Austrian Conductor to Lead Pittsburgh Symphony

Manfred Honeck will become the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's music director in September 2008.
Manfred Honeck will become the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's music director in September 2008. (By Toshiyuki Urano)
By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, which has established itself as one of the country's preeminent ensembles over the past decade, yesterday named the Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck as music director.

Honeck, 48, will begin his initial three-year contract with the orchestra in September 2008, conducting eight weeks in his first season and 10 weeks in subsequent seasons, with additional time set aside for touring. As luck would have it, Honeck is already scheduled to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra in three concerts at the Kennedy Center next week, in a program of Verdi, Saint-Saens and Tchaikovsky, so Washington will be the first U.S. city to hear him after his new appointment.

The choice of Honeck marks a change of direction for the Pittsburgh Symphony, which has been led for most of the past two seasons by a troika consisting of artistic adviser Andrew Davis, principal guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier and endowed chair guest conductor Marek Janowski. The orchestra's last more-or-less full-time music director, Mariss Jansons, stepped down in 2004, and it has remained unclear until recently whether he would ever be replaced.

Larry Tamburri, the orchestra's president and CEO, said the PSO had "gained a good deal" from the three conductors. But "we have concluded that a strong, central leader is important to enhancing the artistic excellence of this orchestra. We have found that leader in Manfred Honeck."

Honeck grew up in Austria and joined the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in 1983, serving first as a violinist and then as a violist. He moved to conducting in the early 1990s, and recently concluded his tenure as music director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, where he had served from 2000 to 2006. In addition to his duties in Pittsburgh, Honeck is music director of the Staatsoper Stuttgart and principal guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic. He has also conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

He made his debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony only last May, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette music critic Andrew Druckenbrod immediately noted the "robust chemistry" between orchestra and conductor. "The orchestra was agog," Druckenbrod wrote. "It hung on his every movement, following his sudden diminuendos and crescendos and more than abiding his blistering tempos. The ensemble was tremendous. For an orchestra that usually raises a wary eye at a newbie, this was amazing stuff."

Honeck would seem to agree. "It is no exaggeration to say that the orchestra and I got on like a house on fire," he said in a statement. "Right from our first encounter I realized that with these highly professional and motivated musicians, it would be possible to convey a vivid message much needed in today's world of classical music."

The NSO is currently in search of a new music director to replace Leonard Slatkin when he steps down at the end of the 2007-2008 season.

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