A Night Without Honeck – Justin Kownacki

A Night Without Honeck

The PSO season’s "sneak preview" was my first night at the Symphony in nearly a decade.  Since it apparently intersected with newly appointed maestro Manfred Honeck’s night off, I made sure to spend some quality time with his cardboard facsimile…

As for the orchestra itself, my fellow bloggers have done a great job in recounting the specifics of the night’s selections (and notable absences, such as works by John Adams).  Instead, I’d like to comment on the stream-of-consciousness observations that swept through my mind during the evening’s delightful performances, including:

*  What’s going through the minds of the musicians who are onstage during a number but who only play intermittently, resulting in lengthy stretches of in-performance downtime?  What are they thinking about when they’re not playing?  Are they observing their fellow musicians?  Are they watching us?

*  How much practice is required to learn when specific musicians need to turn the pages of their sheet music during a performance, so as to not get caught playing through a page turn and not knowing what comes next?

*  Is there healthy competition among the musicians?  Are they silently rooting for the soloist, or — like a backup athlete who’s only going to "get a shot" if the starter goes down with an injury — are they quietly hoping that someone else’s error will open the door for their own advancement?

*  At what point in history did certain notes take begin to trigger certain emotions in an audience?  Do different compositions mean different things to different cultures?

*  How easily would an audience be fooled into thinking a highly energetic conductor is actually better at his / her job than a more restricted one?

*  Since some of the violinists (I believe) were late in getting back to their seats after the intermission, would we in the audience have noticed their absence as much as their fellow players would?

*  Why have orchestras retained the formal attire requirement for their musicians?  Would the audience process the same composition differently if it were played by musicians in jeans?  (Would that affect the price at the door, or the perception of elegance?  Probably.)

And, lastly, an observation: viewing an instrumental performance live is a completely different experience from simply listening to one on the radio, because the live visual elements demand at least as much attention (if not more, in this information age) as the audible elements do.  In some ways, I almost felt distracted from the music by this influx of visual information — perhaps stemming from the obligation of observing these musicians, since I had a rare opportunity and didn’t want to waste it.

This occasionally resulted in me having to purposely un-focus my attention and enjoy the abstract motion of the players instead, allowing my mind to process the audio without the burden of a specific visual focus. Apparently, being raised in the early days of MTV, where music and images became forever intertwined, now requires me to subconsciously unplug from my surroundings in order to actually listen

2 thoughts on “A Night Without Honeck – Justin Kownacki”

  • All excellent questions Justin, well stated!
    I’ve thought more than a few of these thoughts myself, yet I never remembered to jot them down.
    With respect to your last point, about seeing music at the same time as hearing. I’ve been attending the symphony for years, and I find it is possible to concentrate on the visuals and audio at the same time. I suppose the same is true of the musicians, they must concentrate on their playing, the maestro, and their fellow artists all at the same time in order to stay truly synchronized. I can only imagine how hard that last part is, staying in synch! That’s probably what distinguishes the best.
    I wrote this poem last season, about the beauty of seeing and hearing together:
    See the Music…
    I saw the Pittsburgh Symphony perform these works tonight
    And heard the music in ways that CD’s just don’t do right
    Tonight there was drama, as Brahm’s works do tell
    And triumphant beauty with Beethoven as well
    But to see the music is difficult to describe
    Each section of the drama yet to unfold
    Watching the artists, their rhythms to imbibe
    Yet contrasting with style, a thing to behold
    The music lay bare before me, so clear as a graph
    It’s movement was made clearly, I was willing to quaff
    Watching each artist, a motion hand to hand
    Their place in the fragment, elicit and so grand
    Without the aid of the vision, my temporal glasses
    I’d hear a whole composition, such symphonic classes
    But what to my wandering eyes do I hear
    A particular instrument, a brand new frontier

  • spending time with Honeck’s cardboard facsimile. i bet not a lot of guys can say that and mean it….
    glad you enjoyed the symphony! can’t believe it’s been a DECADE though!

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