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This Week, Manfred Honeck Returns to San Francisco Symphony (June 1–3), Before Concluding 15th Season with Pittsburgh Symphony

(May 2023) — “With Manfred Honeck at the helm, SF Symphony unleashes a heroic musical showing,” declared the San Francisco Chronicle after a previous collaboration between Honeck and the orchestra. This week, the Grammy-winning Austrian conductor returns to lead the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in a program of Schubert, Rachmaninoff and Gloria Isabel Ramos Triano (June 1–3), before completing his 15th season as Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony with three June programs. Featuring a collaboration with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and commissions from Stacy Garrop and Wynton Marsalis, these include their Opening Night concert (June 14) at the League of American Orchestras 2023 National Conference, to which the orchestra plays host.

Honeck made his “ambitious and impressive [San Francisco] Symphony debut” six years ago (San Francisco Chronicle), and, since then, his guest appearances with the orchestra have consistently shown him to be “a conductor of genuine seriousness and ability” (San Francisco Chronicle). In 2018, he impressed the San Francisco Chronicle with the “superbly forceful and weighty account of Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8” he drew from the orchestra, “demonstrating the kind of clean, coiled power he could bring to this repertoire.” The review continued:

“The first two movements were both imbued with impeccably controlled heft, especially from the strings; not even a midstream break after the second movement to deal with a patron’s faulty hearing aid could impede the galvanic flow of the performance.”

Now he returns to lead the orchestra in the San Francisco premiere of amazon, an “homage to courageous, brilliant women” by Spanish composer Gloria Isabel Ramos Triano. It was Honeck who led the Pittsburgh Symphony’s world premiere performance of the work last year, when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found it “colorful, adventurous and spirited, exploring a wide range of the orchestra’s timbral possibilities.” In San Francisco, amazon 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.” It was after one of Honeck’s previous accounts of the 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.”

Honeck then returns to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) for the world premiere of Forging Steel. A new PSO commission from Stacy Garrop, “one of Chicago’s most keenly sensitive composers” (Chicago Tribune), the two-movement work offers a sonic exploration of steelmaking, the industry with which Pittsburgh was once synonymous. Next on the program is Gershwin’s F-major Piano Concerto with Gilmore Artist Igor Levit, followed by the world premiere of Honeck’s own newly conceived orchestral suite for Strauss’s Salome, created in collaboration with Czech composer-arranger Tomáš Ille. Following Jenůfa, Elektra, Rusalka and Turandot, this marks the most recent addition to the conductor’s series of operatic suites, and the second to premiere this spring. To complete their program, he and the orchestra join forces with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre for Ravel’s iconic Boléro, featuring original choreography by the company’s former Artistic Director, Susan Jaffe, now Artistic Director of New York’s American Ballet Theatre (June 9–11).

More than 1,000 orchestra administrators, conductors, musicians, trustees and volunteers will gather in Pittsburgh for the League of American Orchestras 78th National Conference, “Bridges to the Future” (June 14–16), hosted by the Pittsburgh Symphony. Under Honeck’s leadership, the orchestra gives an Opening Night concert combining reprises of Forging Steel and Boléro, again featuring the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, with Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite; Herald, Holler and Hallelujah, a PSO co-commission from Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz legend Wynton Marsalis; and Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole, with María Dueñas as violin soloist (June 14). Honeck and Dueñas may also be heard with the Vienna Symphony on Beethoven and Beyond, released earlier this month by Deutsche Grammophon.

For their final concerts of the season, Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony reunite with the violinist for a reprise of Lalo’s concerto, together with the Pittsburgh premiere of Transfigure to Grace, a PSO commission from Chicago Symphony Composer-in-Residence Jessie Montgomery, on a program bookended by two Respighi favorites: Roman Festivals and The Pines of Rome (June 16–18). Before the summer is out, music lovers can also look forward to the release of Honeck and the orchestra’s next Reference Recordings album, expected in late July.

