I attended the first half of Wednesday’s (11/22/06) PSO rehearsal of the third and fourth movements of the "New World" with Manfred Honeck conducting.
It is difficult to judge from a rehearsal, that involved extreme dissection of these well-known movements, exactly what kind of performance will follow other than to say you will hear exceptional playing beyond the normally high standard we have come to expect from this orchestra. Honeck challenges the musicians to play beyond themselves. "Is it possible…? Can we phrase it like this?" and then indicates vocally how he wants a passage to go. It is his gentle way of collaborating with the players that engages, challenges delights them. He let’s them know when he is pleased. (He uses the thumbs-up sign with his left hand as he is conducting.) His English is clear – the accent sounding as much Italian as German. But make no mistake, he works the orchestra very hard during a rehearsal!
Players cannot help but feel exhilarated from the abundance of musical ideas coming from the podium. Honeck’s suggestions require players, especially the strings, to stretch their ears – that is, to hear subtleties within their own sections as well as sounds produced in other sections if they are to play the phrase correctly. Dynamics can shift quickly within a Honeck phrase. In one particularly tricky section for the violas, Honeck worked for ten minutes to get the viola tremolos synched and the sound physically to move forward from the back of section (stage left) to the first stands (positioned near the center of the stage) at the end of the phrase. Some cynics might call this a cheap stereo effect, but it didn’t sound that way to me.
I found the third movement to be unusually lyrical. Honeck rehearsed the orchestra intensively, adjusting rhythmic accents in the violins, celli, and basses to produce an authentic Czech feel. Look for rubato in this movement during the performance. It was there but hard to find because Honeck interrupted the pulse many times to adjust section dynamics and balance; refine phrasings; and improve precision. With Honeck, it is not one thing or the other. It is everything at all times.
I have high expectations for Honeck’s "New World". This masterpiece in lesser hands is a dreadful bore, and it has been overplayed in this city. Honeck is not Jansons. There will never be another Jansons. But, there is nothing that I heard today that would lessen my sense that Honeck is an exceptional talent too and that he is connecting with the PSO.