Grand Classics Season Opens with Violinist Bell

Article excerpt

The choice was clear for Manfred Honeck. His first subscription concerts as the Pittsburgh Symphony's new music director would culminate in the music of Gustav Mahler, one of his favorite composers. He hopes to conduct all of Mahler's symphonies at Heinz Hall.

Mahler, who lived from 1860 to 1911, was most famous in his lifetime as a conductor, with high points in Vienna -- at the Hofoper and the Philharmonic -- and New York City -- at the Metropolitan Opera and the Philharmonic. He predicted his time as a composer would come, and it did about 50 years after his death.

"Mahler is still modern, because he still takes us to the edge of our feelings," Honeck says. "He had incredible feeling for the human soul."

Honeck opens the BNY Mellon Grand Classics season at concerts Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The program consists of "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" by John Adams, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with Joshua Bell as soloist, and Mahler's First Symphony.

The Mahler piece was completed in 1888 and called "Tone Poem in two parts," but with all of its five movements separate and in symphonic form. It almost always is performed in Mahler's 1899 revision, which removed the second movement and modified the orchestration.

Mahler's First Symphony bridges a divide in 19th-century aesthetics between openly programmatic music, by composers such as Hector Berlioz and Franz Liszt and, in Mahler's time, Richard Strauss, and more classically oriented composers.

"Mahler is in a bit straighter line than Strauss from Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Anton Bruckner and Johannes Brahms," Honeck says. Mahler also studied with Bruckner at the Vienna Conservatory.

"All music has a program (story); we just don't know it," Honeck declares. One could say that the symphony opens with the stillness of morning broken by soft bird calls and distant military fanfares, but it is fact that the cello tune that follows a few minutes later is a quote from a Mahler song about a young man out walking in dew- laden fields, hoping for love. The second movement contrasts folk- dance music with an intimate middle section that Honeck likens to a Viennese waltz. …