Guest conductor relishing the challenge of working with the Czech Philharmonic

Manfred Honeck, photo: Toshiyuki Urano,

In 2008 Zdenek Macal will cease to be the Czech Philharmonic's Chief Conductor. For the first time in its history the orchestra will not assign this position to anyone else, as it has decided to keep looking for an ideal candidate. As a result, the incoming Principal Guest Conductor, Manfred Honeck will play a more important role than normal in terms of leaving his mark on the ensemble and influencing its sound.

Mr Honeck arrived in Prague this week to perform a programme with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra consisting of works by contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, as well as by Edvard Grieg and Ottorino Respighi.

The orchestra recently appointed this Austrian native of Czech descent as its Principal Guest Conductor. Although Mr Honeck is not expected to take up his new position with the Czech Philharmonic until the autumn of 2008, he already has some plans for the country's leading classical music ensemble.

"It's actually a little bit early to say what exactly we'll do, but it's quite clear that I'll concentrate on prominent repertoire of this country. Also, I was born to a certain music environment in Vienna, which is closely connected to the Czech 'colour'. You can sense this in the works of Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner or Johannes Brahms. These composers will also definitely appear on our programme."

As regards Czech composers, Manfred Honeck knows their works very well. The ones he has a special affinity for are Antonin Dvorak and Bohuslav Martinu. He hopes to have a chance to perform not only their symphonic works, but also some choral pieces, such as Dvorak's Stabat Mater or Martinu's Field Mass. In his first season with the Czech Philharmonic Honeck plans to do five subscription concerts and is expected to go on several foreign tours with the orchestra.

Honeck has also just been appointed Music Director Designate of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and in the autumn of 2006 he signed a contract as future Music Director of the Stuttgart Opera. Consequently, he will have the extraordinary task of managing three prominent orchestras at the same time. Nevertheless, he says it will have no influence on the amount of detailed work that he intends to do in Prague - as well as in the other two cities.

"If you knew what my life looked like before, then you'd realize that I had around 20 or 30 towns and countries to visit every year. And now there will be only three such places. My life will become a little bit easier because I will concentrate on those three orchestras. It might seem a little bit too much to be responsible for three institutions, but it won't really be that demanding because I will be able to get all my work done in three places instead of 20 or 30 places."