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Manfred Honeck steps in to conduct Mozart, Schubert as performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

| Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Gretchen Van Hoesen
Rob Davidson
Gretchen Van Hoesen
Lorna McGhee
Rob Davidson
Lorna McGhee
Manfred Honeck
PITTSBURGH SYMPHONY
Manfred Honeck

One of the many magical scenes in the film “Amadeus” shows rival composer Antonio Salieri being shown some manuscripts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As he looks at the music, the soundtrack plays some heavenly music for flute and harp. He's astonished, transported, but also annoyed and jealous, because Salieri knows he's never going to write anything like it.

That exquisite music for flute and harp by Mozart will be performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on Nov. 3 and 5 at Heinz Hall, in a change of program caused by the cancellation of the scheduled guest conductor, Christopher von Dohnanyi. The 88-year-old maestro hasn't recovered sufficiently from a fall earlier this year to take to the podium.

Music director Manfred Honeck will step in to conduct the program that includes:

• Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp, with symphony principal players as soloists: flutist Lorna McGhee and harpist Gretchen Van Hoesen.

• Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 9, a big, songful and dynamic masterpiece in a class by itself among the composer's orchestral music.

Both soloists love the concerto and have played it before, but never with each other. Mozart wrote it when he was 22 and visiting Paris.

“It's very sparkly and incredibly joyful in bright C major,” McGhee says. “I think the piece is a little bit operatic as well, especially in the last movement. Each section of the Rondo has such distinctive character. The slow movement (which includes the music heard in “Amadeus”) is like a blessing, so comforting.”

Van Hoesen says she is grateful Mozart wrote the concerto because it is Mozart's only music for harp. She's a devoted Mozartean as a listener, and she shares the composer's birthday, Dec. 5.

“The concerto is beautifully crafted and typical Mozart in being difficult, exposed and very technical,” she says. “The harps back in Mozart's day were much easier to play. Pitch was slightly lower and strings were not strung with such tension as today. It requires a lot more strength to play on a modern instrument.”

The harpist began her musical studies as a child on piano and says Mozart's writing for harp is very much like keyboard writing.

She'll play the concerto on her treasured lavender Lyon and Healy harp, which is nearly a century old but still a modern instrument compared to Mozart's era.

She's used it for recordings but rarely takes it out for concerts.

“It has incredible sound,” Van Hoesen says. “It has not been rebuilt. It has all the original wood. It was owned by Annie Louise David, who toured with (actress) Sarah Bernhardt.”

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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