Antonio Modarelli

Acclaimed for Compositions in Europe and Conducted the PSO for 7 Seasons

Antonio Modarelli was a composer, music educator, and conductor who achieved international recognition for his music. His operas, ballet, and symphonies were performed in concert in Germany and Russia and on European radio.  He was the only American composer to be elected to the prestigious "Society of German Composers” that was chaired by Richard Strauss.  Modarelli was conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony serving for seven years from 1930 through 1937.  Under his direction the PSO made its first appearances on national network radio and performed with Sergie Rachmaninoff premiering a Rachmaninoff composition. Modarelli also served as director of the Duquense University Conservatory of Music from 1934 to 1937.  After leaving the PSO he conducted the Wheeling and Charleston Symphonies.

Antonio Modarelli was born in Braddock in 1894 the son of Italian immigrants who owned a hotel on Braddock Avenue.  He learned piano at an early age and began formal piano studies at age 10.  Beginning his education in the Braddock schools, he attended the Dana Music Academy in Dayton Ohio from 1914 to 1917.  He wrote his first orchestral piece "Symphony in C Minor” at age 19. Moving to New York he continued his music studies under with Ernest Hutcheson. With the coming of World War I he enlisted in the Navy in 1918 to serve as band master at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  After the war, he returned to Pittsburgh finding work as a teacher, piano soloist, and coach.

In 1922 Modarelli went to Germany to continue his music studies, compose music, and to conduct.  In 1923 his orchestral compositions “Romaze” and “Menuet” were performed in Rostock Germany.  His work was widely hailed by German critics.  He was honored at a ceremony at the Berlin Opera House in 1927 where he was inducted into the prestigious German Society of Composers.  The Soviet Philharmonic Orchestra invited him in 1928 to conduct them in performing his symphonic poem “September” in Moscow.  Finding critical and audience success in Moscow, he conducted another performance from Leningrad that was broadcast throughout Europe.  In 1929 his ballet was premiered in Augsburg Germany to good reviews from the German and American press.  His romantic opera "Sakuntala" was premiered at the German Augsburger Stadttheater on December 7th of 1930.  It was the first America opera ever premiered in Germany.

Modarelli was chosen by Eugene Goossens of the Rochester Philharmonic from a field of seven candidates to conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1930.  Under his direction the PSO performed at the Syria Mosque.   He conducted the PSO for seven seasons guiding them through the lean Depression years and improving their reputation.  Due to funding restrictions the PSO was limited in the number of rehearsals it could hold.  Despite these restrictions the PSO under Modarelli achieved critical and audience acclaim. 

In reviewing the opening concert of the 1932 season Pittsburgh Press Music critic raved about Modarelli writing "In Antonia Modarelli the orchestra has a leader of potential worth.  Never before were his attainments in evidence than last sensed an authority born of broadening knowledge and experience. Above all, the Modarelli we beheld last night was a highly energized, intelligent commander directing his orchestral forces with musical generalship.” -Pittsburgh Press Nov, 21 1932

As Modarelli continued to work with the revived PSO its critical reception continued to grow.  A high point was the PSO’s premiere concert with Serie Rachmaninoff.  

"A new chapter of real achievement was written into local music history last night at the Syria Mosque by the Pittsburgh Symphony Society and its young leader, Antonio Modarelli, who with Sergie Rachmaninoff as piano soloist, scored the most notable success in the annals of the orchestra.  For 10 years the orchestra has struggled to reach the point of accomplishment revealed at this second event of this year.  ...great things are ahead for the Pittsburgh Symphony Society, its conductor and the community.” – Pittsburgh Press Ralph Lewando Dec, 3 1936

Modarelli continued to receive glowing reviews from the Pittsburgh media up until his last performance with the PSO in 1937.   The national media documented his popularity with Pittsburgh audiences.  According to Time magazine in 1937: “Pittsburgh ladies liked Modarelli because he was dark and dynamic, as attractively reserved off the platform as he was wild-haired and passionate upon it.”  

In the summer of 1935 the PSO conducted by Moradelli held its first ever outdoor pops concert at the Sky Club. Following the concert the Symphony played dance music.  The concert and dance drew such a crowd that the PSO executive board met impromptu, immediately announcing a second show.  The popular outdoor series was continued.  With it growing popularity and reputation The PSO under Modarelli made its first national radio broadcast under his direction in 1936.  Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co sponsored a regular performance series of the PSO on 40 stations on the NBC radio network. It was heard as far West as Denver. 

According to a story in Time magazine in June 1937, after the PSO’s reputation had grown under Modarelli’s direction the wealthy leaders of Pittsburgh took control.  Members of the Mellon family pledged $30,000 towards a $300,000 subscription drive. Paul Mellon, the son of Andrew Mellon, became the treasurer of the PSO.  The elite socialite PSO board then made plans for a 20-week season brining in nationally known guest conductors such as Walter Damrosch, Otto Klemperer, Eugene Goossens, Carlos Chavez, and Georges Enesco. The Board wanted to demote Moderlli making him an assistant conductor without a definite conducting schedule.  He would have to work under the guest conductors. They did not want a “local boy” conducting their orchestra.  Moderilli who was working in Wheeling with the Wheeling Symphony, wired in his resignation.  He explained to the press.  "The Board told me I had to take their plan or else—so I took or else."

On the Pittsburgh Symphony website history page, the PSO Board’s view of Moderilli is documented.  “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.”

Modarelli conducted the Wheeling Symphony from 1934 to 1947.  He also became the conductor of the Charleston, WVA Symphony Orchestra, when its founding director William R. Wiant joined the military in 1942.  Modarelli conducted both the Wheeling and Charleston symphonies for five years before moving to Charleston on a full-time basis. He conducted the Charleston symphony for 11 years.  He died suddenly in Charleston in 1954 at age 55. On its 75th anniversary season The Wheeling Symphony dedicated its Sept 25, 2003 concert to the memory of Antonio Mordarelli.

Moderilli with Gershwin