Two Gustav Mahler symphonies will bookend the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra season as the orchestra begins a new chapter in its illustrious history.
The PSO announced today that its incoming music director, Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck, will begin the season with Mahler's Symphony No. 1, "Titan," and end it with the Viennese composer's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection." In between, Honeck will offer even more music written in Vienna -- where the conductor moved when he was about 10 years old -- including works by Brahms, Beethoven, Bruckner, Mozart and Johann and Richard Strauss, in addition to music by Haydn, Orff and Dvorak.
"It is the first season, and I want to go in this world of my hometown," says Honeck, who will eventually conduct the entire cycle of Mahler symphonies with the PSO over the coming years.
"We decided to use Vienna as his calling card for his first season -- the Vienna of the great classical and Romantic masters -- because that is really the heart of where he comes from as a musician," says Robert Moir, vice president for artistic planning.
Augmenting the theme will be an accompanying exhibit at Heinz Hall of music artifacts from several Viennese institutions, including collections from the Musikverein and the International Gustav Mahler Society. Expect to see scores, letters, photos and even some of Beethoven's ear trumpets.
While this repertoire is designed to let PSO patrons get to know their new music director and for him to put his best foot forward, Honeck has an ulterior motive: He wants to instill in the orchestra his desires for how this and other core repertoire should be performed.
"The orchestra knows these very well, and it is easy then for them to know my view on these pieces because I really will concentrate on the sound and what I think is right," he says. "I really want to present a basis for the next years. This fantastic orchestra will easily realize in which direction I want to go. I don't want to spend time ... just to read the notes. I want to spend time to understand."
Honeck will conduct his first concert with the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh with Orff's "Carmina Burana" and he will get to know PSO soloists in Haydn's "Sinfonia Concertante."
Honeck and the PSO also will partner with violinists Joshua Bell, Frank Peter Zimmerman and pianists Yefim Bronfman, Lars Vogt and Rudolf Buchbinder.
Other large works, including Bruckner's Symphony No. 7, Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 and Strauss' "Death and Transfiguration," dot his eight subscription concert weekends, and there will be some lighthearted fun when he presents waltzes by Johann Strauss Jr. and family.
Helping to fill out the Pittsburgh/Vienna connection will be returning guest conductor Gianandrea Noseda, who will conduct Schubert's Symphony No. 9, Webern's Passacaglia and Korngold's Violin Concerto with violinist Nikolaj Znaider. Noseda's second concert weekend coincides with another major event of the season, a three-week Rachmaninoff festival (April 3-18). Created by music author Joseph Horowitz, the event will re-examine and rebut the perception of the composer as a "dinosaur from the 19th century" through some of his larger works, as well as piano recitals, lectures and other events, including a performance of "Russian Vespers."
A composer who does not have a perception problem, John Adams, will be the PSO composer of the year next season. Perhaps the country's most prominent living composer, Adams will not compose any new music, but will conduct two concerts: one of music from his operas "Nixon in China" and "Doctor Atomic," and the other his recent "The Dharma at Big Sur" and Sibelius' Symphony No. 6. Other works by Adams will be programmed throughout the season.
The PSO's incoming principal guest conductor will be well-represented next season. Leonard Slatkin will arrive in October to conduct Adams' "Slonimsky's Earbox," Dvorak's "Symphony No. 9, "From the New World," and the premiere of a work for choir and orchestra by Derek Bermel. That composition stems from a double celebration: of the 250th anniversary of the city of Pittsburgh and of the 100th anniversary of the Mendelssohn Choir.
That work is a PSO commission, as is Christopher Theofanidis' Violin Concerto (performed by violinist Sarah Chang) and Jennifer Higdon's "Concerto 4-3," co-commissioned with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Wheeling Symphony. Slatkin will return for two additional concert weekends.
Marek Janowski also returns for two concert weekends and with a new title: the Otto Klemperer Endowed Guest Conductor Chair.
"We decided to name it after the guest conductor who had more impact over the Pittsburgh Symphony than any other," says Moir. In 1937, the PSO was without a music director, and Klemperer stepped in. "He wouldn't take a title, but he took the job of re-auditioning the orchestra and rehearsing it for six weeks to get it ready for the first concert of the new Pittsburgh Symphony." Among others, Janowski will conduct Berlioz's "King Lear" Overture and Richard Strauss' "Alpine Symphony."
Popular soloists and some new names will grace Heinz Hall next season. The first comes in the gala concert Sept. 19 that opens the season, as pianist Lang Lang performs Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2. Honeck will conduct when Lang Lang returns for a Nov. 18 recital.
