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Pittsburgh Symphony season has a lot left on tap

| Wednesday, May 29, 2013, 6:53 p.m.
Pittsburgh Symphony music director Manfred Honeck in 2012. Credit: Rob Davison.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra music director Manfred Honeck can look back on a big year as the 2012-13 concert season nears completion.

He led the Pittsburgh Symphony in a four-concert residency at the Musikverein in Vienna, during which his beloved “Resurrection” Symphony was recorded. He also made his debuts with four of the world's top ensembles: the New York and Berlin Philharmonics, Cleveland Orchestra and London Symphony Orchestra.

Honeck will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony at concerts May 31 to June 2 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The program is Gioacchino Rossini's “William Tell” Overture, Franz Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 93, and Richard Strauss' “Ein Heldenleben.”

“It's one of those rare programs without a guest soloist, but all three pieces feature soloists from within the orchestra,” he says, pointing to the cello solo that opens the first piece, Haydn's prominent use of oboe, and Strauss' extensive solos for violin and horn.

Honeck also likes the fact that William Tell was a Swiss hero, which makes it for him a very good concert-opener to link with “Ein Heldenleben.”

The Rossini overture was written in 1829 for his final opera, and is in four distinct sections stitched together. The third part is a pastorale scene featuring English horn, while the gallop that ends the piece, famous for being the theme of “The Lone Ranger” television series, leads with trumpets.

Despite Honeck's love for Haydn's music, the weekend's concerts will be the first time he leads one of Haydn's complete symphonies at Heinz Hall. He did conduct the finale of Symphony No. 88 at a symphony gala.

“Haydn's humor is exceptional, and he shows so many different, lively and brilliant things, which, in my opinion, Mozart did not always bring out,” the conductor says.

Honeck notes that Haydn's third movement is an early landler dance, which was a model for Johann Strauss Sr., and was important for music of the Biedermeyer period in the 1820s, which includes Franz Schubert.

Accordingly, Honeck says he will take the liberty of emphasizing heavier peasant qualities of the landler. He will treat the 34 allegro of the first movement as a very gentle, lyric waltz.

Honeck also is looking forward to conducting “Ein Heldenleben” (A Heroic Life) again, but not because of the program.

Strauss is the hero of the symphonic poem, which is made clear in a section called “The hero's works of peace,” which quotes from many of his compositions.

“I'm not a big fan of the story,” Honeck says. ”It's not a wonderfully deep story, but musically, he put so many things in it that are so wonderful — and funny, too.”

When Honeck last conducted the piece at Heinz Hall in May 2008, concerts which were recorded and released commercially on the Exton label, Andres Cardenes was the concertmaster and played the long violin solos representing the composer's wife, Pauline.

“My intention is always to work things out more clearly,” Honeck says. “This time, Noah (Bendix-Balgley) will be playing. I'm really looking forward to doing ‘Heldenleben' with Noah and Bill (Caballero) playing the horn solos. I think it will be the same experience I had the last time, when the orchestra was so brilliant.”

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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