PSO's Honeck finds being busy is the price of success

Manfred Honeck conducts the PIttsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Manfred Honeck conducts the PIttsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Photo by Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 7:30 p.m.

Pittsburgh Symphony music director Manfred Honeck has been very busy since last we saw him before Christmas, but then that's the price and reward of success.

In early January, he made his debut with the New York Philharmonic. He made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic, Feb. 5 to 7, performing Antonin Dvorak with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and also leading Witold Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra.

In fact, Honeck will have made four important debuts by the end of the 2012-13 season. He conducted the London Symphony Orchestra for the first time on Oct. 4 and will lead the Cleveland Orchestra for the first time May 23, 25 and 26.

Honeck returns to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for concerts Friday and Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The program is Modest Mussorgsky's “Night on Bald Mountain,” Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 with Denis Matsuev as soloist and Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.

Despite his admiration for those other prestigious orchestras, Honeck is keen to return to Heinz Hall.

“I can't wait to do ‘Night on Bald Mountain' with the Pittsburgh Symphony,” he says. It's been 10 years since he last conducted the piece, which he calls “one of the great experiences.” The music portrays a wild night-time witches Sabbath, followed by arrival of calm with daybreak.

Mussorgsky is best known for composing “Pictures at an Exhibition,” thanks to the brilliant orchestration by Maurice Ravel. The piano original is rarely encountered in concert.

“He was a genius and others composers took care of his music,” Honeck says.

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, composer of “Scheherazade,” put “Night on Bald Mountain” into the form in which it's almost always played, a service he also performed for Mussorgsky's great opera “Boris Godunov.”

Honeck also is looking forward to teaming up for the first time with Denis Matsuev in Rachmaninoff's popular Piano Concerto No. 2. The Russian pianist was featured in the symphony's April 2009 Rachmaninoff Festival playing the Piano Concerto No. 3 with Leonard Slatkin.

“I know he is one of the most special Eastern European pianists, very powerful,” Honeck says. “I've heard some impressive recordings.”

The conductor says his sense of anticipation is fueled by memories of previous performances of the piece with the Pittsburgh musicians. “I remember how fantastic the clarinets sounded, their sweetness, in the second movement.”

He was impressed with the New York Philharmonic musicians when he led them in Beethoven's Seventh Symphony in January. He noted that two of the first chair players were former members of the Pittsburgh Symphony — flutist Robert Langevin and clarinetist Mark Nuccio.

“They are very quick and professional,” Honeck says. “Very, very good atmosphere. It's amazing how it was possible to do things in a very short time.”

Honeck unveiled his distinctive interpretation of Beethoven's Seventh at Heinz Hall in May 2009. It rang so true in detail and grand vision it will be interesting to see what, if anything, he changes when he returns to it this week.

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

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