Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

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Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO)
2011 PittsburghSymphonyOrchestra Fisheye.jpeg
Founded 1895
Concert hall Heinz Hall
Principal conductor Manfred Honeck
Website www.pittsburghsymphony.org

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) is an American orchestra based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The orchestra's home is Heinz Hall, located in Pittsburgh's Cultural District.


The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is an American orchestra based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The orchestra’s home is Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, located in Pittsburgh’s downtown Cultural District. Its current music director is Austrian Manfred Honeck, who joined the orchestra in 2008, and its current president and CEO is James Wilkinson. The Pittsburgh Symphony presents classical, pops, education, community engagement and special concerts throughout the year at Heinz Hall and in the community.

The Pittsburgh Symphony has a long and distinguished history of touring both domestically and internationally since 1900. The orchestra currently counts more than 36 international tours, including 20 to Europe, eight trips to the Far East and two to South America. The Pittsburgh Symphony was the first American orchestra to perform at the Vatican in January 2004 for the late Pope John Paul II, as part of the Pontiff’s Silver Jubilee celebration.[1]

The orchestra was founded by the Pittsburgh Arts Society with conductor Frederic Archer in 1895, who brought with him a number of musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and led the PSO in its first concert the following year.[citation needed]

1896-1910: Victor Herbert and Emil Paur[edit]

In 1898, a man steeped in popular music was chosen to lead the Orchestra. Victor Herbert was best known as a man of the theater and had composed a number of comic operas. He was born in Ireland, but then educated in Germany.[2] A flamboyant conductor, he inspired musicians and audiences alike with his boundless enthusiasm. In its second season under Victor Herbert, the Orchestra received an invitation to perform two concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Andrew Carnegie financed the trip. The Orchestra traveled at a more frequent rate under his tenure, performing in Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Canada.[3]

Under Herbert’s direction, the Pittsburgh Orchestra played as part of the Pan-American Exposition at the 1901 World’s Fair in Buffalo, New York. Besides directing, Herbert had also composed an original work for the Exhibition titled “Panamericana: Morceau Characteristique” for the Orchestra to perform.[4]

The critics disagreed on Herbert, but ticket sales soared. Audiences flocked to hear the charismatic Irishman conduct a varied repertoire that included many of his own most popular works along with works by many native composers . He ended his appointment with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1904 when he left to take a higher paid position in New York.[5] When Herbert left the orchestra in 1904, the Symphony Society chose as his successor a man who could not have been more different.

Austrian conductor Emil Paur took an intellectual approach to his work and avoided theatrics. Trained as a violinist, he had served as conductor of both the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic as well as guest conductor throughout Europe[6] and held the Pittsburgh Orchestra to the same exacting standards. Paur's programs emphasized the classical repertoire and included a heavy dose of Johannes Brahms, whose music was considered too challenging for most audiences at that time. Additionally, Paur clashed with many of the Orchestra’s musicians when he prohibited them from accepting outside performing engagements and continued to hire mainly European musicians.[7] Paur remained at the head of the Orchestra until it disbanded in 1910.

The orchestra attracted a number of prominent guest conductors during these early years, including Edward Elgar and Richard Strauss.[citation needed]

1910-1926: Hard Times[edit]

Despite lavish praise from critics and a growing national reputation, hard times lay ahead for the Orchestra. A global panic in 1907 had an immediate impact on the ability and the resolve of the wealthy to support cultural organizations throughout the country. The city of Pittsburgh proved to be no exception. To make matters worse, Paur's practice of hiring European musicians damaged relations with local musicians to the point where half of the orchestra's members refused to renew their contracts for the 1908-09 season. Subscriptions declined in the wake of the controversy.[citation needed]

By 1910, the Orchestra's future was in immediate jeopardy. The original guarantors had conceived of the orchestra as a self-sustaining institution. In reality, they spent more than $1 million to subsidize the organization in its first 15 years. A new approach was clearly needed and a plan was developed to raise an endowment. When insufficient funds were forthcoming, the orchestra canceled its upcoming season. No one suspected that 16 years would pass before Pittsburgh could resurrect its symphony orchestra.[citation needed]

1926-1938: The New Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra[edit]

It took 16 years, but on May 2, 1926, the dream of a new Pittsburgh Orchestra finally became reality. The players took part in 14 unpaid rehearsals and contributed $25 each to sponsor a free public concert of the new Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under the direction of concertmaster and associate conductor, Elias Breeskin.[8]

