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In Spring 2023, Manfred Honeck Leads Pittsburgh Symphony in His Own Signature Dramatic Treatment of Mozart’s Requiem, Now Featuring F. Murray Abraham, Before Returning to San Francisco Symphony

Manfred Honeck (photo: Todd Rosenberg)

“Honeck and Pittsburgh stand virtually alone as a partnership truly worthy of your time and attention.” – Classics Today

(February 2023)—“Honeck’s tenure, since 2008, at the helm of this superb Pennsylvanian orchestra has really delivered,” concluded Gramophone, when selecting the Pittsburgh Symphony as the only American nominee for its “2022 Orchestra of the Year” award. Now in his 15th season as its Music Director, internationally acclaimed Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck leads the ensemble in his own signature dramatic treatment of Mozart’s Requiem, with F. Murray Abraham as narrator (March 17–19). A favored guest of leading orchestras nationwide, Honeck returns to the San Francisco Symphony later this spring for a program of Schubert, Rachmaninoff and Gloria Isabel Ramos Triano (June 1–3), before rejoining the Pittsburgh Symphony for a collaboration with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and the world premiere performances of his own newly conceived orchestral suite from Strauss’s Salome (June 9–11). These spring events cap a 2022-23 season already highlighted by the Grammy-winning conductor’s return to the Chicago Symphony and his widely celebrated Metropolitan Opera debut.

Pittsburgh Symphony: Honeck’s signature dramatic take on Mozart’s Requiem and more

Mozart’s health was already in decline when he received an anonymous commission to write a requiem. This Requiem would be the only mass for the dead among his 600-plus works. In a remarkable twist of fate, it was during its creation that the composer died. What’s more, it was only as a favor to his widow that the work was posthumously completed in furtive haste by his student Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who subsequently claimed three movements as his own. From such authorship disputes to the secret identity of its patron and the rumors that proliferated after Mozart’s death, the Requiem was shrouded in mystery from the first.

Manfred Honeck is not only a leading exponent of his compatriot’s music, but also a devout practicing Catholic who grew up within the Austrian church. As such, he has a deep understanding of the requiem mass and of the cultural and spiritual place it was designed to occupy. He explains:

“Mozart was a deeply religious person and incorporated death into his life. ‘Death is man’s best friend’ is a key sentence of his thinking and his grasp on death – an intimate relationship – can be felt in his Requiem.”

Requiem: Mozart’s Death in Words and Music” was first conceived in the mid-1990s. Performed to acclaim from New York to Salzburg, Tokyo and Tel Aviv with orchestras on three continents, Honeck’s conception of Mozart’s mass offers a profound meditation on the composer and his death, the enduring value of Catholic faith and tradition, and the nature of death itself. While taking Mozart’s Requiem out of the church and into the concert hall, the conductor remains keenly mindful of its liturgical roots. Thus he has continued interspersing the music with readings, replacing the traditional sermon and Latin scriptures with death-themed texts of his own choosing, including a letter from the ailing Mozart to his father and poems by Auschwitz survivor Nelly Sachs.

Honeck’s approach to the Requiem also invites us to contemplate the funeral of its creator at which, just one day after his passing, several of its movements received their premieres. Two centuries later, while sitting in the Viennese cathedral chapel where that funeral was held, Honeck imagined the monks who would have surrounded the building. To capture this vivid yet otherworldly vision, his version of the Requiem includes Gregorian chants, heard off-stage. He also chose to include a death knell: the single repeated tolling bell sounded in Mozart’s Austria, as today, whenever someone died.

Requiem: Mozart’s Death in Words and Music” uses only those parts of Mozart’s mass found in the composer’s own manuscript as well as in Süssmayr’s copy, together with some of Mozart’s other sacred music. Of the way he has chosen to end it, Honeck says:

“I repeat the last eight bars that Mozart composed in his lifetime, the first eight bars of the ‘Lacrymosa,’ and then I immediately break off. Because this is the moment where Mozart dies, so to speak, emotionally. And I follow this with his Ave Verum, because it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music and its message is one of hope: that even in the midst of death and sadness, there’s always hope. And then the bell tolls. There’s an arc from the bell tolling at the beginning to the bell tolling at the end. So, you see, our Requiem has something to do with the history of Mozart himself and also to do with the history of tradition.”

To hear the conductor speak further about Mozart’s Requiem, click here.

Past presentations of “Requiem: Mozart’s Death in Words and Music” have made a deep impression on their listeners. Nine years ago, when Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony toured the production to Carnegie Hall, they achieved “a genuine fusion of the Latin text and musical meaning, of the awe, the majesty, and the fright this mass is supposed to inspire” (Bachtrack). New York Classical Review observed:

“Honeck drew an incredible dynamic range from both the orchestra and choir. … However, many of the most moving moments were the quiet ones, such as when the concert closed with the tolling of three last bells on a darkened stage. While their chimes resonated in the hall, Honeck’s hands and the audience’s reaction remained suspended for what seemed to be several minutes. When the lights came up, applause seemed superfluous.”

As David Allen marveled in Bachtrack: “Rarely have I heard such vital, urgent Mozart.”

