Pittsburgh Likes Us, But Europe Loves Us

Jeremy Reynolds recently wrote a great piece about the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s (PSO) European tour. The article isn’t so much about what happened during the tour as it is about why orchestras tour. The insight it provides about the way orchestra operate is pretty fascinating.

People interviewed for the article admit that PSO’s touring activities don’t really benefit Pittsburgh in terms of tourism or increased business opportunities and corporations are increasingly less willing to support the orchestra’s tours.

However, European tours are apparently a great recruitment and retention tool for the orchestra. There was concern that music director and conductor Manfred Honeck might be lured away by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra which has a bigger budget and salary base, but he surprised everyone by renewing his contract with Pittsburgh–with the understanding they would continue touring.

Similarly, the role of concertmaster went unfilled for years until last Spring when David McCarroll assumed the position and part of the appeal for him was the adulation PSO received while on tour.

He said the opportunity to tour in Europe — and to be welcomed with such fervor — is something that defines a top caliber orchestra.

“I know these audiences,” he said. “The reaction to the symphony is not typical. This is not usual, it’s not normal.”

Who wouldn’t want a job where they got that kind of acclaim? Even if you have to leave your hometown to actually get it.

“We’re famous everywhere else except Pittsburgh,” said Bill Caballero, the orchestra’s principal French horn player. “We go to these places and they go crazy for us.”

Though touring can sometimes be something of a double-edged sword when it comes to recruitment. Apparently, when the Oslo Philharmonic visited Pittsburgh, PSO took the opportunity to wine and dine the music director and ultimately lured him away from Oslo.

Where you tour in Europe also apparently matters:

“Tours were this big benchmark that orchestras differentiated themselves with, right along with their base and how long their season is,” said Drew McManus, a Chicago-based orchestra consultant.

“If they went on tour, did they go to Europe? And if they went to Europe, do you mean Spain or do you mean Germany? It’s all a kind of caste system.”

There is quite a bit more detail about the tour in the article, including some nice multimedia components, so take a look and learn a little bit more about the nuances involved with orchestra touring.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


2 thoughts on “Pittsburgh Likes Us, But Europe Loves Us”

  1. Comment from Germany:

    The big discussion that we are having in Germany, the UK and the Netherlands, e.g., is how sustainable is travelling. Looking at the Co2 footprint of this orchestra tours one wonders. Sweden has the first orchestra that won’t accept soloists or conductors flying in. Many orchestras (and theatres etc.) have set up internal rules: no more flying inside the country (except for maybe a few emergencies). German orchestra have set up an initiative for more sustainability: orchestras of change: https://www.orchester-des-wandels.de/en/ (english version).
    The German government sponsors a foundation (Kulturstiftung des Bundes) that has conducted various projects in that area. One was a pilot project “Carbon Footprinting in Cultural Institutions” based on the Co2 calculator from the UK based consultant company Julie’s Bicycle (in close cooperation with the Arts Council of England). The results were published in a lenghty brochure. Quite interesting how the carbon footprint differs from genre to genre. Museums e.g. have high mobility costs (curators and objects traveling, visitors), whereas theatres e.g. have high heating and cooling costs (with the highest density of theatres and opera houses in Germany theatre is mostly regional with little travel, in the big cities to a large part via public transportation).

    If we don’t measure it we don’t know what to change. That has become our motto here …

    • Yes, as I was writing the post I was thinking the expense of touring the PSO seemed like a high price to pay for recruitment prestige. I was also thinking about the carbon footprint cost.

      The info about the carbon footprint for different genres is interesting. I suspected it was much along those lines, but it is good that someone has taken the time to confirm it


Leave a Comment