Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

Biographies of Performers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (Symphony Orchestra)

Founded: 1896 - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

1896-1910: The Pittsburgh Orchestra

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. 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 performn two concerts at Carnegie Hall in NewYork City. Andrew Carnegie agreed to finance the trip.

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.

When Herbert left the orchestra in 1904, the Symphony Society chose as his successor a man who could not have been more different.

Emil Paur took an intellectual approach to his work and avoided theatrics. He had served as conductor of both the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and held the Pittsburgh Orchestra to the same exacting standards. Paur's programs emphasized the classical repertoire and included a heavy dose of Brahms, whose music was considered too challenging for most audiences at that time. Paur remained at the head of the Orchestra until it disbanded in 1910.

1910-1926: Hard Times

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 1908-1909 season. Subscriptions declined in the wake of the controversy.

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 over $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.

1926-1938: The PSO

It took sixteen 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.

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 PSO. The board's fight to keep the series alive whetted the public's appetite for symphony concerts.

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." 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.

In 1936, the Symphony's concerts are broadcast nationally for the first time. Pittsburgh Plate Glass sponsors 26 programs, which are carried over every major radio station east of Denver.

Several internationally known guest conductors were invited to lead the Orchestra during the 1937-1938 season, among them Carlos Chavez, Eugène Goossens, and Fritz Reiner.

In 1937, the PSO engaged renowned 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.

1938-1948: The Reiner Years

The PSO enjoyed ten prolific years with the legendary Fritz Reiner as Music Director. An uncompromising conductor, Fritz Reiner extracted precise articulation and phrasing from his players. The Orchestra's reputation grew dramatically, netting the ensemble a high-profile recording contract and an invitation to perform abroad. Several of the world's most noted composers felt privileged to have the PSO perform world premieres of their works under Fritz Reiner's authoritative direction.

Fritz 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 Fritz Reiner that he was "trying to find the beat," the conductor fired him on the spot!

Women joined the Orchestra for the first time during World War II. 18 came aboard in 1942 and 24 more in 1944.

Fritz 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 Munch, Paul Paray, and Victor de Sabata.

1952-1976: The Steinberg Years

In its 23 years under the direction of William Steinberg, the PSO 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 PSO 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 PSO in 1952. The Boston Symphony Orchestra engaged him as Music Director from 1969 to 1972, a post he held concurrently with his PSO Music Directorship.

On August 14, 1964, the PSO 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 the Smoky city a reputation for producing more than steel and elevated the image of American culture abroad.

Some of the Orchestra's best recordings were made in the Syria Mosque where the PSO performed 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, inby Henry 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.

At the time of Steinberg's death in 1978, his stepson remembered him with these words in Music Journal: "He moved to Pittsburgh in 1952. His career reached its zenith there. He built the Orchestra into an instrument totally sensitive to his will, his touch. He loved them like his children, and criticized them as such. For twenty-five years he made beautiful music with that orchestra. Even when their sound was not as good as that of greater ensembles, they played for him beyond their capacities. He was desolate when he retired, he did not want to let go."

1976-1984: The Previn Years

In addition to his considerable talents as a conductor, Andre Previn brought to the PSO his virtuosity at the piano and a musical sensibility shaped in Hollywood. He began studying piano in his native Berlin at the age of 6 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 PSO in 1976.

Previn often brought jazz to the concert hall. In February 1977, the PSO and Previn made their national debut on PBS with eight specials, "Previn and the Pittsburgh." Alcoa sponsored the award-winning series, which ran for three years.

1984-1996: The Maazel Years

Long acknowledged to be one of America's great orchestras, the PSO developed an unrivaled international following during its years under Lorin Maazel. The Orchestra gained further stature as Lorin 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, Lorin Maazel agreed to act as Music Consultant while the Orchestra sought a permanent Music Director. 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 Lorin Maazel, the journey back to Pittsburgh was a homecoming. His family there here while he was still a young child so he could continue to study vith his conducting teacher, Vladimir Bakaleinikov, who had become Associate Conductor of the PSO in 1939.

Lorin 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 Bayerischer Rundfunk Symphonieorchester in Munich.

The musical legacy of Lorin Maazel's artistic leadership is an Orchestra built upon the multifaceted talents of virtuosic players. For years to come, the high artistic standards inspired by this greatest of living American conductors will be upheld within the Orchestra.

