My Take on the 05-06 most notable Maestro Debuts – Peter Greer

It’s been quite a season for successful
PSO conducting debuts – the most notable being Vladimir Jurowski,
Giancarlo Noseda, and most recently Manfred Honeck.

Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead,
was a first performance for the PSO, and it could not have been more
convincingly delivered.  Jurowski wanted a slightly fuzzy sound from
the strings and he got it!  The result was a dreadfully eerie foggy
quality in the playing that we don’t usually associate with our string
section. His performance of The Isle was one of the highlights of the

I’m not alone in sensing that Jurowski is a young conductor of exceptional promise. Reviewing
for the May 2006 issue of Gramophone, Edward Greenfield has this to say
about Jurowski’s new recording of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky with the
Russian National Symphony (Pentatone PTC5186 061).

shrewdness of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in signing up Vladimir
Jurowski as music director several years ago, when he was at the
beginning of his career, is reinforced with every disc he records. Here
he offers performances that are as near ideal as I can imagine, the
electric tension giving the illusion of live music-making. We have had
some impressive recordings from this Moscow-based orchestra in the past
but this one is among the finest.”

We will be seeing more of this wunderkind if we play our cards right.


also impressed despite the fact he was overshadowed by the debut of
violinist Leonidas Kavakos, the most incredible soloist of this season
bar none.  Word has it
that Noseda established a good rapport with the players, and his return
is something we should all anticipate; unfortunately it will not be the
Mellon Grand Classics (MGC) series next year.  It is essential to hear
what Noseda can do with some of the bread-and-butter core PSO repertory
such as Strauss or Brahms during his next turn with the orchestra. He also conducted a well received, late
winter production of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino at the Met featuring
a slimmed down Deborah Voigt and Juan Pons which some of you may have
caught on the Saturday Met broadcast on WQED-FM.


we had the debut of an Austrian conductor, a former viola player of the
Vienna Philharmonic.  Honeck’s appearance was perhaps the most exciting
of all for a combination of reasons. The
fact that he conducted one week before the legendary Ernst von Dohnanyi
in similar repertory was a good reality check for the orchestra. And
as luck would have it, in a very gutsy move, management contracted with
Honeck, before he had ever conducted the PSO, to complete the final leg
of the PSO’s East Coast tour when Dohnanyi’s schedule prevented him
from presiding over the final concert in Philly.

In his first rehearsal, Honeck immediately connected with the orchestra. By
the Friday MGC concert, the buzz within the orchestra was spilling over
with enthusiasm for Honeck’s work ethic and effectiveness in achieving
nuanced phrasing and dynamics. The Friday MGC performance included a turbo-charged Mozart 40th as well as an electric Tchaikovsky 5th.
Tempi were brisk in the Mozart, but the string playing was gorgeous.
The Tchaikovsky rendition was razor sharp on just about every count
that challenged the players to exceed themselves. Honeck also impressed
in the world premier of Raza Vali’s The Being of Love. Vali’s piece employed a huge orchestra with a variety of percussion instruments. Honeck’s
and mezzo-soprano soloist Michelle DeYoung’s conviction sold the piece
to an anxious audience that erupted in enthusiastic applause upon its

had to see more of Honeck so last Thursday (5/25/06) I flew to
Philadelphia to catch most of the rehearsal and the PSO concert in
Verizon Hall. Honeck had a full rehearsal to refresh the Tchaikovsky
and Mozart and to prepare a new piece for the evening’s program.
Honeck speaks excellent English with what appears to be a slight
Italian accent.  To
celebrate the inaugural month for Verizon’s Hall wonderful new
instrument, the 32 ton $6.4M Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ, the PSO
performed Poulenc’s Organ Concerto featuring Jeffrey Brillhart as

beautiful hall is noted for its problematic acoustics. The sound is
dry, and it is difficult for the players to hear each other.
Nonetheless Honeck achieved wonderful results, and the sounds the organ
produces are awe inspiring. David Patrick Stearnes, music critic of the
Philadelphia Inquirer, perhaps
put it best in summing up Honeck and the connection he has made with
the PSO in his review of the Philly PSO performance:

who on earth is Honeck?  Musically,
he reminds me of the late Karl Böhm, whose best moments produced
interpretations with classically defined parameters and clean
sonorities but controlled inner volatility. Luckily, Honeck lacks
Böhm’s Viennese myopia: His Tchaikovsky waltzes have a lilt, but it’s
Russian. Few conductors this side of David Zinman know how to make
rhythms speak as well as Honeck.In the Tchaikovsky, his phrasing
decisions were strictly dictated by the
score but quivered with a vitality that made you discover them anew.
You could call his tempos fast; more to the point, they’re the work of
someone genuinely excited by the music in a way that I haven’t heard in
Philadelphia Orchestra performances of the piece by Wolfgang
Sawallisch or Christoph Eschenbach. When Tchaikovsky repeated a motif
for emphasis, Honeck altered orchestral balances, allowing the same
notes to say different things. It was a performance to cherish.”

the concert business schedules must be set two and sometimes three
years in advance. With a little imagination, let’s hope the artistic
powers will find a way to
get Honeck back in front of the PSO sooner than that. It is apparent to
many within the orchestra that there is wonderful potential in this
burgeoning relationshi

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