Manfred Honeck and CSO

Manfred Honeck, current music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, stepped in for Riccardo Muti for this week’s CSO concerts (Feb 18-20). Originally slated to be an all-Italian program, featuring Respighi and Casella, there ended up being one program change, with Casella’s Third Symphony with Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. Although I was really looking forward to hearing Casella, Honeck/CSO’s interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s famous Pathétique, was full of dynamism and verve – and closed the evening in a resounding and reflective manner. By conducting from memory, it was clear to see why the 6th was chosen to replace Casella – it was obviously a piece Honeck knew very well and would thus require less preparation for performance, especially given the extremely short notice of the situation. Unfortunate that there was, once again, premature applause following the robust ending of third movement (Allegro molto vivace)…

Additionally, in a full display of masterful technique and musicality, Robert Chen, soloist in Respighi’s Concerto gregoriano, gave an illuminating performance – although I do wish that Muti (one of the acclaimed interpreters of Respighi) was at the podium to bring out the Italianità of both works (Fountains of RomeConcerto gregoriano), something that seemed to be lacking in the performance on Thursday.

One, however, could not refrain from noticing the vast amount of empty seats in the hall-which was not the case last week for Rozhdestvensky. I was sitting in the terrace for the performance (curious because usually students are seated on the main floor, where there were many empty seats on Thursday evening) and from my perspective, the only section that was really filled was the gallery. I can only imagine that Muti’s absence was the cause. In fact, a lady sitting next to me asked if I originally bought the ticket to hear Muti conduct, which of course was true, and she nodded in agreement. And to add on to this, there were also these three (elderly) ladies sitting in front of me, one of whom decided to find a photo of Muti from the program (in all his glorious conducting brilliance), rip out the photo, and then proceed to take 20 selfies of herself kissing his cheek, exclaiming “You beautiful man!”. Hopefully I didn’t photobomb any of her photos with my amused expression! Nevertheless, Chicagoans consider Muti one of their own and are probably in great anticipation for his return this upcoming April. For now, we’ll have to enjoy the many other great conductors leading CSO in the meanwhile – Honeck, Salonen, Tilson Thomas, Temirkanov, etc.

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