STEUBENVILLE, OH—Daily Mass attendance. Conducting acclaimed orchestras on two continents. Prayer in a small chapel in the attic of his home. Such is the life of Maestro Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, who delivered the second annual John Paul the Great Fine Arts Lecture at Franciscan University of Steubenville on February 9.
Honeck, who studied at the Academy of Music in Vienna, came to Franciscan University to "reflect on a Catholic vision of the artist," according to Professor Shawn Dougherty, chairman of the Fine Arts Department. For Honeck, this means letting faith influence both his professional and personal life. "I try to communicate my faith and what it means to me through the music I conduct," he said.
Too shy to pray as a child, Honeck said that as he matured, "I was able to find courage in my faith, and now, praying and God surround my entire being." Armed with courage and prayer, Honeck began to use his musical skill to "bring God and spirituality to my audiences."
Honeck cited Mozart's Requiem as a model for communicating the Christian faith through music. "I wanted," he said, "to create a program that would convey to the audience that Mozart prayed to the same God that we pray to today and show…how [one] can find solace and guidance through prayer, just as Mozart did."
Honeck played several audio clips from the Requiem concert, explaining some of the musical choices he made. "It can be risky to reduplicate such a famous piece," he admitted. "But when you follow your heart, and your heart is open to God, then the risk is worth it, knowing that you have been honest to yourself and your faith."
Honeck often encounters surprise that he has time to pray amidst the demands of his career, but said he tells people, "I clean my teeth every day, so why not my soul?" When in Austria, where he is able to be at home with his wife, Christiane, and their six children and two grandchildren, Honeck often prays in his family's house chapel, where, he says, "I can find peace through prayer."
"You are fortunate," Honeck told the students in the audience, "that you are being prepared here at Franciscan University for the challenges ahead of you as you go through life. By choosing an institution that offers spiritual as well as professional guidance, you have chosen a path fortified with moral and religious support, along with a strong education in your chosen profession."
Honeck closed by encouraging students to be ready "to accept God's help" when they encounter challenges. "Heaven knows what kind of professional challenge you will encounter," he acknowledged. "But keeping a sense of humor and a strong faith that God will show you how to handle those challenges is good spiritual and professional [practice]."
Sponsored by the Franciscan University Advancement Office and the Franciscan University Fine Arts Society, Manfred Honeck's lecture was part of the Distinguished Speakers Series, which features leaders recognized for exemplary service to the Church and society.