your grandparents’ symphony.

The night ended with the scherzo of Dmitry Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, Opus 93” and a breathtaking performance of Maurice Ravel’s epic “Bolero.” In case the audience didn’t catch it early on in the evening, these two pieces, performed so masterfully by the PSO, demonstrated why they are known and recognized as one of the greatest orchestras in the world.

The second installment in the “Symphony with a Splash” series, “Classical Covers,” happens on Thursday. Once again hosted by Sandow and conducted by Meyer, the program includes music by J.S. Bach and Leopold Stokoski (“Toccata in D-Minor”), Modest Mussorgsky (“Pictures at an Exhibition”), Todd Levin (“Blur”) and Philip Glass (“Heroes Symphony”).

“Symphony with a Splash” is a wonderful program for younger people who want to give the PSO a listen without having to worry about many of the formalities of going to a “normal” performance. And like the first installment, Thursday’s performance will surely be a memorable one.

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Make a splash with the Pittsburgh Symphony