With a strong connection to folk music

Manfred Honeck is the chief conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. This week, he's conducting the Oslo Philharmonic.

Manfred Honeck grew up in the same tradition of folk music as Anton Bruckner. Tonight he conducts Bruckner's fourth symphony in Oslo.

Manfred Honeck is definitely at home in the largest work on the Oslo Philharmonic’s program this week: Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4. Being an Austrian like the composer, he explains how closely knit this music is to his native culture:

– In Austria, we’re grown up with a certain type of folk music, you can’t escape it, Honeck says.

– Bruckner’s music is connected both to that tradition and to the many cathedrals in the country and their liturgy. It’s a common misconception that Bruckner’s music is always very religious and sacred. He grew up playing polkas and waltzes, he was born in that tradition and knew the repertoire very well. The connection to Austrian Volksmusik is especially strong in Bruckner's fourth symphony.

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– I was so blown away

When Honeck (58) grew up, he was surrounded by the same traditional music that permeates Bruckner’s symphonies.

– I grew up in a nine-kid family where we all played an instrument, and my father played zither. He taught me how to play it, so I got to know the old folk music very well. TV was not yet common, but there were always events where we could hear this kind of music. The tradition is still alive, though we are losing some of the connection to real Austrian Volksmusic as it gets more commercialized.

Honeck was 15 the first time he performed Bruckner’s music, as a viola player:

– The fourth symphony was the first one I played, with an Austrian youth orchestra. I still remember I was so blown away. I was very impressed by the colour of the music, especially of the second movement.

After several decades of conducting Bruckner's music, Honeck spends more and more time exploring details and subtle nuances:

– With great musicians like the Oslo Philharmonic, you can go very far into details and develop an understanding of how to play this Volksmusik, like the polka or the march. We can consider which kind of tremolos to use, to make them quick, slow or even electric. The audience for whom we perform will not know the details, but they will understand the emotions we bring them.