Manfred Honeck makes his debut with the San Francisco Symphony this week, joined by baritone Matthias Goerne for a late work by Shostakovich, his Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti, before taking on the fifth symphony of Tchaikovsky. Both works are reflective of what was going on in the rather tempestuous lives of the composers.

There’s more information about the concerts, this Thursday through Saturday nights, at the San Francisco Symphony website.

The Shostakovich suite is much more than just a series of songs. “We call it the last symphony,” Honeck says. “And it was in a time where he reflected his own life… It is indeed somehow a symphony, very very deep in the expression about love firstly, and about refusing of love.” Michelangelo’s words about the role of the artist in a world of powerful authorities rang true for Shostakovich, who spent his career walking the fine line of creating works that confronted that authority, but allowed him to keep composing.  The fifth symphony of Tchaikovsky also shows the emotional core at the composer. Honeck points to the dark and low end of the coda of the first movement going into the glowing and memorable horn solo in the second. “You feel it goes in the darkness. Lowest instruments, viola, celli, bassi in the strings, and then also the clarinet and bassoons, it ends in the lowest darkness as you can imagine. And the second movement starts with the same instruments, when he says then, “I want to fall into the arms of the faith.” And he described the horn solo as the starlight, so to say, the hope. It is so wonderful to see when you ask the orchestra to play as dramatic as possible, to go in the darkness, in the hole, and then start the same with the quietness, then grow together to prepare this light.”

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