Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck's conducting career rapidly grew throughout the decade of the 1990s after he learned conducting from the inside, as a top-quality orchestral musician.
He received his musical training at the Hochschule für Musik in Vienna. After graduation, he took a position as a violist with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. This made him eligible for membership in the Vienna Philharmonic, which accepted him. He began working as a conductor with the Vienna Jeunesse Musicales Orchesters (the Vienna Youth Orchestra). In 1987, conductor Claudio Abbado invited Honeck to assist him in conducting the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra in Vienna. His breakthrough performance was at the Gustav Mahler Festival in Kassel in 1989, conducting the centenary performance of the world premiere of Mahler's first symphony.
Honeck made his operatic debut with the Vienna Volksoper in 1989, leading Johann Strauss Jr.'s Die Fledermaus. Later in the season, he was invited to lead the company in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. In 1990, he was invited to conduct the gala concert of the Vienna Philharmonic commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the dedication of the Wiener Konzerthaus.
Other conducting opportunities quickly opened up: He led the Berlin State Orchestra, the Berlin State Opera at the Unter den Linden Theater, and the Hamburg State Opera. At the later position, he was again standing in Gustav Mahler's footprints when he led the official Mahler Production of Mahler's Così fan tutte.
In 1991, Honeck received a five-year contract with the Zürich Opera House as First Kapellmeister. There he added Massenet's Hérodiade and Giordano's operas Fedora and Andrea Chénier to his credits, and conducted the first performance of Herbert Willi's Schlafes Bruder. A high point of this early part of his career was his debut at Salzburg, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic during the Mozart Week of 1994.
He accepted several prestigious guest conducting assignments that took him to the Radio Symphony Orchestras of Berlin, Vienna, and Cologne, the Deutsche Symphony of Berlin, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the La Scala Symphony Orchestra, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Gothenburg Symphony, the Milan Symphony, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In 1993, he won the European Conductors' Prize.
He returned to America in 1995 to lead the Chicago and Houston Symphony Orchestras, the Oslo Philharmonic, the Dresden Staatskapelle, and, in his British debut, the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He made a particularly strong impression in Oslo and Mariss Jansons, the Music Director of the Oslo Philharmonic, engaged him to take some of the conducting on that orchestra's major European tour of 1996.
In 1996 Honeck became Chief Conductor of the MDR (Central German Radio) Symphony Orchestra of Leipzig. His popularity in Scandinavia continued as he conducted at the Royal Danish Opera and the National Opera of Norway from 1993. In 1997, he was appointed Music Director of the Norwegian company, and in 1998 he was named Principal Guest Conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic. He has also conducted the Royal Danish Orchestra.
In 1999, he devised a five-concert series of appearances in Tokyo with the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, and in August 2000 was again asked to participate in another major European tour of the Oslo Philharmonic, which included that ensemble's debut performance at the Salzburg Festival. He accepted future engagements in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, the Radio France Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. In the autumn of 2000 he began his first season as the newly appointed Chief Conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.