Following the newly restructured Orchestra's successful debut, the Symphony Society organized a Sunday concert series that began on April 24, 1927. Sunday was chosen because most of the player were under contract with theater orchestras during the week. The following Monday, nine board members were arrested for violating the Pennsylvania Blue Laws, which forbade secular music-making on the Sabbath. The publicity didn't hurt the Pittsburgh Symphony. The board's fight to keep the series alive whetted the public's appetite for symphony concerts.[9]

In 1930, Antonio Modarelli, assumed his post as the music director of the Orchestra. He had spent the previous eight years in Berlin composing and conducting, and was the only American composer to be elected to the prestigious "Society of German Composers." German newspaper described his conducting as “forceful, authentic, modern music”[10] and he was invited to conduct in Moscow. He was music director until 1937, but he never quite won the whole-hearted acceptance of Pittsburgh audiences, in part because he was a local boy, born in nearby Braddock. He had taught at Duquesne University and been a band leader in the Navy prior to his work in Europe and with the Symphony.[11]

In 1936, the Symphony's concerts are broadcast nationally for the first time. Pittsburgh Plate Glass sponsored 26 programs, which were carried over every major radio station east of Denver. Several internationally known guest conductors were invited to lead the Orchestra during the 1937-38 season, among them Carlos Chavez, Eugene Goossens and Fritz Reiner. This program of frequent guest conductors was made in an effort to restore the symphony to its “golden years,” but in affect demoted Modarelli and is cited as the reason of his resignation in 1937.[citation needed]

In 1937, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra engaged renowned German conductor Otto Klemperer to reorganize and expand the Orchestra. A born teacher, he is credited with turning the Orchestra into a power to be reckoned with in just six weeks. After leaving Germany during the rise of the Nazi party, he had become the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He is responsible for bringing in much new talent while working with the Musicians' Union to hire both local and imported performers.[12] Since then, the orchestra has experienced ongoing growth and development, including building a substantial endowment fund.[citation needed]

1938-1948: The Reiner Years[edit]

The Pittsburgh Symphony enjoyed 10 prolific years with the legendary Fritz Reiner as music director. Native to Hungary, Reiner had studied with noted Hungarian composer Béla Bartók and interpreted many of his pieces in Symphony performances. An uncompromising conductor, Reiner extracted precise articulation and phrasing from his players. The Orchestra's reputation grew dramatically, netting the ensemble a high-profile recording contract with Columbia Corporation, a division of CBS,[13] and an invitation to perform abroad. Several of the world's most noted composers felt privileged to have the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra perform world premieres of their works under Reiner's authoritative direction.

Reiner had a volatile temper and demanded perfection from his players. His was an extremely small beat which forced the musicians to remain alert at all times. At one rehearsal a bass player put a telescope to his eye. When he explained to Reiner that he was “trying to find the beat,” the conductor fired him on the spot![14]

Women joined the Orchestra for the first time during World War II. Eighteen came aboard in 1942 and 24 more in 1944. The PSO had more female performers than any other major American symphony during the war.[15]

Reiner left the Orchestra in 1948 to conduct at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and went on to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. From 1948 to 1952, the Orchestra played under a succession of distinguished guest conductors. These included Leopold Stokowski, Leonard Bernstein, Erich Leinsdorf, Charles Muench, Paul Paray and Victor de Sabata.

Italian born, de Sabata came to Pittsburgh in 1948 in part due to the urgings of his colleague Vladimir Bakaleinikoff whom he had conducted in Cincinnati in 1927. Ticket sales exploded with de Sabata at the helm. He was so popular with local audiences that around 1,200 people attended a concert he conducted at Syria Mosque during one of Pittsburgh’s worst snowstorms.[16] He returned to Pittsburgh in 1949, 1950, and 1951 to perform with the symphony.[17] The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra established a Guest Conductor Chair in his name in 2010.

1952-1976: The Steinberg Years[edit]

In its 23 years under the direction of William Steinberg, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra remained a superb ensemble and developed an eager and devoted following. By 1961, audiences had increased 250 percent. What's more, in the five preceding years, the Pittsburgh Symphony was the only American, orchestra to sell out all its concerts by season tickets.

