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Honeck embarks on first international tour with Pittsburgh Symphony

| Monday, May 11, 2009

One week after their triumphant performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra depart for Asia today on their first international tour together.

Although some orchestras, such as the Boston Symphony, have cancelled international touring because of the poor economy, the Pittsburgh Symphony is well positioned to continue touring. All tour expenses not covered by fees for performances will be covered by the Hillman Endowment for International Performances.

The musicians will give concerts on May 14 and 15 in Beijing and May 16 in Shanghai, China. They will give a single concert May 20 in Taiwan. Complementing the cultural value of the tour, several extra members of the tour group will advance business interests.

"It will be my first time in China, and I am really looking forward to going to this country," Honeck says. "As we know, it's a lively and innovative country. What's happened in the last 20 years, economically, is amazing."

Classical music has become popular in China. Symphony president Larry Tamburri says he's heard there are 50 million piano students in the country. China already is producing incredible musicians, Honeck says, referring to a broader pattern than the phenomenon of pianist Lang Lang.

"To bring our culture to them is part of our life and a message of our tour," Honeck says.

Tour repertoire includes "Rapture" by Christopher Rouse, which was premiered by Mariss Jansons and the Pittsburgh Symphony in January 2000 at Heinz Hall.

"'Rapture' is a great piece," Honeck says. "It's good to go on tour with contemporary music by an American composer. This will be my first time performing his music, but I've heard a lot of his pieces."

Other pieces that will be performed in Beijing and Shanghai are Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 and Symphony No. 7, Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1, and Richard Strauss' "Death and Transfiguration." Orion Weiss will be the piano soloist.

In Taiwan, Honeck and the symphony will perform in Kaohsiung as part of ceremonies opening the World Games Stadium. The World Games will take place in July. The repertoire includes Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and the finale of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.

When the Pittsburgh Symphony made its debut in China in 1987 under music director designate Lorin Maazel, a Chinese choir sang Beethoven's Ninth in Mandarin. Honeck's performance in Taiwan will feature a local choir singing in German, the original language, supplemented by 30 members of the Vienna State Opera Chorus.

The tour to China is strongly supported by the Pittsburgh business community. The tour group includes Roger Cranville, senior vice president of global marketing of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance; Dennis Davin, director of the Allegheny County Development Department; and Brad Penrod, executive director of Greater Pittsburgh International Airport.

In addition, Noel Zahler, head of the School of Music at Carnegie Mellon University, will travel with the tour group, his third trip to China in two years. Six of the 16 symphony players who are on the music school faculty will give master classes at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. They are clarinetist Michael Rusinek, bassoonist Nancy Goeres, hornist William Caballero, harpist Gretchen Van Hoesen and bassist Jeffrey Turner -- all principal players.

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