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Concert Hall, Culture and Congress Centre, Lucerne, Switzerland   [ photos ]   [ quotes ]   [ press ]

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra tour successes bring renewed invitations

By Mark Kanny / Tribune-Review (September 21, 2009)

Standing ovations aren't the only measure of concert success. So are getting new gigs.

Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra completed their first European tour together Saturday night with the second of two concerts at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland. The other tour concerts were in Essen and Bonn, Germany, on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The music director said after Saturday's concert that "the most important thing is that the orchestra made a good impression and played very well. We've been re-invited to the 2011 Lucerne Festival. Also the Beethoven Festival in Bonn in 2011 with two concerts to open the festival."

After Friday night's concert, Lucerne Festival executive director Michael Haefliger said, "It went very well -- a great success, with standing ovations. I thought the Beethoven (Violin Concerto with soloist Viktoria Mullova) was very interesting stylistically ... and the Dvorak (Symphony No. 8) was fabulous. The orchestra is wonderful and has great leadership. They worked well with Mariss Jansons and are now working in a great way with Manfred Honeck."

Saturday's concert concluded with Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 4, which begins with a horn solo over soft tremolo strings. Honeck said, "Bill Caballero played the opening sensationally. I was so happy that the brass got a wonderfully round sound. The hall here is really perfect for Bruckner -- transparent but still round and warm. You feel the sound you produce reaches the audience."

For concertmaster Andres Cardenes, it is striking that Honeck and the orchestra musicians have figured each other out after only one season.

Honeck agrees, saying, "It's both ways, definitely. They know me, my way of beating and my way of thinking. And I know I can trust them. I know already they understand completely. They're great. I love them."

He said a bonus of touring is the opportunity to get to know the musicians better personally. "Some of them I never talked to more. And some came with their spouses and children, and I like meeting and talking with them, too."

Honeck was also glad his wife, Christiane, drove up from their home in western Austria to Lucerne, a two-hour trip. She and two of their six children were in Pittsburgh earlier in September for the symphony gala.

Cardenes, who has experienced the orchestra's ups and downs over the past two decades also said, "We're playing at a real peak, which is unusual at the beginning of a season. I have to say Bill Caballero gets better every year. I shouldn't say I'm surprised, but I'm astounded. He's playing so exquisitely, every concert."

Timpanist Chris Allen noted that Honeck "creates a great environment during the concert. He's very specific in rehearsal. He knows exactly what he wants and then lets us find the best way to execute that. He's very confident in our ability to figure out how to do it."

Allen added that it's been a big help that "we've had a rehearsal or sound check in every one of the places we've played, although we could adjust during the concert if we had to go in cold."

The music director finds it fascinating "how the orchestra can switch so quickly from one interpretation to another. We prepared the Beethoven Violin Concerto in half a rehearsal. With all the things Mullova wanted she was very impressed. She didn't expect everything. That's professionalism, and with personality."

Making excellence a reality rather than just a slogan takes both inspiration and hard work. "We're very lucky to have Manfred at the helm," Cardenes says. "We're in good hands. He's very demanding, really asks a lot of us. Oddly enough, the orchestra is not resenting the constant appeals for perfection. That's the chemistry an orchestra needs with a music director."

Copyright Tribune-Review 2009.

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