Steinberg's talents had long been recognized by some of the world's greatest conductors. As a protégé of Otto Klemperer, Steinberg had a glamorous career in his homeland of Germany before fleeing the Nazis in 1936. Arturo Toscanini invited him to organize the newly formed Palestine Orchestra in Tel Aviv (today's Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) and, in 1937, to become his associate conductor at the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Steinberg went on to direct the Buffalo Philharmonic before becoming music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1952. The Boston Symphony Orchestra engaged him as music director from 1969 to 1972, a post he held concurrently with his Pittsburgh Symphony position.

During the early part of the 1950s, the Symphony played a number of “industry concerts”. These concerts where conducted by Steinberg and were sponsored by area industries, specifically the United Steelworkers of America. The sponsorship offset costs for industry workers and the Symphony performed in more convenient locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.[18][19]

On August 14, 1964, the Pittsburgh Symphony embarked on an 11-week, 24,000-mile tour to 14 nations in Europe and the Near East. Sponsored by the U.S. State Department, the tour earned Pittsburgh a reputation for producing more than steel and elevated the image of American culture abroad. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performed for audiences in Warhsaw, Madrid, Berlin, Zagreb, Reykjavic, and 15 other locations throughout Europe and the Middle East during the State Department tour.[citation needed]

Some of the Orchestra's best recordings were made in the Syria Mosque with labels such as Capitol Records and Columbia Records.[20] The Pittsburgh Symphony performed at Syria Mosque from 1926 until 1971. The building was torn down in 1992 to the dismay of many who had attended concerts there.

The opening of Heinz Hall on September 10, 1971 marked the completion of an 11-year campaign, initiated by H.J. Heinz II. The resplendent concert hall stands as a testimonial to the civic spirit that has supported Pittsburgh's cultural organizations since the turn of the century.

Steinberg conducted his final Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concerts in 1976 after which he went into retirement.[21]

1976-1984: The Previn Years[edit]

In addition to his considerable talents as a conductor, André Previn brought to the Pittsburgh Symphony his virtuosity at the piano and a musical sensibility shaped in Hollywood. He began studying piano in his native Berlin at the age of six before the rise of the Nazi regime sent his family first to Paris and later to Los Angeles. In his teenage years, he began composing, arranging and conducting film scores. The four-time Academy Award Winner developed an equally successful career as a Jazz pianist before turning to conducting in 1960. In 1968, he was appointed principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. He held that post until 1979, having already assumed the music directorship of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1976.

Previn had a collegial working style with symphony musicians and even formed a chamber music trio with Herbert Greenberg, associate concertmaster, and principal cellist, Anne Martindale Williams around 1979.[22] In 1981, Previn renewed his contract with the symphony orchestra.[23]

During this time, Victoria Bond served as affiliate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1978 to 1980. Bond was the first woman to earn a doctoral degree in orchestral conducting from the Juilliard School and is a prolific composer. While at the Pittsburgh Symphony, she also served as the music director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony and the New Amsterdam Symphony in New York City.[24]

Previn often brought jazz to the concert hall. In February 1977, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Previn made their national debut on PBS with eight specials, Previn and the Pittsburgh. The Alcoa Foundation sponsored the Emmy nominated[25] program, which ran for three years.[26] Guests on the program included John Williams, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson.

Previn left the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1984, but is credited with “renewing the statue of the orchestra, (expanding) its position in the community, (and giving) the city and positive image internationally…”[27]

1984-1996: The Maazel Years[edit]

Long acknowledged to be one of America's great orchestras, the Pittsburgh Symphony developed an unrivaled international following during its years under Lorin Maazel. The orchestra gained further stature as Maazel led tours of Europe, Asia and the Americas, added first-rank players to vital positions, and programmed season-long retrospectives that appealed to audiences and critics alike.

Following Previn's departure in 1984, Maazel agreed to act as music consultant while the orchestra sought a permanent music director.[28] He was offered and accepted that position in 1988, having already dazzled the world and won the hearts of the players in the course of numerous guest appearances and three acclaimed tours.

For Maazel, the journey back to Pittsburgh was a homecoming. His family settled here while he was still a young child so he could continue to study with his conducting teacher, Vladimir Bakaleinikov, who had become associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1939.

Maazel later joined the Orchestra as a violinist and apprentice conductor while studying at the University of Pittsburgh. His career soon took him to Europe where in 1960 he became the first American invited to direct at the Bayreuth Festival. He went on to become music director of the Deutsche Oper, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Orchestre National de France and the Vienna Opera before returning to Pittsburgh. In 1993, he assumed an additional music directorship, as artistic head of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich. The musical legacy of Maazel's artistic leadership is an orchestra built upon the multifaceted talents of virtuosic players.

