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Pittsburgh Symphony gets set for next European trek

| Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, 9:11 p.m.
Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on tour at the Proms in London in September 2011 Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou

Manfred Honeck and the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra depart this week on a particularly prestigious European tour on which they will perform 12 concerts in eight cities in five countries from Thursday through Nov. 10.

International touring has value beyond prestige and sharing the artistic riches we enjoy in Pittsburgh. Once again, for the seventh consecutive year, the tour is a partnership with the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance to promote economic development.

The costs of touring do not impinge on the symphony's annual budget because it is paid in part by presenter fees and supported by the Hillman Endowment for International Performance.

The centerpiece of this tour is a week-long residency at the Musikverein in Vienna, which has extraordinary acoustics and historic resonance.

“It's an extreme honor to be in residence at the Musikverein, to be invited for a residency of four concerts,” Honeck says. “This is something very special.”

In addition, performances of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” will be recorded in concert for commercial release. That, too, is a rare honor.

The local musicians will perform nearly all their tour repertoire in Vienna, including Antonin Dvorak's “New World” Symphony and Honeck's special performing version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem.

The programs include two pieces of American music — Steven Stucky's “Silent Spring,” which the symphony commissioned and premiered in February, and George Gershwin's Piano Concerto with Rudolf Buchbinder as soloist. In addition, Honeck will conduct Austrian composer Herbert Willi's “ABBA-MA” and Violin Concerto. Nikolaj Znaider will be the soloist in the Willi and perform the Violin Concerto by Jan Sibelius at other stops on the tour.

Concerts will begin in Barcelona and Madrid from Thursday through Saturday, and after Vienna, the musicians proceed to Paris on Nov. 5; Cologne, Frankfurt and Stuttgart in Germany, Nov. 7, 8 and 9; and conclude in Luxembourg, Nov. 10.

Symphony principal second violin Jennifer Ross says that while there are plenty of exciting moments on tour, traveling from city to city and hotel to hotel, day after day, is grueling. That's one reason she's looking forward to the eight-day residency in Vienna.

She has rented an apartment near the Musikverein and will be joined by her parents and sister in Austria's capital. “I'm looking forward to waking up and having my mother have a pot of coffee ready for me.”

The acoustics of the various performing venues provide their own challenge on tour. The Pittsburgh Symphony is a very versatile ensemble, and has shown again and again on tour that it adapts quickly to different environments. For that matter, it adapts at home to different seating arrangements on stage used by Honeck and other conductors.

The Alte Oper in Frankfurt has many memories for Honeck. He played Mahler's Symphony No. 5 there with Leonard Bernstein as a member of the Vienna Philharmonic — a 1987 performance which was released on Deutsche Grammophon.

“It's a very big hall, a little bit huge on stage. We'll have to play a little differently from Heinz Hall where you hear everything,” the conductor says.

The Musikverein will pose a different challenge, especially in Mahler's Second because it is written for a huge orchestra, off-stage instruments, vocal soloists, chorus and organ.

“The Musikverein was not necessarily made for such a big cast, as we have in Mahler's Second,” Honeck says.

“The hall is not very big. We'll definitely have the challenge to reduce the volume because the hall seats a thousand people less than in Pittsburgh. A good thing about the Musikverein is that we'll be sitting very close together,” he says. “The listening (on stage) is quite good. I expect the Mahler Second will be like playing chamber music.”

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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