Also under Lorin Maazel's direction, the PSO commissioned several works to showcase principal players. The first was the Benjamin Lees Hom Concerto, which premiered on May 14,1992 and was performed later that year on the PSO'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 fine compact discs with Lorin Maazel, among them a complete cycle devoted to the works of Sibelius. The PSO won a Grammy award for its 1992 recording with Yo-Yo Ma of works for cello and orchestra.

Beginning in 1990, Lorin Maazel gave audiences the chance to gain a deeper appreciation of some of the world's great composers with seasonal retrospectives featuring W.A. Mozart, Johannes Brahms, L.v. Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky. During the 1994-1995 season, Lorin Maazel placed American works in the spotlight by including one American composition in each of 24 concert programs. For the latter the PSO was awarded the ASCAP/John Edwards Award for Commitment to American Music by the American Symphony Orchestra League.

1995-2004: The Second Century

The PSO has embarked on a second century of superb music making with the support of a devoted and international audience. More than half a million people hear the PSO in concert every year, and millions more enjoy the orchestra's splendid 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 PSO'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 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 Lorin Maazel in 1996. As 8th Music Director of the PSO, he ushered in the next century of extraordinary music making. His performances and recordings with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra (formerly Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra), and London Philharmonic Orchestra led the London Times to call him "one of the most exciting conductors in the world today."

In 1995, the PSO also welcomed Marvin Hamlisch as the Orchestra's first Principal Pops Conductor. Composer of over forty 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 and three Golden Globe awards to his credit, Hamlisch eagerly began exploring new avenues of music-making with the Pittsburgh.

2005 to the present: The Team for the Times

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra entered a bold new era with the 2005-2006 season introducing its innovative model for artistic leadership. The team of Sir Andrew Davis, serving as Artistic Advisor; Yan Pascal Tortelier, Principal Guest Conductor; and Marek Janowski, Endowed Guest Conductor Chair, bring to the orchestra significant expertise in a richly diverse repertoire. Each focuses on areas of repertoire, which highlights 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, pays special attention to the music of British and American composers.

Yan Pascal Tortelier focuses on French composers and hidden treasures of the 20th century along with music of the 21st century.

Marek Janowski has 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.

2008 to the Present: Manfred Honeck

In January 2007, after several highly successful guest appearances leading the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck was appointed its 9th Music Director, and eagerly began this position at the start of the 2008-2009 season. Honeck will conduct 8 weeks in his first season and 10 weeks in subsequent seasons, with additional weeks for touring.

At the time of his appointment, Manfred 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 May 2009, Honeck and the PSO embark on a tour to Asia. The first international tour with Honeck as music director marks the Orchestra’s debut in Shanghai, China and Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and the Orchestra first performance in Beijing since 1987. In the fall of 2009, Honeck and the Orchestra have been invited to close the prestigious Lucerne Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland.

In addition to the appointment of Honeck as Music Director, the Orchestra also welcomed Leonard Slatkin as Principal Guest Conductor and Marek Janowski to the position of Otto Klemperer Guest Conductor Chair. Leonard Slatkin conducts a minimum of three weeks per season to include a combination of BNY Mellon Grand Classics subscription weeks and special projects. With this new title, Janowski returns to Pittsburgh for two weeks of subscription programs.

Music Directors

Frederic Asker (1895-1898)
Victor Herbert (1898-1904)
Emil Paur (1904-1910)
Disbanded 1910, reorganized 1926
Antonio Modarelli (1930-1937)
Otto Klemperer (1937 - Guest Conductor)
Fritz Reiner (1938-1948)
Victor de Sabata (1948-1952 - Guest Conductor)
William Steinberg (1952-1976)
Andre Previn (1976-1984)
Lorin Maazel (1984-1996)
Mariss Jansons (1996-2004)
Andrew Davis (2005-2008 - Artistic Advisor)
Manfred Honeck (2008-Present)

Source: English translation by Aryeh Oron (August 2010)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (August 2010)

Recordings of Bach’s Instrumental Works




Fritz Reiner


Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV1067 [1st]
Bach-Cailliet: Fugue in G minor ("Little"), BWV 578, transcribed for orchestra [1st]

Links to other Sites

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (Official Website)

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (Wikipedia)

Biographies of Performers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner


Back to the Top

Last update: Monday, May 29, 2017 17:09