Also under Maazel's direction, the Pittsburgh Symphony commissioned several works to showcase principal players. The first was the Benjamin Lees’ Horn Concerto, which premiered on May 14, 1992 and was performed later that year on the Pittsburgh Symphony’s European tour by William Caballero. Four commissions followed: Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra for Nancy Goeres, Leonardo Balada's Music for Oboe and Orchestra for Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida, Rodion Shchedrin's Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra for George Vosburgh, Roberto Sierra's Evocaciones and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, and David Stock's Violin Concerto for Andrés Cárdenes.

The orchestra has produced many recordings with Maazel, among them a complete cycle devoted to the works of Sibelius. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra won a Grammy Award for its 1992 recording with Yo-Yo Ma of works for cello and orchestra.

Maazel announced in 1995 that he would be leaving his post as music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1996. He explained that his departure would give him more time to work on composition.[29] In addition to developing his compositional work, Maazel went on to direct and conduct for the New York Philharmonic along with several orchestras abroad. After his death in July 2014,[30] the Pittsburgh Symphony performed memorial pieces for Maazel as well as created a multimedia exhibit featuring Symphony archival materials related to the late director.[31]

Marvin Hamlisch served as principal pops conductor beginning in 1995 until his death in 2012.

1995-2004: The Second Century[edit]

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has embarked on a second century of music making with the support of a devoted and international audience. More than half a million people hear the Pittsburgh Symphony in concert every year, and millions more enjoy the orchestra's performances through radio broadcasts and recordings.

In order to maintain the artistic excellence which distinguishes the Orchestra, a capital campaign was launched in 1993 to increase the Pittsburgh Symphony’s endowment by $70 million. The receipt of an extraordinary lead gift of $20 million from the Howard Heinz and Vira I. Heinz Endowments—the largest single gift ever awarded to a symphony orchestra capital campaign—gave the orchestra confidence it needed to meet its goal and fulfill its mission for many years to come.

On April 10, 1995, the orchestra announced the appointment of Mariss Jansons to succeed Maazel in 1996 as eighth music director.[32] Latvian born, Jansons was well received by critics and audiences in Pittsburgh who applauded the “warmth and humanity” that he brought to the ensemble. In addition to directing the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Jansons also served as an influential music director for the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra in Norway until 2002.[33] With Jansons, the Pittsburgh Symphony toured all over the world, introducing it to new audiences, and recorded extensively. During this time, the Symphony was “innovative in drawing new elements of the Pittsburgh region’s population to concerts in Heinz Hall and elsewhere.” Jansons conducted his last year as music director of the Symphony during the 2003-2004 season after which he began acting as director of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich.[34]

Also, in 1995, the orchestra welcomed Marvin Hamlisch as its first principal pops conductor. Composer of more than 40 motion picture scores and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway show A Chorus Line, Hamlisch previously appeared as guest conductor of symphony orchestras around the world. With three Oscars, four Grammys, a Tony Award and three Golden Globe Awards to his credit, Hamlisch eagerly began exploring new avenues of music-making with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

In January 2004, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with conductor Gilbert Levine became the first American orchestra to perform at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II to commemorate the Pontiff's Silver Jubilee celebration and his lifelong commitment to interfaith understanding and outreach of the Abrahamic faiths. The Pittsburgh Symphony was joined by the London Philharmonic Choir, Kraków Philharmonic Choir, Ankara Polyphonic Choir and members of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh in a program that included the world premiere of "Abraham," a sacred motet by John Harbison, and Mahler Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection.[35]{verification needed}[36] The event, which was attended by the Pontiff, Rav Elio Toaff, Imam Abdulawahab Hussein Gomaa, and 7,000 invited guests, was telecast on RAI, on PBS, and throughout the world, and released on DVD by WQED Multimedia, Pittsburgh.[37] Subsequent to this concert, at Levine's impetus, the Pittsburgh Symphony founded a series of concerts entitled "Music for the Spirit."[38] He led the first two of these, performances of the Haydn "Creation and Mahler Symphony No. 3 in Pittsburgh in 2006.[39]

2005-2007: The Team for the Times[edit]

In 2005, the PSO entered a new era with the 2005-2006 introducing its innovative model for artistic leadership. During this time, a new collective bargaining agreement was in effect, which gave the musicians increased authority over matters of running the orchestra such as the hiring of musicians and choice of repertoire. Starting in 2005, Sir Andrew Davis served as the PSO artistic advisor, with Yan Pascal Tortelier as principal guest conductor and Marek Janowski holding the "endowed guest conductor chair." This team brought significant expertise in a richly diverse repertoire, which highlighted their strengths and interests.

