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New pieces mark Manfred Honeck's 10th season with the PSO

| Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Pittsburgh Symphony Music Director Manfred Honeck
Felix Broede
Pittsburgh Symphony Music Director Manfred Honeck

New music will play an essential role ushering in the new season of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's classical subscriptions concerts.

The first of three pieces the symphony commissioned in honor of Manfred Honeck's 10th season as music director will be featured at the opening concerts of the orchestra's 2017-18 BNY Mellon Grand Classics. Several Composers of the Year during his tenure will be revisited during the season, combined of course with plenty of pieces that are already well-loved.

Honeck will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony at concerts Sept. 22 to 24 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The program is:

• John Adams' “Lollapalooza”

• Johannes Brahms' Violin Concerto with soloist Christian Tetzlaff

• World premiere of Boris Pigovot's' “... therefore choose life ...”

• Camille Saint-Saens' Organ Symphony

Pigovat was born in Russia and emigrated to Israel in 1990. Honeck first became aware of Pigavot's music when the symphony's associate principal violist Tatjana Mead Chamis told him about the composer's “Requiem — The Holocaust.” Honeck came to love the piece and led the symphony in a performance of its “Lux Aeterna” movement with Chamis as soloist at a Music for the Spirit concert in 2014 at East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

“When I conducted the Israel Philharmonic, I got to know him a little more and started looking at other pieces he's written,” Honeck says. “I wanted to do more with him. So I was very happy when he agreed to write something new for this season. I think his musical language is very beautiful. It has Russian depth and enormous emotions, but he is also a very, very humble man.”

Pigovat says he was very happy when Honeck asked for a piece inspired by spirituality, which is a theme in his work. He turned to a well-known passage in Deuteronomy (30:19), which contrasts “life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, ...”

“In my work, I tried to express the feeling that life (with all its pain, suffering and tragedies) is Beauty, Hope, Light and Love,” Pigovat explains in an email.

Honeck and the orchestra returned from a successful European tour after Labor Day. He is very proud of how the orchestra has grown during his nine years at the helm. The most spectacular change is in the cello section, he says, in which more than half the musicians have been hired in recent seasons.

The music director says that reviews of the European tour often mentioned the Pittsburgh Symphony's European way of playing, which he adds was already present before he arrived. But while Honeck, European himself, appreciates the praise, he notes that major European orchestras in London, St. Petersburg, Berlin and Vienna all sound different from one another. “European” is actually an old-fashioned compliment from an era when American orchestras were most noted for their precision while European orchestras were known for deep musical expression. The best orchestras have long achieved both qualities.

Honeck's current contrast with the symphony runs through the 2019-20 season, but he says he has not made plans beyond the current agreement.

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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