Preview: Tallis Scholars make Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra premiere


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Old music is nothing new at Heinz Hall, and this weekend's repertoire is certainly no exception, with pieces extending back as far as the 16th century. But the concerts will still, somehow, seem fresh.

They mark the first time the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra collaborates with the Tallis Scholars, the world's preeminent Renaissance vocal group. And it is just the second time the U.K.-based ensemble will sing with any symphony. (The first was the Berlin Philharmonic.)

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
With: Manfred Honeck, conductor; The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips, conductor.
Featuring: Vocal works by Allegri, Bruckner and Victoria; Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4.
Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown.
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $25.75-$109.75; 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org.

"Normally, our concerts are Renaissance sacred music, so we don't need an orchestra or indeed any instruments to accompany us at all," said Peter Phillips, founder and conductor of the Tallis Scholars.

The singers are on a world tour for their 40th anniversary season, and they have reason to celebrate. Their latest album, featuring Taverner's "Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas," is atop the classical music charts in Great Britain.

At Heinz Hall, they will sing three lamentations by Victoria, two motets by Bruckner and a setting of a psalm by Allegri. The works, written by devout Catholics, span the 16th to 19th century.

"So it's a big Catholic package," said Mr. Phillips.

These particular Bruckner motets are new to the Tallis Scholars, who almost exclusively sing works from the Renaissance period. The sacred pieces demonstrate how "Bruckner's musical language goes back to the Renaissance," said music director Manfred Honeck, who will lead the PSO in a performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 ("Romantic") in the second half.

The Bruckner works "use some of the same musical language," said Mr. Phillips. "There's not a gap between the motets and the [Fourth] Symphony."

Mr. Honeck said the motets "prepare a little bit of Bruckner's language" for the symphony, into which Bruckner incorporates natural motifs, folksongs and fairytale elements.

There is an added benefit to the PSO of the Tallis Scholars' Heinz Hall cameo. The orchestra can devote its energies to the "Romantic" Symphony, which it will record this weekend for a Reference Recordings album, slated for a spring release.

"It gives us a little bit the possibility to focus on the Bruckner," said Mr. Honeck.


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