PSO to perform Mozart in final concert of spring for music festival

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When Manfred Honeck was selecting repertoire for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's concert at the Spring for Music festival, he wasn't aiming for metaphor. But it would turn out that this year's festival, this week at Carnegie Hall in New York, would be its last, and the PSO would be giving the final concert.

The piece that rounds out the PSO's program on Saturday? Mozart's "Requiem in Words and Music," an arrangement by Mr. Honeck. Mozart died before finishing his musical setting of the Mass for the Dead.

The annual festival will not live another year after a four-year run marked by critical success and curtailed by financial woes.

Since 2011, Spring for Music has given North American ensembles an international platform in the famed Carnegie Hall and encouraged them to present creative, innovative programming. The 2014 festival also features orchestras from New York, Seattle, Rochester, Winnipeg (Canada) and Cincinnati.

The festival's downfall "is really sad," Mr. Honeck said. "They did really great things."

Still, he says of his version of the Requiem, "the hope is more dominant than the sadness." The arrangement includes readings designed to enhance the listening experience. Actor and Pittsburgh native F. Murray Abraham, who played Salieri in the film "Amadeus," will be the speaker.

"When I do some change in a certain piece, I do it because I want to help the music and the piece to be understood a little bit better," Mr. Honeck said.

The performance will open with an a cappella performance of the Bruckner motet "Ave Maria." The orchestra follows with the New York premiere of James MacMillan's "Women of the Apocalypse" (inspired by works of art and by Chapters 11 and 12 of the Book of Revelation) and the final scene from Poulenc's "Dialogues des Carmelites."

The three thematically related works will be played without any pause, a first for Mr. Honeck. The program "reflects, in a way, that I believe that Pittsburgh is a spiritual town," he said. "It brings a little bit a light of that to New York."

It features soprano Sunhae Im, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, tenor Benjamin Bruns, bass Liang Li, the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh and Schola Cantorum of the Church of Saint Agnes in New York.

The decision to perform alongside the Mendelssohn Choir was made partly for financial reasons, Mr. Honeck said. But, he added, "I thought, let's be Pittsburgh. Let's be an ambassador of Pittsburgh ... and show what goes on in Pittsburgh."

The PSO has played at Carnegie Hall 81 times, most recently in 2010, and the Mendelssohn Choir has performed there three times.

This visit has Pittsburgh flair. As part of fundraising efforts, the orchestra pocketed more than $30,000 through a Kickstarter campaign that relied on local support. Lanxess Corp., a chemicals company with American headquarters in Pittsburgh, is sponsoring the tour. The company also is underwriting the costs for 11 students from Neighborhood Academy to travel to New York for the concert and other activities, said Amy Pietzak, press officer for the company.

Before the performance, Visit Pittsburgh will host a reception for New York-based customers, including members of the press and representatives of associations that could bring their meetings to Pittsburgh.

"We're in these cities a lot," said president and CEO Craig Davis. Given that regular contact, concerts provide a "unique" event for customers. The tourism promotion agency regularly partners with the PSO on concert tours.

"We're selling the symphony as indicative of the rich arts and cultural scene in Pittsburgh," said Connie George, vice president of communications.

Between the orchestra, choir, Lanxess, Visit Pittsburgh and patrons, there will be more than 640 people from Pittsburgh at Carnegie Hall, according to Joyce DeFrancesco, PSO director of media relations.

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