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A CONDUCTOR’S TALE

Music director Manfred Honeck has brought a distinctly European flavour to the Pittsburgh Symphony. Gavin Dixon spoke to him at his summer festival in Wolfegg, Germany, as he prepared to embark on a tour of Europe with his Pittsburgh forces – and discovered how his time as a violist in the Vienna Philharmonic helped him to become the conductor he is today
Manfred Honeck has worked hard to develop the Pittsburgh Symphony’s ‘distinctive clarity of tone’
PHOTOS ED DEARMITT / PITTSBURGH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

I meet Manfred Honeck on a bright summer morning in the Biergarten of the Hotel Gasthof zur Post, the only hotel in the small town of Wolfegg in southern Germany. The previous night, Honeck conducted Beethoven’s Missa solemnis as part of the Internationale Wolfegger Konzerte festival, and our conversation is interrupted several times by townspeople coming to congratulate him on the performance. Honeck has been artistic director of the festival since 1994. He is also local to the area, his family home being just across the border in Austria. ‘Every time I come to this town, I feel everybody is involved,’ says Honeck. ‘There used to be a grocery store over there, and the owner would play the organ. Yesterday the cook of the Gasthof came to thank me for the Missa solemnis, as he was there with his daughter. This has always felt to me like a festival that I could really identify with.’

Wolfegg is also home to royalty: its Renaissance castle is the ancestral seat of the princes of Waldburg-Wolfegg. The festival was founded in 1989 by the former prince, Max Willibald, and is now hosted by his heirs, Prince Johannes and his wife, Princess Viviana. Concerts are held in the banqueting hall and the ornate great hall of the castle, as well as in the adjoining Rococo church. There is a long tradition of music making at Wolfegg Castle, and in the 18th century the family retained a court orchestra. Today, visiting ensembles take their place: this year the Berlin-based Ensemble Mini as well as the Bamberg Symphony.

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About The Strad

We examine the 1677 ‘Romanov’ Nicolò Amati viola and the Royal Danish Orchestra’s instrument collection. Manfred Honeck explains how playing viola informs his conducting and Linus Roth discusses Weinberg. Plus the first in a two-part Berg Masterclass, with Leila Josefowicz.