In Europe, Pittsburgh Symphony to play in most prestigious halls
Philharmonie, Luxembourg, will be one of the concert halls on the tour for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
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The last time the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performed in Vienna, music director Manfred Honeck found himself in a strange place: among the audience.
The performance at the Konzerthaus in early February 2008 was part of a tour the orchestra had arranged years earlier with conductor Marek Janowski at the helm. Mr. Honeck happened to be in town with the Vienna Symphony, and he spent a great deal of time with his new orchestra -- showing musicians, staff, board members and media the musical highlights of his hometown. But for him the highlight was clear:
"It was one of the rare moments when I could sit and listen to the orchestra," he said.
No buyer's remorse here; in fact, the concert that night inspired him to push harder to get the PSO back in the most prestigious Viennese hall, the Musikverein.
"It is the Carnegie Hall of Europe," said Mr. Honeck. "It is a new step for showing our music-making. The orchestra is very well known and respected in Vienna. It is a great thing to be there."
Soon, the orchestra was invited for not one, but two concerts there. The Musikverein dates are the anchor of a three-week, eight-country, 12-concert European Tour that opens Saturday and touches down in several other major music capitals, including Paris, Prague and Budapest. The orchestra will be joined by some heavy hitters of the classical scene: violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter performing Brahms' Violin Concerto, pianist Emanuel Ax soloing in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor," and cellist Jan Vogler playing Schumann's Cello Concerto.
The remainder of the tour program -- Mahler's Symphony No. 1, Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 -- is designed to showcase the chemistry the PSO has with Mr. Honeck, especially within his areas of expertise.
"People [in Europe] know about the new combination of the orchestra and me, but we have to go to those venues and show this exciting thing that they have read about," said Mr. Honeck, who became music director in 2008. "This is the biggest stakes for us."
The tour also will be a chance to show the musical elite that the orchestra has returned to the top form it had under former music director Mariss Jansons.
Among the personal stakes for Mr. Honeck will be the appearance in Prague. Not only will it be in Smetana Hall during the prestigious Prague Spring Festival, but it's in the city where he is principal guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic. Likewise, in Stuttgart, he is music director of the Stuttgart State Opera.
The tour will mark the first time Mr. Honeck has conducted in Hungary or Slovenia, and be the first time the PSO has performed in the latter's capital of Ljubljana since its mammoth, three-month State Department tour of 1964, when the area was part of communist Yugoslavia.
The orchestra will visit the stunning new hall in Luxembourg, the Philharmonie, for the first time on this tour, and it also will perform in the celebrated 19th-century Semperoper in Dresden, the Salle Pleyel in Paris and Bela Bartok National Concert Hall in Budapest.
The tour may celebrate a new partnership, but it also marks the end of another fruitful one: the last with concertmaster Andres Cardenes. After 21 years, he will depart at the end of this season.
The PSO goes to Europe at a time when the rough economy has prompted more than a few orchestras to cancel overseas tours recently.
"It is getting more and more important to show the European cultures that this American orchestra is still here and on track with strong playing," said Mr. Honeck. "Pittsburgh is an orchestra that people are always waiting to come back."
"Touring is part of the identity of this orchestra all the way back to when this orchestra was formed," said PSO president Lawrence Tamburri. "Victor Herbert took the Pittsburgh Symphony on domestic tours around the United States. Fritz Reiner took the symphony to Mexico, William Steinberg had that three-month tour for the U.S. State Department. This is one of the historically great touring orchestras in America."
Helping keep that reputation a reality is a potent sponsorship package, led by the Hillman Endowment for International Performance and a title sponsorship by BNY Mellon.
"We are excited about their international success," said Lane Cigna, spokesperson for the global asset management and security servicing corporation. "We have a long-standing relationship with the Pittsburgh Symphony -- over 100 years -- and this is the third straight European tour that we have been the presenting sponsor."
Westinghouse Electric Co. will sponsor the May 17 concert in Paris and PPG Industries Inc. the May 16 event in Stuttgart.
These companies and others that the Allegheny Conference recruits when it accompanies the PSO on tour value the status of the orchestra abroad.
"The PSO will open doors for dialogue with international business leaders and influencers, and we'll be creating a conversation about Pittsburgh as a prime business investment destination," said Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Dennis Yablonsky. "It's an ideal time ... to be traveling with the Pittsburgh Symphony -- capitalizing on the global exposure that began in earnest during last year's G-20 summit."
"We feel we are an important ambassador for the city of Pittsburgh," said Mr. Tamburri. "We want to bring jobs and other good things back to Pittsburgh. We want to demonstrate what the quality of life in our city is like."
And what the quality of the PSO is under Manfred Honeck.
Here is the schedule for the PSO 2010 European Tour, conducted by Manfred Honeck.
May 15: Musiksaal Stadtcasino, Basel, Switzerland. Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin
May 16: Liederhalle, Stuttgart, Germany. Mutter.
May 17: Salle Pleyel, Paris, France, Mutter.
May 18: Alte Oper, Frankfurt, Germany. Emanuel Ax, piano.
May 20-21: Philharmonie, Luxembourg. Ax, Mutter.
May 22: Smetana Hall, Prague, Czech Republic. Mutter, violin.
May 23: Semperoper, Dresden, Germany, Jan Vogler, cello.
May 26-27: Musikverein, Vienna, Austria. Ax, Mutter
May 28: Bela Bartok National Concert Hall, Budapest, Hungary, Mutter
May 29: Cankarjev Dom, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Vogler.
First Published May 12, 2010 12:00 am