The conductor then heads to Europe for collaborations with the Bamberg Symphony in Germany (June 29–July 2) and the Czech Philharmonic at Bucharest’s Enescu Festival (Aug 30 & 31); a European Union Youth Orchestra tour to Italy’s Bolzano Festival, Austria’s Grafenegg Festival, Berlin’s Young Euro Classic and Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie (Aug 11–17); and a performance of “Mozart’s Death in Words and Music” – his own signature dramatic treatment of Mozart’s Requiem – at the Salzburg Festival (July 24). Honeck recently led the Pittsburgh Symphony in stirring accounts of “Mozart’s Death in Words and Music,” featuring Academy Award-winner F. Murray Abraham as narrator. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette observed:

“The performance alternated musical performances of the highest quality with religiously tinged traditions. … It was beautifully delivered. Honeck reduced the orchestra significantly, as a smaller complement of musicians would have performed the mass in Mozart’s day. This was wonderful – articulations were crisp, textures were transparent and flexible – there was some superlative playing Friday. The choirs, too, were powerful. But as for a message, the performance wasn’t a statement so much as a ponderance of the mystery of death. It was a touch unsettling. That’s a compliment; it was certainly something different than a typical concert.”

High-resolution photos are available here.

Manfred Honeck: upcoming engagement
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: Forging Steel (world premiere of PSO commission)
GERSHWIN: Piano Concerto in F (with Igor Levit, piano)
R. STRAUSS (arr. M. Honeck / T. Ille): Salome Suite for Orchestra (world premiere of arrangement)
RAVEL: Boléro (with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre; original choreography by Susan Jaffe)

June 14
Pittsburgh, PA
League of American Orchestras
78th National Conference: “Bridges to the Future”
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Wynton MARSALIS: Herald, Holler and Hallelujah (PSO co-commission)
Stacy GARROP: Forging Steel (PSO commission)
LALO: Symphonie espagnole (with María Dueñas, violin)
STRAVINSKY: Suite from The Firebird
RAVEL: Boléro (with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre; original choreography by Susan Jaffe)

June 16–18
Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
RESPIGHI: Roman Festivals
LALO: Symphonie espagnole (with María Dueñas, violin)
Jessie MONTGOMERY: Transfigure to Grace (Pittsburgh premiere of PSO co-commission)
RESPIGHI: Pines of Rome

June 29
Bad Kissingen, Germany
Bamberg Symphony
ROSSINI: Overture to La gazza ladra
HAYDN: Cello Concerto No. 2 (with Maximilian Hornung, cello)
SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8, “Great”

July 1 & 2
Wolfegg, Germany
Wolfegg Concerts
Bamberg Symphony
MOZART: Overture to La clemenza di Tito
HAYDN: Cello Concerto No. 2 (with Maximilian Hornung, cello)
SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8, “Great”
BRAHMS: A German Requiem

July 24
Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg Festival
Camerata Salzburg; BR Choir
LIGETI: Lux aeterna
MOZART (arr. M. Honeck): Requiem: “Mozart’s Death in Words and Music”

Aug 11–17: tour with European Union Youth Orchestra

Aug 11: Bolzano, Italy (Bolzano Festival)

Aug 13: Grafenegg, Austria (Grafenegg Festival)

Aug 16: Berlin, Germany (Young Euro Classic)

Aug 17: Hamburg, Germany (Elbphilharmonie)
James MACMILLAN: Larghetto
PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 3 (with Benjamin Grosvenor, piano [Aug 11, 16 & 17]/Martin James Bartlett, piano [Aug 13])
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 5

Aug 30 & 31
Bucharest, Romania
Enescu Festival
Czech Philharmonic
Bryce DESSNER: Concerto for Two Pianos (with Katia & Marielle Labèque, piano)
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1
DVOŘÁK (arr. M. Honeck / T. Ille): Rusalka Fantasy
ENESCU: Vox Maris

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is grateful to its sponsors:

  • BNY Mellon Grand Classics concerts are made possible by title sponsorship support from BNY Mellon. The 2022-2023 season marks BNY Mellon’s 22nd consecutive year as title sponsor of this series.
  • BNY Mellon Grand Classics 19: Boléro is supported in part by the Emma Clyde Hodge Memorial Fund, Tom and Dona Hotopp, and the Byham Charitable Foundation.
  • The Stacy Garrop commission Forging Steel is made possible in part by support from the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • Appearances by all piano soloists during the inaugural season of the Steinway concert piano are generously supported by Carol and Jon Walton.

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© 21C Media Group, May 2023


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