Rencontre : Manfred Honeck à Bozar avec le Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra ce 1er juin

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Manfred Honeck à la tête du Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra ce 1er juin à Bozar © Michael Sahaida

Second grand orchestre américain de la saison Bozar, le célèbre Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, une véritable institution qui a vu se succéder des chefs légendaires tels qu’Otto Klemperer, André Previn ou Lorin Maazel. Placé cette fois sous la direction de Manfred Honeck, l’orchestre a invité comme soliste le tout jeune pianiste russe Daniil Trifonov, l’un des grands talents de sa génération dans le très romantique 2e concerto de Rachmaninov.
What makes a great conductor?
Some people say, it is impossible to learn this gift – you must be born to be a conductor. There is a lot of work, study and effort behind this profession.
But what you need to have in any case is the gift of guiding people, this is something you cannot learn.

How do you see your role as a conductor?
My role is to mediate: My task is to put into sound, what is written on paper by the composers, so that hopefully the listeners are moved and touched – this achievement and the work by the composer itself is most important; but still my work allows me to be creative. I am allowed to see things differently and to interpret the music in my own way.

- How do you create a relation between you and the orchestra?
Our relationship is very professional. The conductor must know that he cannot do anything without his orchestra musicians; pride and vanity should not have any space there. Music itself is what keeps the relationship together. The orchestra musicians are not servants, but partners for me.

- Do you allow orchestra musicians to inspire you during rehearsal/concert?
Absolutely. For me that is a must and a need. I even ask the orchestra to bring in their own ideas and thoughts in the same way as I do it. And if a different opinion as my own is a better opinion, I of course accept that.

- You come to Brussels for a concert with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Is it the first time for you in Belgium? And for the orchestra?
For me it is the first time with the PSO in Brussels. But I have conducted other orchestras in Brussels before. It is such a pleasure to make music in this city, the capitol of EU. I am very much looking forward to that.

- About the program: how did you choose it?
A program for a tour concert is always decided on together with the promoter. And the promoter in Brussels was particularly interested in the Elektra suite that I arranged and just recently finished, because there has surprisingly not been a suite with this opera material before. Elektra is the most symphonic opera by Richard Strauss in my opinion. In Brussels it will be the premiere of this arrangement / piece.
The Haydn Symphony is also a very important work. Its source is from Austrian folklore (waltz, ländler). Haydn is very challenging to play and I am very much looking forward to that. And then of course playing Rachmaninov with this wonderful pianist Daniil Trifonov – the concert is full of depth and romantic drive, pieces that differ a lot from each other.

- You chose a lot of pieces for the European tour. How do you prepare yourself for it and how does a tour feel/go for the orchestra?
All pieces will ideally be played throughout the PSO season in Pittsburgh. And all pieces will be rehearsed two weeks before, also in Pittsburgh. So each piece that is presented on the tour will be prepared beforehand; no piece will be completely new when being on tour. And of course there will be sound check rehearsals in the different halls. And also each orchestra musicians has his/her own preparation time: before the tour at home and during the tour in the hotel rooms.

- How is your relation today with the orchestra? What do you think about it? Where do you want to go with them?
Our fundamental base is respect and the mutual fight for best quality, aiming for the best musical result. And of course we want the best musicians. When we look for a new musician for the orchestra, we rather wait one more year, after not having found the suitable musician for this position than choose someone who might not perfectly fit to us. Very good quality is most important for orchestra and conductor.

- What do you want when you are in front of the orchestra? What is your purpose?
It is always about the musical result. So motivation is very necessary. And sometimes expressing things with emphasis, and rehearsing parts again and again is important and cannot be avoided. But we work with a lot of trust. The orchestra is so good, I simply let them play. So our base is both demand and trust.

- For you, what is the conductor’s priority in front of the orchestra?
The aim is to achieve the best musical performance. So the priority is that everyone, conductor and musician, is willing to achieve that together with everyone else. Of course each one’s condition might be altering from day to day, but when standing on stage, absolutely everyone should do his/her best. This is most essential.

About your last CD with the PSO. Why did you choose Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony and a suite of Dvorak’s Rusalka conceptualized by you (after Elektra and Jenufa)?
Before I came to the PSO, the orchestra has not recorded works from the main symphonic repertoire, for mainly economical and financial reasons. I find it extremely important that the PSO records works from the symphonic repertoire, to demonstrate the fantastic quality of the orchestra, as a document. And Tchaikovsky 6 is after all one of the most famous symphonies, as is Bruckner 4, Beethoven 5 and 7 (all recently recorded by the PSO and the label Reference Recordings).
I am also interested in new things, like Rusalka. As with Elektra, there has not been a Suite about this opera material before. It is beautiful music and I want also symphonic music listeners to be able to enjoy this and not only opera lovers. I hope my arrangement is going to be loved and accepted.

- You are very often invited by Opera Houses. Is there a difference between the opera and the symphonic repertoire? Is the feeling different between conducting an opera or a symphony?
Oper and symphonic conducting are two very different things. In the opera there are not only musical, but also stage and scenic issues. While opera singers are singing, they have to act as well. These circumstances can be challenges for orchestra musicians, sometimes they have to spontaneously react on situations that could not be foreseen (singers miss their entrance or lines). It makes opera conducting very interesting. But not every symphonic conductor can work under these circumstances.
During a symphonic concert, there is always the same cast, same musicians, very few alterations. A symphonic piece is not as long as an opera and you can have more precise results, since you work more intensely on it.

Propos recueillis par Ayrton Desimpelaere
Bruxelles, le 31 mai 2016

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