Penny Anderson Brill, Viola, and musician of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, introduced the concert on Saturday night at Heinz Hall. Her introduction was very much an appreciation, by the musicians, for the audience. The orchestra even gave the audience a round of applause. Her final tribute: “Thank you so much for all that you do for us and now I hope you enjoy the concert”
Manfred Honeck entered the stage, and after one bow, began conducting the composition: “Tod und Verklärung” by Richard Strauss. This was my first chance to hear this piece live. I remember being impressed by the low drums at the beginning. I began to think to myself, what does this music mean to me? I found the juxtaposition of the words in the title interesting: Death (first) then Transfiguration. Words and music have temporal meanings, and this time I thought perhaps that this music was supposed to represent death, as only a beginning, and the further meaning beyond, and a contemplation of what that concept might entail, without prior knowing. And transfiguration, coming after death, what could it be — is it a higher place? Is it like Earth and Heaven, as opposed to Heaven and Earth — does the order truly come in a sequential fashion, or is it a concept that transcends time, in a manner that we truly cannot easily perceive, yet. All these thoughts came to mind, and flowed through the music. This was truly a beautiful score, and one that I enjoyed; and even though this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this music, it somehow seemed to be the first time for a true appreciation.
The piano concerto with soloist Yefim Bronfman, was the logical follow up to the previous piece, or at least that was my initial thought: that this was sort of like a transfiguration in and of itself. The drama in the introduction of the first movement was appealing. The bases and deeper harmony seemed to dominate, with the violins following suit. Then the piano joined it, and what followed was beautiful, in its entirety this Mozart Concerto Number 24 is one of my favorites.
To whoever I overheard exclaiming at intermission: ‘I liked the piano concerto, but I didn’t really like the first piece’, I must urge you to give new music a chance. To sample new music over a period of years. I think this kind of music grows on you. If you give it a chance, someday you’ll be coming to the concert for the prospect of finding new gems in the repertoire.
Next up: Honeck and Beethoven, a fitting combination. I watched, I saw Maestro Honeck conduct, then I truly saw. I saw his movements, his style, his interpretations, his pizazz, his mechanisms, his mind, and the music that was there, and it was beautiful.
Honeck has a particular style, but there is much more than that, it is a substance which spells in the universal language of classical music, and flourishes with abstract verve spun into specific directions for the orchestra and each and every musician. Honeck brings to me a splendid rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony number seven, perhaps my favorite, if one can pick a favorite. This symphony opens with a long introduction to the first movement, like the first steps into a beautifully wooded landscape, then the full bodied movement eventually begins.
Honeck’s motions sum up the conducting. Hand motions left and right, full sweeping motions back and forth representing increased volume, then for a softer quieter part, a straight upright posture and simple movements of the baton. The conductor has a knack for being soft spoken, and in movements, it’s almost the same thing — I seem to think he isn’t moving all that much, his stature straight, and subtle, and tall, then suddenly, his round repeated motions of his arms and some subtle up and down of his body in a fluid and effective outpouring of physical emotion connect to the orchestra. They respond. The sound is perfect, like this symphony from Beethoven, the perfect symphony, the perfect orchestra, and the best conductor for the match: a great combination.
The second movement, one of the most touching movements I know, almost haunting, begins. It comes through this time with sublime effect. Now I think back to the connection of the music for this evening, the transfiguration. This movement is Beethoven’s transfiguration, there is nothing else like it. It transcends my soul, goes deeper and evokes more emotion than any other music I know. The tempo is good, but I find myself wanting more, and it is over.
Now the third movement, what a change-up. It’s all part of that theme again, the transfiguration: this time from the deeply moving to the presto, chango, and voila — it’s upbeat and moving along at a quicker pace, almost racing. Now its fun with sort of playful melodic sounds, it gets my feet tapping, and my legs moving, and I see the same with the conductor: he is hopping and moving and again animating the orchestra into this joyous music.
Finally we go from the quick to the fast, the final movement. It’s really moving now, almost like a race. When I see Manfred Honeck conduct this movement, I truly begin to see a sort of link to Beethoven. And now I imagine what it must be like to see Beethoven, himself, conducting this symphony for the first time. And I hear it as well.
Honeck seems subtle, serious and deliberate, yet effective when conducting. After the music is done, he finally dons a smile so wide and brimming, it is infectious, and this effect along with the beautiful music from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra affects the entire audience as they simultaneously leap to their feet to applaud, faster than I’ve ever seen them go into a standing ovation before. And we are rewarded with a symphonic encore, he and the PSO give us all a preview of the concert they will be playing on tour in a week in China. We get to hear the final movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 88, and a treat it was!