“After listening to the Pittsburgh Symphony’s recent recording of the Bruckner Ninth Symphony for the tenth or eleventh time, I began planning a trip to Pittsburgh, in the hope of understanding how such a formidable achievement had come about,” writes Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker.
“The playing is, first of all, at a very high technical level; the Pittsburgh musicians can withstand comparisons with their better-paid counterparts in Boston, New York, and Chicago. Yet note-perfect performances are hardly unusual in an age of impeccable conservatory training. What distinguishes this Bruckner Ninth is the rare and disconcerting expressive power of the interpretation. Savagely precise in detail, and almost scarily sublime in cumulative effect, it gives notice that the right orchestra and the right conductor can unleash unsuspected energies in familiar works.”
The right conductor, in this case, is the 61-one-year-old Austrian maestro Manfred Honeck, who has been Pittsburgh’s music director since 2008.
Ross asks: How do Honeck and his Pittsburgh players do it? During a visit with the PSO, he uncovered some clues and came to this conclusion: “But we also need conductors who know how to revitalize the grand tradition — and orchestras that can respond in kind. At the moment, Pittsburgh is one of the few places on the international scene where that alchemy regularly happens.