Pittsburgh Symphony Appoints a Music Director - Manfred Honeck

Classic Arts News   Pittsburgh Symphony Appoints a Music Director - Manfred Honeck
After a three-year experiment with a trio of part-time "artistic advisers" and guest conductors, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has selected a music director. Manfred Honeck, a 48-year-old Austrian conductor with a fast-rising reputation in Europe and stacks of glowing reviews from both sides of the Atlantic, begins a three-year term with the PSO in September 2008.

Honeck and the orchestra's board announced the appointment at a press conference this morning. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, other than that he will conduct eight weeks in Pittsburgh his first season and 10 weeks in subsequent seasons, with additional weeks for touring. Also, according to The New York Times, Honeck will definitely take on the fundraising, administrative and public relations duties which are part of a music director's job in the U.S. but which make some European maestros uncomfortable.

Honeck conducted the PSO for the first time only last season. But the chemistry between maestro and musicians was evidently extraordinary from the start. "It is no exaggeration to say that the orchestra and I got on like a house on fire," Honeck said in a statement; PSO board chairman Dick Simmons told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "In the 16 years I have been associated with this orchestra, I have never heard the overwhelming endorsement of a conductor by the musicians [like the one they gave to Honeck], and that includes some pretty high-level conductors."

One potential concern for the orchestra, according to the Post-Gazette's Andrew Druckenbrod, was Honeck's relatively low profile (so far) in the U.S. However, the paper points out, the PSO's last music director, Mariss Jansons, was not yet a big-name conductor when he came to the job in 1996; he is now one of the more revered maestros working today, and the music director of two of the world's finest ensembles, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and the Bavarian Radio Symphony.

"That hire proved to be one of the best in PSO history," Druckenbrod wrote, "and the orchestra feels it again has caught lightning in a bottle."

Born into a family of nine children in a small Austrian town in 1958, Manfred Honeck began his professional career in 1983 as a violinist and violist with the Vienna Philharmonic — to which he has returned as a guest conductor more than once. He has also led (among others) the Los Angeles and London Philharmonics, the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestras, and the Chicago and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestras. Last summer he concluded a widely admired six-year tenure as music director of the Swedish Radio Symphony; in addition to his new PSO job, Honeck is Music Director Designate of the Staatsoper Stuttgart and Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic.

His peripatetic career notwithstanding, Honeck makes his home with his wife and six children in Atlach, Austria, not far from his birthplace.

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