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Pittsburgh Orchestra serves Viennese for Thanksgiving

| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, 7:19 p.m.

Under Manfred Honeck, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has served up Viennese treats for Thanksgiving-weekend concerts. This year's concerts also feature an exceptionally impressive Viennese pianist, Till Fellner, playing music by one of the great composers who chose Vienna as his home.

The repertoire for Honeck's Viennese concerts features musical bon-bons, mostly polkas, an overture or two, sometimes arias or songs and a single waltz work. This year, it's the “Roses From the South” Waltzes.

Honeck will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony in “A Waltz Tradition” on Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The program also includes Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, with Fellner as soloist.

The conductor is looking forward to working with the pianist again. Their most recent collaboration was a few years ago with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1.

“It was really, really good, with a very clear sound. I thought, ‘We need to bring him to Pittsburgh,' ” Honeck says.

The Austrian pianist is known for his probing musicianship and sterling technique. He has a substantial discography. Fellner took a sabbatical in 2012 dedicated to study of new repertoire and to deepen his knowledge of composition, literature and film.

He was interviewed by email.

Question: Many musicians and music lovers have special affection for Beethoven's Fourth Concerto. What are its qualities or characteristics that make it dear to you?

Answer: It's a very poetic work, lyrical, almost pastoral. And there is, of course, this touching, tragic second movement, a dramatic scene, a dialogue between the orchestra and the piano. This concerto, especially the first movement, needs more flexibility in tempo than the other Beethoven concertos. Piano and orchestra are closely interwoven. You have to hope for a sensitive conductor and for some extra time to rehearse.

Q. How does the historically informed performance perspective affect you? For example, do the characteristics of the pianos available to Beethoven affect the way you play his music on a modern piano (and in a larger room)?

A. No. My instrument is the modern grand piano with its great variety of sound and its singing quality.

In general, I have to admit that I remain skeptical about the possibilities of travelling back musically in time, and even whether it would be desirable to do so. I am more interested in the character of a piece, its prophetic dimension, and in its compositional structure.

Q. What piece of advice from one of your teachers most stays with you to this day, when you are an artist in your own right?

A: I would like to give you an example from the Fourth Beethoven Concerto: I once had a lesson with my much-admired teacher, Alfred Brendel, and he wasn't happy with the way I played the two broken chords at the end of the cadenza-like passage in the slow movement (just before the re-entry of the orchestra). After trying a few different solutions, he stated that playing these two chords were a “life's work.” Is there any shorter way of describing the dead-serious responsibility of an interpreter?

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

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