Set to be recorded for future release, the upcoming performances of “Requiem: Mozart’s Death in Words and Music” will feature narration by F. Murray Abraham, the doyen of small and silver screen who won the Academy Award for Best Actor with his portrayal of Antonio Salieri in the film Amadeus, which fictionalized the relationship between the Italian composer and Mozart, and who has subsequently won two Emmy nominations for his starring role in the critically acclaimed series Homeland. Abraham recently won a Golden Globe nomination for his starring role as Bert in the hit HBO television series The White Lotus. Honeck, Abraham and the orchestra will be joined by soprano Jeanine De Bique, mezzo-soprano Catriona Morison and bass Tareq Nazmi, all making Pittsburgh debuts, with tenor TBA and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh.

Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony open their program with a pairing of Schubert’s beloved “Unfinished” Symphony and the world premiere of Her tears fell with the dews at even. A Pittsburgh Symphony commission, this new work is by Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan, one of the most distinctive voices on the contemporary orchestral scene, who is a long-time collaborator of both conductor and orchestra.

Return to San Francisco Symphony

Earlier this year, Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony gave the world premiere of amazon by Spanish composer Gloria Isabel Ramos Triano. An “homage to courageous, brilliant women,” the work impressed the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as “colorful, adventurous and spirited, exploring a wide range of the orchestra’s timbral possibilities.” Next June, as a regular guest of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS), Honeck returns to the orchestra to lead amazon’s San Francisco premiere. This shares a program with Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, for which Honeck and the SFS will be joined by BBC Music Magazine Award-winning Italian pianist Beatrice Rana, and Schubert’s Symphony in C, “The Great” (June 1–3). It was after Honeck’s account of the same symphony that the Chicago Classical Review observed:

“The conductor showed a singular ability to revitalize a familiar Austro-German work with fresh vigor and a bracing sense of urgency. … The finale was off at a crackling pace, Honeck ratcheting up the tension to an exhilarating and blazing coda.”

New recording and season-closing concerts with Pittsburgh Symphony

Music lovers can look forward to the release of Honeck’s next Reference Recordings album with the Pittsburgh Symphony later this spring (details forthcoming), after which he and the orchestra reunite for their penultimate concerts of the season (June 9–11). They give the world premiere performances of two new creations: a Pittsburgh Symphony commission from Stacy Garrop and Honeck’s own orchestral suite for Strauss’s Salome. Created in collaboration with Czech composer-arranger Tomáš Ille, this marks the most recent addition to Honeck’s series of operatic suites, which, to date, include Jenůfa, Elektra and Rusalka. To complete the program, he and the Pittsburgh Symphony join Igor Levit, Musical America’s “Recording Artist of the Year 2020,” for Gershwin’s F-major Piano concerto, before collaborating with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre on Ravel’s Boléro, as choreographed by its former Artistic Director Susan Jaffe, now Artistic Director of American Ballet Theatre.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Symphony, where Honeck’s contract extends through June 2028, has also just announced its 2023-24 season; learn more here.

Triumphs at Chicago Symphony and Metropolitan Opera

Honeck’s 2022-23 season highlights already include two notable triumphs. When he returned to the Chicago Symphony for an all-Russian program featuring the U.S. premiere of Lera Auerbach’s Diary of a Madman, the Chicago Classical Review observed:

“Honeck’s detailed yet concentrated direction of this challenging score showed the conductor just as impressive in this new work as in the Austro-German cornerstones. He drew polished and kaleidoscopic playing from the orchestra.”

The conductor inspired similar accolades for his long overdue Metropolitan Opera debut in Mozart’s Idomeneo. “From the first notes, the conductor Manfred Honeck, making an unbelievably delayed Met debut, does justice to the crackle and elegance of Mozart’s score,” marveled New York magazine. “Seldom has the orchestra sounded more luminous and transparent than it did under Honeck’s baton,” agreed the New York Classical Review, while OperaWire affirmed: “The ensemble, under the musical direction of Manfred Honeck, nearly outdid itself.This was musical theater at its most visceral and incisive.”

High-resolution photos are available here.

Manfred Honeck: spring engagements

March 17–19
Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Requiem, K. 626: Mozart’s Death in Words and Music”
James MACMILLAN: Her tears fell with the dews at even (world premiere of new Pittsburgh Symphony commission)
SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8, “Unfinished”
MOZART: Requiem (with F. Murray Abraham, narrator; Jeanine de Bique, soprano; Catriona Morison, mezzo soprano; TBA, tenor; Tareq Nazmi, bass; Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh)

June 1–3
San Francisco, CA
San Francisco Symphony
Gloria-Isabel RAMOS TRIANO: amazon (San Francisco Symphony premiere)
RACHMANINOFF: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (with Beatrice Rana, piano)
SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9 in C, “The Great”

June 9–11
Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Stacy GARROP: New Work TBA (world premiere of new Pittsburgh Symphony commission)
GERSHWIN: Piano Concerto in F (with Igor Levit, piano)
R. STRAUSS (arr. Honeck/Ille): Salome Suite for Orchestra (world premiere of new Pittsburgh Symphony commission)
RAVEL: Boléro (with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre)

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© 21C Media Group, February 2023


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