When my wife breathlessly announced that Bernard Haitink would be the Pittsburgh
Symphony's new music director, I was flabbergasted. I mean, come on -- Bernard Haitink! This is one of the grand old men of the podium, and to think I might hear his Bruckner, Shostakovich and Mahler on a regular basis ... I could just see my season tickets being renewed, and the orchestra rejuvenated.
Then I opened the newspaper -- crap.
Those Penn Avenue knuckleheads have a new music director all right, but it isn't Bernard Haitink. It's Manfred Honeck.
Don't get me wrong. There's absolutely nothing negative I can say about Honeck; there's just not much to say about him at all. So, yes, I screamed. I cried. I saw my precious tickets to Elysium float away on the wings of a dream. But I guess it was silly to think someone like Haitink would ever consent to lead the Pittsburgh Symphony.
Throughout the orchestra's truly impressive history, legendary conductors have taken up the baton, but almost exclusively on their way up. For example, Fritz Reiner helped introduce Bartok's "Concerto For Orchestra" right here along the Three Rivers before going to Chicago and molding one of the top orchestras in the country. Even Mariss Jansons, our last music director, was on the rise before he came here. Fresh from putting Oslo on the musical map, he made incandescent recordings of Tchaikovsky, Dvorak and Sibelius before becoming a 'Burgh thing.
As for Honeck, if you do a search for recordings conducted by him on amazon.com, you'll find a slew of works no longer available, among them Bruch's ghastly symphonies and fool-proof Strauss waltzes. To be fair, the real proof will be how well the orchestra plays on a steady diet of Honeck. He may prove to be remarkable. However, he doesn't have the name or charisma of other candidates who are -- or were until recently -- looking. Anyone remember Marin Alsop?
If only she'd been more popular with the musicians. Make no mistake -- that's why we have Honeck for at least three years. It's not musicianship, quality of performance or having an ear for orchestral sound: It's purely popularity. When the journeymen musicians sit down to play, they want Honeck, and, hey, they're human just like the rest of us. Given the chance, they won't pick someone who's going to push them too hard or actively subvert their will for his/her own. Who would?
Someone like Bernard Haitink, maybe?
- Manfred Honeck