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Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra saves Bruckner for year-ender

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Pittsburgh Symphony
Tallis Scholars

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is breaking the programming mold for its final classical concerts of 2013.

Music director Manfred Honeck and artistic planning Vice President Bob Moir were brainstorming about what to perform before Symphony No. 4 by Anton Bruckner, one of Honeck's favorite composers.

When Moir mentioned that the vocal ensemble Tallis Scholars were on tour in the U.S., serendipity struck.

“Madrigals and a capella choral music is exactly the world where Bruckner was brought up,” says Honeck. The composer was an organist, but Honeck believes a lot of his music came as much from vocal music.

The Tallis Scholars will have the stage to themselves on the first half of the concerts starting Dec. 6. The orchestra will play the second half of the concerts — and happily be able to devote all of its rehearsal time to one piece.

The performances of Bruckner's Fourth Symphony — Honeck will conduct the Symphony at the Dec. 7 to 9 concerts — which will be recorded for commercial release.

The Tallis Scholars were founded by their director, Peter Phillips, in 1973. The English group is one of the world's premier ensembles and has an extensive discography. It is no stranger to Pittsburgh, having performed here six times since 1988 for the Renaissance and Baroque Society.

The program will begin with three pieces by Spanish Renaissance master Tomas Luis de Victoria before turning to two motets by Bruckner, the 1861 “Ave Maria” and 1869 “Locus iste.”

Honeck previously conducted Bruckner's Fourth at Heinz Hall in Nov. 2008 and says it's the least religious of his symphonies.

“You can hardly find anything in it which has the least touch of the sacred. Everything is connected with nature,” say Honeck. “For me, it's interesting how many composers started to integrate nature more into their music. Of course, we have the ‘Pastorale' Symphony from Beethoven and even earlier Vivaldi's ‘The Four Seasons.' (But at the end of the 19th century) you have nature in symphonies like Dvorak's Eighth and Mahler's First.”

Bruckner offered a programmatic guide to his Fourth Symphony in 1877, three years after completing the first version of the piece. In 1878 and 1880, Bruckner substantially revised it, and did so again after its premiere in 1880.

Bruckner's program called the symphony “Romantic” and indicated the first movement begins with sunrise in a medieval city, starting with a horn solo over a hushed string tremolo. Later, knights on horseback ride out into the countryside “surrounded by the magic of nature.” The solo horn opens the first movement, while the third movement begins with horn calls of a hunt.

“This is something special for me. It is the first time I will record a Bruckner symphony,” says Honeck. “One of the reasons is I believe this orchestra can do it fantastically. I believe I can say something new when you pick out the stories.”

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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