‘Music for the Spirit’ concerts among PSO director Honeck’s season favorites |

‘Music for the Spirit’ concerts among PSO director Honeck’s season favorites

Mark Kanny
Felix Broede
Conductor and music director Manfred Honeck
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Manfred Honeck and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Manfred Honeck is looking forward to returning to Pittsburgh with special anticipation. The symphony’s music director is facing three weeks of performances, beginning with “Music for the Spirit” concerts, continuing with the musical hilarity of Alexsey Igudesman and Hyung-Ki Joo on Thanksgiving weekend, and concluding with an all-Beethoven program, which will be recorded for commercial release.

“Music for the Spirit” concerts are among Honeck’s favorites every season. The upcoming concerts will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the orchestra’s concert at the Vatican in Rome under conductor Gilbert Levine.

While Honeck didn’t create the spiritual concerts, he has put his stamp on them. His way of presenting Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem — with religious and other texts interpolated between the movements of music — has become the model for this concert series.

Honeck will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Music for the Spirit Chamber Choir at concerts Nov. 20 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair and Nov. 22 at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School in Cranberry.

Sari Gruber will be the soprano soloist, Don Marinelli will be the host. These concerts will be the debut of the Chamber Choir, a community ensemble directed by Christine Hestwood and Robert Page.

Honeck says selecting music and texts for concerts is fun, even if compromises are necessary. He says he would love to conduct the entire “Christ on the Mount of Olives” by Ludwig van Beethoven, but there will be time only for its final chorus.

“This time, I thought it’s the time to bring humor into the spiritual picture, more the lightness of joyousness,” Honeck says. Accordingly, the program concludes with John Rutter’s “Gloria,” which he says is rhythmic and a great piece.

“I tried to use uplifting music which fits both venues, because it was a little bit of a challenge to program for a church and then perform the same program in the auditorium of a new school,” he says. “We have to be careful and not use the whole orchestra of maybe a hundred people we would for Mahler. But it also allows us to play great pieces that are a little smaller, such as Haydn’s Te Deum. It was meant to be uplifting.”

The repertoire by Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart includes religious pieces and movements from symphonies. “They wrote very joyful music,” Honeck says.

He took care to include wide-ranging repertoire. It will include a spiritual song by Franz Schubert in Honeck’s orchestration, and an “Ave Maria” from the world of opera. And they are nothing like Moses Hogan’s arrangement “Elijah Rock.”

“People think spiritual music has to be very soft and low, sad and serious,” Honeck says. “I want a lift in spirituality.”

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or [email protected].

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