Viennese violin virtuoso

Rainer Honeck will perform at the Jerusalem International Chamber Festival

August 10, 2017 18:20
3 minute read.
Violin player

Violin player (illustrative photo). (photo credit: INGIMAGE)


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Viennese violinist Rainer Honeck has one of the most prestigious positions in the realm of classical music. He is the concertmaster of the celebrated Vienna Philharmonic, one of the world’s finest orchestras. In September, he will perform at the Jerusalem International Chamber Festival, along with many other topnotch musicians from around the globe.

Honeck, 56, a member of the Vienna Philharmonic since 1981, has been one of its four concertmasters for the past 25 years. The orchestra comprised only male musicians until 15 years ago, when it gradually began to include women.

“The orchestra changed drastically over the last few years, but having women players aboard wasn’t what caused the change,” he says. “To date, we only have 12 women players, which is not so many. We will have more in the future, but it takes time until more positions open up.”

The dramatic change is a result of the orchestra members being much younger and much more international. In fact, as he puts it, “too international.”

“We have players coming from all over the world,” says Honeck.

“Technically, they are fantastic. However, they don’t know the Viennese tradition. So we, the players of the older generation, need to pass that tradition on to them. And that is not always easy.”

The “Viennese tradition” includes various stylistic issues such as a beautiful sound, specific phrasing and articulation, and what Honeck generally describes as “good taste.”

“When I hear old recordings of the orchestra, say from 30 or 40 years ago, I notice a considerable change from today. Back then, the renditions may have been slower, less enthusiastic and often even flat, and the sound was extremely beautiful. Today, some of that distinctive sound is gone,” he says.

Honeck will participate in three concerts at the Jerusalem Festival (September 5, 7 and 9). He and his fellow musicians will play pieces by Schumann, Schubert and Mozart. As a violinist who plays both orchestral and chamber music, he says there is a huge difference between the two.

“In chamber music, we go deeper into details,” he says. “All the players strive together to reach the best interpretation of the score. In orchestral playing, however, there are always compromises, and one has to straighten oneself according to the conductor. Playing chamber music is the utmost fun for me, as it includes communication and discussion with fellow musicians.

And it’s especially fun when your colleagues are good musicians.”

One of Honeck’s colleagues in Jerusalem will be his life partner, violinist Albena Danailova, who is also a concertmaster at the Vienna Philharmonic. While working shoulder-to-shoulder with your life partner may seem challenging, Honeck says it’s actually enjoyable.

“Obviously we speak to each other differently than we would to other colleagues, and we allow ourselves to be much more direct.

But she and I have a lot of mutual appreciation, so it works,” he says.

Like all the other musicians in the festival, Honeck will not receive any monetary compensation for his participation.

“This is a special festival,” he explains. “The main reason for us to come here for free is our friendship with Elena Bashkirova, the festival’s music director. But there are other reasons, too. The artistic level is extremely high, and the organization is superb. Most importantly, the atmosphere is special. The concerts are always fully attended, the hall’s acoustics are good, and the weather is beautiful. So for us, it is almost like a vacation,” he laughs. “Only it’s a vacation in which you work very hard.”

The Jerusalem International Chamber Festival takes place August 31 to September 9 at the YMCA Auditorium.

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