Into the Realm of Pure Magic with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Like any Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert there is always an element of magic that pervades the hall and atmosphere, but every once in a while you experience such purity and magic of music you did not think was even fathomable. Such was the case this past Friday night.

This magic began when Maestro Manfred Honeck raised his baton for the world premiere of Antonín Dvořák’s Suite from Rusalka, Opus 114. Maestro Honeck conceived the idea of this symphonic suite arranged by Czech composer and guitarist Tomás Ille. Rusalka is exceptionally rich in melody and orchestral color and is especially receptive to Honeck and Ille’s interpretation.

The suite is woven from many of the score’s musical highlights and provides a summary of its intended action. One of the highlights of this arrangement was in the ever impassioned and sweet “Song to the Moon” where Pittsburgh Symphony and Berlin Philharmonic concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley replaced the soprano voice in her (Rusalka’s) plea to the moon to carry her love to the Prince on its beams. The melody presented by Bendix-Balgley was such that its earnest plea was like a sweet perfume that lingers in the senses long after it has passed.

What followed next in the first half was subjectively speaking the absolute heart and soul of the evening. Violinist Rainer Honeck, who is Maestro Honeck’s younger brother and the concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic, bewitched the audience with another Pittsburgh Symphony premiere, this time of Benjamin Britten’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 15. The Britten was premiered 75 years ago with the New York Philharmonic with violinist Antonio Brosa.

The Britten is unfortunately not a well-known concerto, and has become vastly underrated. From the first listening of this work it became clear that it was indeed of tonal nature, but not a necessarily typically joyous from the connotation the words “tonal music” can evoke. It has elements of Shostakovich and composers in exile like Erich Wolfgang Korngold. All composers, Britten, Shostakovich and Korngold share the same language in that they fully experienced and lived in exile. The Britten is quite emotional in that it shed light on the sorrow Britten experienced through the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. This concerto is like the lone flower that thrives and flourishes in the utter destruction around it. Impeccably managed technically by Rainer Honeck, Maestro Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony, this was an interpretation that sought out dreaminess amid the nightmare.

Rainer Honeck brought listeners to the next level with his interpretation. Although I have never heard Honeck’s playing before Friday evening it is blatantly clear that he is a true soloist and master of the violin in its fullest capacity. Though the concerto is fiendishly difficult, Honeck made it look and sound effortless and tied in the intensely romantic and beautiful lines and phrases. Everyone takes away from music what is most meaningful to them personally, but for me, his performance evoked such pure joy I have no words to describe the feelings.

The intermission into the second half was not nearly enough time for me to take in what the first half had just presented, however the second and final half exceeded expectations of this rare magic that was present throughout.

Maestro Honeck and the world class Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra closed with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, Opus 74, “Pathetique.” Honeck led the Pittsburgh Symphony and executed the performance with much conviction and emotion with the sweeping and glassy melodies that Honeck allowed the orchestra to explore and in turn let the audience bask in the unfathomable magic that only a world-class ensemble, such as the Pittsburgh Symphony, can capture.

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