Sir Andrew Davis, while providing overall programming input regarding the entire season and leading the orchestra in a variety of styles, paid special attention to the music of British and American composers. Davis had been an organ scholar before becoming a conductor. Under his direction, the Symphony performed many symphonic, operatic and choral works ranging from baroque to contemporary.[40] Davis, a Knight Bachelor of Great Britain and music director of the Lyric Opera in Chicago, had previously led the Pittsburgh Symphony several times as a guest conductor between 1977 and 1990.[41]

Yan Pascal Tortelier focused on French composers and hidden treasures of the 20th century along with music of the 21st century. Marek Janowski had a relationship with the orchestra since 1991, conducting the great masters of the German-Austrian repertoire that have been central to the identity of the orchestra since the days of former Music Director William Steinberg.

Davis was originally scheduled to step down after the 2007-2008 season, but in October 2007, Davis and the Pittsburgh Symphony mutually agreed to terminate his contract early and for him not to conduct his scheduled concerts in the 2007-2008 season, because of increased demands on Davis' schedule.[42] The contracts of Tortelier and Janowski also expired in 2008.[43] Janowski now holds the Otto Klemperer Guest Conductor Chair with the PSO.

2008 to the Present: Manfred Honeck[edit]

In a change of conductor leadership format, returning to the traditional music director hierarchy, the PSO announced on January 24, 2007, that with the 2008-2009 season, the Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck would become the PSO's ninth music director.[44][45] Honeck first conducted the symphony in May 2006, and returned for another guest appearance in November 2006. His initial contract was for three years. In September 2009, the PSO announced the extension of Honeck's contract to the 2015-2016 season.[46] In February 2012, the PSO announced the further extension of Honeck's contract through the 2019-2020 season.[47] In June 2007, the orchestra announced the appointment of American conductor Leonard Slatkin as the orchestra's principal guest conductor, as of the 2008-2009 season.[48]

Austrian born, Honeck studied music at the Academy of Music in Vienna. He performed in various capacities with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra—as violinist, violist and guest conductor. In addition to his directorship of the Pittsburgh Symphony, Honek has served as music director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Staatsoper Stuttgart and as guest conductor of the Czech Philharmonic. [49]

At the time of his appointment, Honeck remarked, “It is with great joy that I assume the post of music director of one of the world's finest orchestras. I am aware that this wonderful task is accompanied by great responsibility with regard to maintaining and enhancing the high level of performance developed by my predecessors and the orchestra together. It is no exaggeration to say that the orchestra and I got on like a house on fire.”

The sentiment could not be more true, with the orchestra and Maestro Honeck receiving rave reviews for their collaborations, including their first recording together—Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben.

In November 2006, the PSO announced a pledge of US$29.5 million from the Richard P. Simmons family as the start of a capital challenge for the orchestra to address long-standing financial concerns.[50] In December 2006, the PSO announced the launch of an $80 million capital fund-raising drive, after the initial $29.5 million boost from the Simmons family.[51] In March 2009, the PSO announced the discontinuation of its chamber orchestra series after the 2008-2009 season, along with staff reductions of 9 positions.[52]

In May 2009, Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony embarked on a tour to Asia. The first international tour with Honeck as music director marked the Orchestra’s debut in Shanghai, China and Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and the Orchestra’s first performance in Beijing since 1987. In fall 2009, Honeck and the orchestra were invited to close the prestigious Lucerne Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland. In September 2009, the Pittsburgh Symphony and Honeck agreed to extend his contract through the 2015-2016 season and in 2013, his contract was extended to the 2019-2020 season.

In May 2010, Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony completed a remarkable tour of Europe. The 12-concert BNY Mellon 2010 European Tour included concerts at Vienna’s famed Musikverein, as well as performances in Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg, France, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia. In September 2010, the Pittsburgh Symphony and Honeck announced the creation of the Victor de Sabata Guest Conductor Chair for conductor Gianandrea Noseda for four years, beginning with the 2010-11 season.

Music Directors and other artistic leaders[edit]


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  51. ^ Timothy McNulty (2006-12-01). "PSO outlines goals at start of $80 million fund drive". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2007-04-27. 
  52. ^ Andrew Druckenbrod (2009-03-27). "PSO forced to end chamber orchestra". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 

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