A Sublime Transformation: Honeck Presents Mozart’s Requiem

Classical music touches the innermost part of human existence.

Saturday, October 13, I was privileged, and I truly mean privileged, to experience this transforming musical experience with the Pittsburgh Symphony, Mendelssohn Choir, and Manfred Honeck conducting.
Honeck’s interpretation of the Requiem is simply indescribable, and ineffable, for his unique presentation evoked such emotion, sheer excitement, and moments to truly reflect on the innermost part of our human existence. If you just listen to what Mozart composes, and if you are allowing, you will be astonished what the music can do to you personally. What you take away from this magnanimous work doesn’t really have to do with the history. Because, although the history contributes a great deal, in fact the music itself is so personal that you will feel Mozart is writing just for you. These elements are what make great art, so astonishing. Honeck’s presentation includes letters, extra elements of music—chants, creating an overall very dramatic presentation.

The Requiem was preceded by absolutely beautiful chanting by the Saint Vincent Schola Gregoriana. F. Murray Abraham, the speaker, contributed much to the experience as he read these texts in the Requiem that Maestro Honeck selected. Mr. Abraham read one of Mozart’s most tender letters to his father, revealing a side of Mozart that most people don’t really know. There is a beautiful connection revealed between Mozart and his father, one that many long for. Through the letters and texts that Mr. Abraham read (the letter from Mozart to his father, poetry by Nelly Sachs and Biblical passages, including from the Book of Revelations), Maestro Honeck succeeded in having us think a bit more deeply about the meaning of the Mozart Requiem. I quite enjoyed and thoroughly appreciated the “music” that Mr. Abraham spoke. Mr. Abraham starred in the film “Amadeus” as the man (the jealous composer Salieri) who tried to kill Mozart. But, Mr. Abraham’s association with Salieri was not present once he spoke and read the provoking texts.

The Mendelssohn Choir is perfection, in my opinion. The dynamic shadings, the tones they produce are so extraordinary. The soloists John Relyea (bass), Paul Appleby (tenor), Gerhild Romberger (mezzo-soprano) and Sari Gruber (soprano) alone are fantastic vocalists, but they have a beautiful quartet in the Tuba Mirum. In this performance PSO trombonist, James Nova was set off stage in the right grand box in a very dramatic way. Nova had lovely intonation, and then each vocalist got a chance to each have a solo to proclaim their individual relationship between death and God. I also loved how in the more intense movements of the Requiem, when Honeck would signal for the choir to rise, and when they did, it was as if Honeck magically created a fire as if to say “Poof!” and the flame would ignite and wildly begin.

I think, for me, aside from what I have mentioned above, the most satisfying portion of this performance was watching Maestro Honeck conduct. It is truly a beautiful art, and he is a master of it. The closing of the Requiem, the Three Bell Strokes was incredibly magical. After the last notes from the orchestra, as they froze, and the low resonant sound quietly rang throughout the hall, there was a minute or so of silence, with Maestro Honeck’s head slightly bowed and his hands folded as if he were meditating. Breaking the silence, he slowly raised his head, unfolded his hands and raised his left arm. With his hand slightly closed he moved it forward and slowly unfolded it as if to release a butterfly, and then signaled the bell strokes.

The work chosen to open the concert by the Austrian contemporary composer Herbert Willi., was his 6 minute ABBA-MA (Echoes of Peace). I felt this piece added wonderfully to the Mozart Requiem. The Mendelssohn Choir opened with an angelic humming that the string section mimicked beautifully to where you almost could not differentiate between the voices and the strings. Being a contemporary piece, it didn’t really sound contemporary to me, which I loved. I must confess, this may be my favorite modern orchestra composition yet.

Entry to follow on Noah Bendx-Balgley’s PSO debut as a concerto soloist.

1 thought on “A Sublime Transformation: Honeck Presents Mozart’s Requiem”

  • I saw the requiem in 2009 and blogged about it (I think that was the year or maybe 2010). Your description ofthis and of Noah’s performance is much better than I could have generated – I suspect your musical background helps a lot with that. Since I don’t have a musical background I often find it difficult to paint a precise picture of the performances. Although I try to offset that with my impressions in an abstract fashion.

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