This morning I took my new friend, the 28X bus, from the airport over to the area called Oakland, where the Phipps garden is located near the Pitt campus. I finished that Dalglieh mystery on the bus, and wished, a little, that the detective had not solved hte mystery from his sickbed and told the unrequited Kate Miskin the story, as the book ended too soon. The Phipps is a huge botanical garden in a set of glass greenhouses, like a big Victorian wardian case. Although the outside areas were filled with pink-clad admirable Susan G. Komen 5Kers in the chilly rain, many eating pink bagels and doing good works, the inside was warm, dry, peaceful and not over-crowded. I particularly liked the barrel cactus, and the small specimen Thai forest.
I rode the bus back downtown for my 2:30 symphony, and stopped off at a CVS pharmacy for an mbrella and a cheap plastic poncho. I snacked on odd things called soy chips, which tasted pretty good. I was "way early" for the concert, so I grabbed lunch at a little Cantonese place, which was so informal that they served my chicken-with-broccoli in a kind of heat-up aluminum tray and my hot and sour soup in a pint cardboard paper container. Then I crossed the river, past soggy Pirates fans at the ballfield, and walked through the rain to the National Aviary. This indoor facility has hundreds of bird species who get to fly about in a kind of giant houseplantland, and a few raptors who do not get to fly among them and eat them, but instead have their own spaces. It was very interesting, but I had to leave after a while to go see the symphony.
The Pittsburgh Symphony 2:30 show was just amazingly good. The new conductor, a fellow around my age from Austria called Manfred Honeck, really seems to work well with his assortment of musical people. They started off with an 8 minute Verdi overture to the opera "La Forza del Destino", which is really pretty music for what apparently is an "everybody dies" opera, and I wonder if The Dirty Dozen would have been even more interesting if Verdi had done the score (though the Austrian waltzes in the movie are perhaps more appropos'). When I was 20something and went to symphonies more often, I had a mild prejudice in favor of full symphonies and against short pieces, but now I no longer feel that way. I still feel just as I did at age 10 that the best job in the world is the one held by the guy who gets to play the triangle.
The second piece was having its world premiere, a Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra by Alan Fletcher. This was commissioned specially for the orchestra's clarinet player, Torontoan Michael Rusinek. This piece was very interesting, with a mix of more modern and more traditonally tonal work, a great workout not only for the clarinet, but also with nice trombone, French horn, and trumpet sections. This twenty minute piece was very nice indeed, and led us into the intermission.
I sat, by the way, in the gallery, way up high. I love to sit in the cheapest seats. Part of this is Scots Irish thrift. Part of this is a kind of love of the centerfield bleachers. But most of this, I believe, is a love for the overview of the orchestra. It was a great seat--I wish I had had binoculars, but I didn't really need them. I love seeing the orchestra as one big gestalt, and not merely as individual players at which to gawk.
The third piece was a 46 minute Richard Strauss concerto, Ein Heldenleben. The "Hero" in this send-up of the "heroic" genre, is the composer himself. It's a fun piece, including quotations from Strauss' famous pieces, and little parodies of music critics. I know that Strauss always felt he did not live up to his full potential--but I liked that he could poke fun at himself, a bit. I loved the romantic swells and the lovely strings.
After the symphony let out, I met up with ghostsandrobots. We rode the bus to Oakland to a coffee shop, and talked about poetry and creative expression. It was a fascinating discussion, filled with future promise--and I am always delighted when someone I know from reading a weblog would be someone I could befriend in real life turns out to be someone I do indeed befriend in real life.
I've had a good time here in Pittsburgh. I'd love to bring my wife back here, as she would enjoy the things to do here. Tomorrow I have a hearing--and then, notwithstanding Pittsburgh's attractions, it will be incredibly good to go home.