Look who waltzed into town.
It's a full year before Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra music director designate Manfred Honeck begins his tenure, but he stopped by early to get to know the organization. And he also couldn't resist stepping on the stage while he was here, surprising patrons at an invitation-only concert.
"I had to get to know the institution and all these wonderful people, to see what they are working on and their plans together," he said. "It was for me very important and also important for the people to see who is their next music director."
This week, Honeck was ushered from department to department, learning the responsibilities and strategies of each. He also received a heavy binder with the photographs of every musician and staff member for him to study as he does his scores.
The dedication of the Austrian conductor impressed PSO leaders.
"It is highly unusual and it demonstrates a tremendous sense of dedication," said Robert Moir, vice president of artistic planning. Moir says Honeck insisted on the planning visit over the summer. "He came here of his own volition so he could learn everything about the Pittsburgh Symphony and so that he could plan next year with better knowledge."
Honeck is not making decisions for the PSO at this point, however. "We have an artistic adviser with a contract for this year," said Moir.
He also met with board chairman Richard P. Simmons and other board members and later spent time with Joanne Rogers. "He watched some videos of 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' and was very impressed," said Moir.
Honeck said that planning was going well and that the audience can expect him to focus on conducting "the composers of my home country," he said. "Mozart and all the other composers who lived in Vienna will be presented."
The annual Pittsburgh Symphony preview concert is an invitation-only run-through of snippets from upcoming programs. But the Heinz Hall audience got a prelude of the future as Honeck stepped in to conduct Johann Strauss Jr.'s "Voices of Spring Waltz."
Honeck called it his "gift."
"My wish is to help this institution to become as important as possible and for people in Pittsburgh to recognize that the Pittsburgh Symphony is one of the best orchestras of the United States and of the world."