On February 19, Manfred Honeck raised his baton at the start of a concert. But this time it wasn't in the front of the Pittsburgh Symphony, where he has been performing as conductor since 2008.
On this occasion, he was leading the Carnegie Mellon University Philharmonic for the first time, in a concert that featured Mozart's "Requiem Mass K. 626" and Dvorak's "Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, 'From the New World.'"
Honeck, who was awarded a CMU honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts in 2014, was asked by the current conductor and artistic director, Andrés Cárdenes to guest conduct the School of Music's CMU Philharmonic.
Cárdenes is a longtime friend of Honeck, having served as concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony from 1989 to 2010. And he's not the only close CMU tie with the Pittsburgh Symphony, with 25 CMU music faculty members performing with the orchestra. CMU representation can be found in the current concertmaster and principal players in the horn, trombone, bass trombone, bassoon, oboe, tuba, cello, flute, clarinet, harp and trumpet sections.
Honeck, who played viola with the Vienna Philharmonic, was trained in youth orchestras while growing up. Though his time is largely booked conducting professional orchestras, he spent a week at CMU because he values working with student musicians.
"When I learned how to play the symphonies for the first time, it meant a lot to me. It's wonderful to give back to the young people who are learning the same thing I was," Honeck said.
Honeck has guest conducted ensembles such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Having led symphonies across the world, Honeck is used to many different styles of playing.
And he was excited about what he heard musically from the students at CMU.
"I thought they had enormous enthusiasm. They are so hungry to play this great music, to understand it from the inside. It was a fantastic experience, seeing how much they play from their heart," Honeck said.
And CMU students recognized Honeck's heart in what he does.
"It was clear that music is more than just a performance for him, it's an experience and a medium to communicate much deeper and profound sentiments and something that he loves to share with others," said cellist Caitlin Quinlan (A'16).
For violinist Christin Danchi (A'15), Honeck's presence on the podium was inspiring.
"Maestro Honeck knew what he wanted in every moment of the music and was determined to get it just right, but his demeanor in rehearsals did not make his persistence feel demanding. His incredibly calming presence on the podium enabled and inspired me so many times to perform at a higher level in both pieces," Danchi said.
Danchi looks forward to welcoming Honeck back to CMU to conduct again in the near future.
Photo: Alisa Garin Photography