'Praying is cleansing the soul'
PSO music director Manfred Honeck speaks to Oakland Catholic students
Maestro Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra music director since 2007, shared an afternoon with Oakland Catholic High School students Sept. 18, telling them of his love of prayer and music, introducing them to his wife, Christiane, and sharing stories from their family life.
Speaking at a school assembly in Synod Hall in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood, he also told the young women of his special affection for the music of Mozart and shared details on the history of Mozart's "Requiem," which he will lead the orchestra in presenting Friday through Sunday, Oct. 12-14, at Heinz Hall.
The format for the afternoon was the maestro answering questions posed by Monique Mead, who coordinates the symphony's Meet the Maestro Program in area schools.
The school's Chamber Singers welcomed him with a song, followed by the entire student body joining in singing "Happy Birthday," surprising and delighting him.
He asked them to join him in beginning with a prayer, and said he loves to visit schools to encourage students to study music.
In introducing his wife, he told the students they met at a summer music camp when she was 16 and he 23. They married two years later and today they live in a small village in Austria near his birthplace.
He told the students he always had a great desire to marry and have a big family. Today that family includes four sons, Joachim, Manuel, Matthias and Simeon, and two daughters, Anna-Maria and Theresa-Maria. The family also includes two young grandchildren.
Honeck's home also includes something else he always wanted --¬†a chapel. "It's where I go when I want to pray or when I have problems," he said. In addition to attending Mass in a local church, the family has Masses in their home, with a priest coming to offer the sacrament.
Faith is the center of his life, he told the young women. "When I was your age it wasn't that way, but with age now I pray every day.
"When I wake up I prepare my soul, then I pray to God," he said. "Praying is cleansing the soul.
Mead told the students that Honeck is amazingly stress-free, considering his busy schedule. She said his wife told her that "every morning he truly puts himself in the hand of God. He truly lets himself be led."
Honeck said, "when I learned to integrate things in my life, suddenly I got calmer."
He told the students, in responding to their questions, that Mozart and Beethoven are his favorite composers, noting that "music goes much deeper than words."
But Mozart is special, he said, telling the students of the composer's life. Mozart was always in financial trouble before his death at age 35, and the "Requiem" he was working on was left uncompleted. Mozart's wife had students complete it, Honeck said.
When the symphony performs the work next month, it will include the tolling of death bells and noted actor F. Murray Abraham, who played Mozart's enemy in the movie "Amadeus," reading texts from Mozart's letters to his father. Honeck added these elements to the work.
The evening also will include performances by soprano Adriana Kucerova, mezzo-soprano Gerhild Romberger, tenor Paul Appleby, bass Liang Li and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh.
The musicians also will perform "ABBA-MA" by Herbert Willi, and concertmaster and violinist Noah Bendix-Balgley will perform Beethoven's "Violin Concerto."
Honeck had high praise for the symphony musicians and their professionalism. They always show up for the first rehearsal "rehearsed and ready to play."
For tickets, visit http://pso.culturaldistrict.org/production/31979 online, or call 412-392-4900 or 1-800-743-8560.