When Manfred Honeck became music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 2007, he introduced a holiday tradition: a program of Viennese music, with waltzes and polkas by the Strauss dynasty.
During his inaugural year as Pittsburgh’s music director, he experienced Thanksgiving for the first time. He enjoyed the festive gatherings with friends dining on turkey and all the trappings but what really impressed him was the idea behind the holiday. As his own form of thanks, he decided to launch a new symphonic tradition for family programming over the holiday weekend, with concerts featuring the popular waltzes and polkas by the Strauss family of Vienna. A native of Austria, Honeck feels a close connection to the city, where he has spent much of his life. “You cannot ignore your own history,” he said. “I am from Vienna, and I will not deny that. I have a Viennese style of thinking.”
For his latest turn with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Honeck has imported his Pittsburgh tradition with “A Night in Vienna,” featuring music by Johann Strauss Jr. and Josef Strauss in concerts Dec. 12-14. Also on the program will be Mason Bates’ Resurrexit, which the former CSO composer-in-residence wrote in tribute to Honeck for his 60th birthday. Completing the lineup is Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 with Jan Lisiecki as soloist.
Honeck likes to conduct in the United States, because he finds the musicians here to be “extremely professional,” showing up at rehearsals fully prepared and ready to make music. Such preparation means he can focus on building a meaningful interpretation. “I’m not the type of conductor who wants to see a performance where everything is together and just go home,” he said in a 2014 interview with Sounds and Stories. “This is not my style, because I distinguish between technical perfection and musical perfection. And to get 100 people in front of you to a musical perfection, that’s actually what I always want I gain.”