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Honeck combines Latin Mass with unfinished symphony |

Honeck combines Latin Mass with unfinished symphony

Mark Kanny
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck conducts the PIttsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Felix Broede
Conductor and music director Manfred Honeck

Just weeks after winning a pair of Grammys, Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will record a new album at their next set of concerts.

The orchestra and its music director make two albums per season, focusing on repertoire either never recorded here before or which hasn’t been recorded by the symphony for a long time.

Honeck will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at concerts Feb. 22-24 in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall. The program is Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with soloist Yefim Bronfman and Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9.

Bruckner, a devout Catholic, died before finishing the work. Performances of it almost always consist of the three movements he did complete, comparable to two movement performances of Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony. Occasionally, conjectural completions of Bruckner’s finale are performed but none have caught on even to the extent of Deryck Cooke’s performing edition of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 10, also incomplete at the composer’s death.

Honeck, who recorded Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 with the Pittsburgh Symphony in 2013, led revelatory performances of Bruckner’s Ninth three seasons ago in Heinz Hall. The conductor, who also is a devout Catholic, said at the time he found that words from the Latin Mass fit perfectly with parts of the music. He performed the piece again a half year ago with the Stockholm Philharmonic in Sweden, which only reinforced his interpretative convictions.

“It’s not only that the words fit with the music, but also that the expression and content of the music and words are so alike in every moment,” he says, offering examples from the third movement.

“For example, the music for ‘qui tollis peccata mundi,’ take away the sins of the world, describes a death march, which is powerfully dissonant, like someone has a burden,” Honeck says. “On the other hand, for “dona nobis pacem,’ give us peace, the harmonies take us to another world which is so peaceful and beautiful and different. Of course, I can’t prove this. There’s no Bruckner letter saying this is what he did. This is a very personal discovery. Either you’re convinced or you’re not.”

Nevertheless, Honeck is emphatic that Bruckner’s Ninth is not a parochial symphony.

“It certainly is a spiritual symphony,” he says. “It is so full of what we experience, a tapestry that we all feel whether Catholic or not. That’s what makes Bruckner so great. He understands our needs, the needs of our soul. We all have the same way of feeling. We feel love. we feel hate. We feel hope. That’s why it’s not a Catholic symphony. It belongs to everybody.”

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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