Other returning instrumental soloists are Jonathan Biss and Leila Josefowicz. Debuting artists include pianists Denis Matsuev, Gabriela Montero, Simon Trpceski, Yuja Wang and Orion Weiss, violinist Arabella Steinbacher and string trio Time for Three.
• Sept 19:
Gala concert with Manfred Honeck, conductor, and Lang Lang, pianist. Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2, Johann Strauss' Overture to "Die Fledermaus" and Haydn's Symphony No. 94, "Surprise."
Bank of New York Mellon Grand Classics subscription concerts:
• Sept. 26-28: Honeck and Joshua Bell, violin; Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine," Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, Mahler's Symphony No. 1.
• Oct. 10-11: Andris Nelsons, conductor, and Sarah Chang, violin; Adams' "The Chairman Dances" from "Nixon in China," Theofanidis' Violin Concerto (world premiere), Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2.
• Oct. 17, 19: Leonard Slatkin, conductor, Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh and soloists; Adams' "Slonimsky's Earbox," Bermel world premiere, title TBA, Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, "From the New World."
• Oct. 23-25: Marek Janowski, conductor, and Arabella Steinbacher, violin; Bruch's "Scottish Fantasy," Berlioz's "King Lear Overture" and Strauss' "Macbeth."
• Oct. 21-Nov. 2: Janowski and Jonathan Biss, piano; Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22, K. 482, R. Strauss' "Alpine Symphony."
• Nov. 21, 23: Honeck and Garrick Ohlsson, piano; Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, Bruckner's Symphony No. 7.
• Nov. 28, 30: Honeck and Lars Vogt, piano; Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, K. 467, music of J. Strauss.
• Dec. 5-6: Slatkin, Time for Three; Bernstein's "Symphonic Dances" from "West Side Story," Higdon's "Concerto 4-3," Copland's Symphony No. 3.
• Jan. 16-17: John Adams, conductor, and James Maddalena, baritone; Excerpts from Adams' operas, "Nixon in China" and "Doctor Atomic.".
• Jan. 23, 25: Andres Cardenes, conductor, and Gabriela Montero, piano; Barber's Symphony No. 1, Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 5.
• Jan. 30-31: Yan Pascal Tortelier, conductor, and Orion Weiss, piano; Sibelius' "Swan of Tuonela," Grieg's Piano Concerto, Ravel's Trio and Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."
• Feb. 6-8: Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, conductor, Cardenes, violin; Beethoven's Symphony No. 8, Lalo's "Symphonie espagnole" and Ravel's "Bolero."
• Feb. 20-22: Honeck, PSO soloists, Mendelssohn Choir, soloists; Haydn's "Sinfonia Concertante" and Orff's "Carmina Burana."
• Feb. 27-28: Honeck and Rudolf Buchbinder, piano; Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 and Dvorak's Symphony No. 8.
• March 5-7: Charles Dutoit, conductor, Yuja Wang, piano; Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks," Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Debussy's "Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune" and "La Mer."
• March 13, 15: Adams and Leila Josefowicz, violin; Adams' "The Dharma at Big Sur" and Sibelius' Symphony No. 6.
• March 27, 29: Gianandrea Noseda, conductor, and Nikolai Znaider, violin. Webern's Passacaglia, Korngold's Violin Concerto, Schubert's Symphony No. 9.
• April 3-5: Noseda and Simon Trpceski, piano, Sergey Murzaev, baritone, Mendelssohn Choir; Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini," "Vesna (Spring) Cantata" and Symphony No. 1.
• April 16-18: Slatkin and Denis Matsuev, piano; Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise," "Symphonic Dances" and Piano Concerto No. 3.
• May 1-3: Honeck and Yefim Bronfman, piano; Strauss' "Death and Transfiguration," Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24, K. 491 and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.
• June 4-6: Honeck and Frank Peter Zimmerman, violin; Beethoven's "Egmont" Overture, Mozart's Symphony No. 38, "Prague," Beethoven's Violin Concerto.
• June 12,14: Honeck and Mendelssohn Choir, soloists; Mahler's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection."
PSO season subscriptions range from: $40 for four concerts to $1,312 for 21 concerts and go on sale tomorrow; call 412-392-4900.
PSO Chamber Orchestra
• Nov. 13, March 19, 2009 and April 23, '09: Carnegie Music Hall.
• Nov. 15, March 21, '09, April 25, '09: Upper St. Clair High School.
Classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1750.