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Music

Experience the sounds of Hector Berlioz' Te Deum

| Monday, June 11, 2018, 8:49 p.m.
Manfred Honeck
Felix Broede
Manfred Honeck

The stage at Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall will be packed for the grand finale to the Pittsburgh Symphony's 2017-18 season of classical subscription concerts.

The concerts will be the first opportunity for Western Pennsylvania music lovers to hear the majestic sounds of Hector Berlioz' Te Deum, which is written for two choirs, children's chorus and a huge orchestra plus organ. It will be preceded by one of today's supreme pianists completing the orchestra's cycle of the piano concerti by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Honeck will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Mendelssohn Choir and Pittsburgh Youth Chorus at BNY Mellon Grand Classics concerts June 15-17 at Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall. The program is Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 with Emanuel Ax as soloist and Berlioz' Te Deum.

Ax, Honeck and the orchestra gave a thrilling account of the Beethoven concerto when last they performed it here in January 2010. The music's bravura aspects were thrilling, but it was sensitivity complementing extroversion that made the collaboration unforgettable.

The concerto's subtitle “Emperor” is not by Beethoven. It probably originated at the premiere in Vienna in 1811, when a French soldier in attendance is said to have cried out “C'est l'Empereur” — it's the emperor, meaning Napoleon. The composer liked Napoleon while he was fighting for the French republic and against European aristocracies. But when Napoleon crowned himself emperor, Beethoven scratched out the dedication of his Third Symphony to him, declaring he had made himself a tyrant. Nor was Beethoven happy to have the French army in Vienna, saying if he knew as much about strategy as he did about counterpoint he'd give the French something to do.

For Beethoven, the nobility that mattered was a quality of character, not a formal rank of social standing.

Berlioz was one of classical music's great original voices. He's best known for his “Symphonie fantastique,” which was written only a few years after Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and is a breathtaking advance in writing for orchestra. His lyrical gifts were more than matched by his penchant for huge sonorities and exploiting large performance spaces for antiphonal effects. Honeck conducted his massive opera “Les Troyens” during his tenure as music director of Stuttgart Opera in Germany.

Berlioz wrote his Te Deum in 1849, two decades after his “Symphonie fantastique.” The multiple choirs with large orchestra and organ brings to mind the scoring of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 8, which also has never been performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony and which Honeck would very much like to conduct here.

“We will have the most people possible on stage for this music of enormous sound,” Honeck says. “When the Te Deum was first performed there were 900 performers in the church. In this profound composition, written for the glorification of God, Berlioz wasn't only thinking of beautiful melodies. He was thinking of different types of structures. It has fantastic architecture, which is so amazing.”

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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