Tonight: Manfred Honeck leads local symphonies at Heinz Hall


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In a way, Maestro Manfred Honeck of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is our own personal "music man."

Right here in [Three] Rivers City.

Tonight, Mr. Honeck presents the young people of our community performing a free concert at Heinz Hall. It's "Celebrating the Next Generation," part of the symphony's nine-day "Music for the Spirit Festival."

The musicians and singers will be more than 300 students from the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra and Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon universities.

"This is the first time this particular type of concert has happened," said special projects director Mary Persin. "Maestro Honeck had the idea. This is something that is important to him, a priority. The city of Pittsburgh has so many talented young people and the universities form the identity of the city to such a degree. The young people are the next generation of talent coming up. He wanted to unite these groups together on the stage at Heinz Hall."

Well, that's one way to get them off the streets.

"It's mind-boggling," said Edward Kocher, dean of Duquesne's music school. "I've never heard of anything like this. It's unprecedented."

Here's the plan. Each of the four different groups -- the high school students of the PYSO; the Duquesne Symphony Orchestra; the CMU University Concert Choir; and two choirs from Duquesne -- will perform a piece on its own under their own directors.

"And then, for the second half of the concert, they will unite on stage," Ms. Persin said, "and Maestro Honeck will lead them in this large closing featuring Mahler."

Uh-oh. Mahler. Gustav Mahler? Isn't that challenging?

"It's very challenging music that he chose," Ms. Persin said. "And it's a big program, and we weren't really sure how it would all work out.

"I've been at all of the rehearsals and it really sounds terrific. The students are so excited. To see Maestro Honeck work with these students is incredible. His ability to communicate and to instruct them and inspire them. It's so quiet you can hear a pin drop, and they're ready and eager to hear everything he's going to say and any gesture that he makes with his hands. It's a real gift that he's giving them.

"To think they are having this opportunity to be at that age and get to play Mahler with the music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony. It's just incredible. And they sound terrific."

Imagine. It's kind of like taking one of your mid-term exams ... on stage at Heinz Hall ... with a large audience.

"They're learning," Ms. Persin said. "When you're that age, you still have to learn the perspective, the difference between a loud sound and a dramatic sound. Maestro Honeck has been able to pull so much out of them and help them reach beyond what they might have thought they could do. He's demanding with them, but he's stretching them and helping them rise to the challenge."

Mr. Kocher passed along an email he received from Christine Jordanoff, director of Duquesne's choral organizations:

"So far our experiences have been intense, demanding, and very worthwhile," she wrote. "I am witnessing the transformation of my singers as they have moved into this professional arena. They could never pay enough tuition for this experience! Uniting with CMU and the PYSO tonight was another step towards changing the world through music!"

And the best part is that with all those other students around you, you could make a mistake and it would hardly even matter!

"Maestro Honeck actually tried to impress upon them the feeling and the passion and the drama," Ms. Persin said. "And if it's not perfectly clean, that's fine. He told them, 'I want it to be ferocious. I want it to jump off the page.' It helps to bring the music to life for them."

And it comes to life for you at 7:30 tonight for free at Heinz Hall, 600 Penn Ave., Downtown.

If you can't attend, you can listen to the performance on WQED 89.3-FM and the station's website.

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If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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