The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is one of the world’s foremost symphony orchestras. Since its inception in 1896, the talented musicians of the PSO have been led by a series of world class conductors. Comprised of world class musicians from top music schools on five continents, the members of the PSO have contributed greatly to the musical culture of Pittsburgh through teaching and performances. The PSO has achieved national and international recognition through its tours of the U.S and the world, its broadcasts on radio and television, and its extensive catalog of acclaimed recordings.
“It is one of the Orchestras in the U.S. and in the world most worth hearing...” - Berlingski Tidende (Copenhagen)
“The Pittsburgh Symphony’s mix of American bravura with European warmth is a quality that makes them the finest orchestra in the U.S.” - The Guardian, London
“Based on the strength of its last trip to Washington, the PSO must be ranked among the very best orchestras in the country.” - The Washington Post
The PSO began appearing in major American cities during its first year of existence in 1896. In its second season the Orchestra was invited appear in two concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The Orchestra has appeared in all of America’s major cities, including performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Since its 1947 appearance in Mexico, the PSO has gone on more than 30 International tours including 18 European tours, seven trips to the Far East, and two to South America. In 2002 the PSO became the first American orchestra to perform at the Vatican. The PSO appeared in 13 cities in six countries in 2009.
Since its first recording on Columbia Records in 1941 under Fritz Reiner, the PSO has released hundreds of acclaimed recordings on the CBS, Sony Classical, EMI, Philips, MCA PentaTone, Angel, New World, Nonesuch, and Telarc labels. The orchestra won the 1992 Grammy Award for Best Classical Performance, Instrumental Soloist With Orchestra for the recording “Prokofiev, Sinfonia Concertante; Tchaikovsky, Variations on a Rococo Theme” performed by cellist Yo-Yo Ma conducted Lorin Maazel. The PSO had a number 1 hit on the Billboard cross over chart with the CD entitled “Cinema Serenade”, a CD of film score music conducted by John Williams featuring Itzhak Perlman.
The Pittsburgh Symphony has been heard on the radio since the 1920s with its broadcast on the world’s first commercial radio station KDKA. 1936 marked the first national broadcast of the PSO on the NBC Blue network. Later in 1936 the PSO was simultaneously broadcast live from Carnegie Hall on all three national networks in a special concert for Mobilization for Human Needs. Fritz Reiner conducted several national NBC broadcasts in 1946 and 1948. Regular broadcasts were heard on WWSW-FM from the 1950’s to 1974. WQED-FM has carried PSO broadcasts since 1974. Public Radio International began network broadcasts of WQED produced performance in 1982. Andre Previn led the PSO on a twenty PBS broadcasts over five years. The broadcast of the PSO with John Williams conducting his music from Star Wars and ET won an Emmy Award.
Andrew Carnegie built the Carnegie Music Hall in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh as a gift to the city of Pittsburgh. The music hall, along with the museum, library, art gallery, and lecture hall were dedicated in 1895. The Art Society of Pittsburgh, led by music critic/attorney Charles W. Scover, raised funds to support an orchestra. Frederick Archer was recruited from Boston to be the director of the Carnegie Music Hall, its chief organist, and the founder of the Pittsburgh Symphony. Archer performed at the opening of the music hall with organ recitals on Nov 6th and 7th. He then recruited musicians from Boston to form the 50 member orchestra. The PSO made its first performance in February 1896. They performed two concerts a week for 40 weeks in Pittsburgh. Following the Pittsburgh appearances Archer led the PSO on its first American concert tour in 1896. Archer conducted the 1897 season also.
Victor Herbert replaced Archer as music director in 1898 leading the PSO for six years until 1904. Victor Herbert was a popular composer of comic operas and a Broadway theater conductor. With Herbert’s flamboyant enthusiastic direction the musicians were inspired and ticket sales soar. Fans flocked to hear Herbert’s popular works. After Herbert left, German conductor Emil Paur instituted a heavy German repertory and a severe approach. When Paur refused to hire American musicians, preferring Europeans, the musicians threatened to strike. Half the PSO musicians declined to renew their contracts for the 1908 - 1909 season. A stock market cash led to a drop in private donations. With the loss of its musicians and financial backers, the orchestra was disbanded in 1909. During the next 16 years the Art Society booked touring orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
The PSO restarted in 1926 when the musicians contributed their own money. The musicians held 14 unpaid rehearsals and donated $25.00 each. They performed their first concert on Sunday April 24, 1926 defying the Pittsburgh blue laws. A Sunday date was chosen because most of the players were under contract to perform at other theaters during the week. The next day nine symphony board members were arrested for playing secular music on the Sabbath. With the headline publicity the fans returned to support the PSO. The PSO resumed its concert series at the 3750 seat Syria Mosque (built in 1916), performing at that venue from 1926 until 1971. Elians Breeskin conducted the reformed PSO from 1926 through 1930. Braddock, Pa born conductor Antonio Modarelli led the symphony from 1930 to 1937. In 1936 the NBC radio network began broadcasting the PSO to two-thirds of the U.S.
Otto Klemperer became the music director in 1937 quickly raising the symphony to international status. Fritz Reiner led the orchestra for a decade from 1938 to 1948. Under Reiner the PSO made its first foreign tour and signed a recording contract with Columbia Records. The PSO released several records of music by Mozart, Richard Strauss, and Bela Bartók. During World War II military Reiner hired the first female members of the PSO. Eighteen were hired in 1942 and twenty-four more in 1944. A series of guest conductors led the orchestra from 1948-52, including Leonard Bernstein and Leopold Stokowski.
William Steinberg led the PSO from 1952 to 1976, taking them on a tour of Europe and releasing several records. In September of 1971 the PSO moved to its current home at Heinz Hall. In 1976 André Previn succeeded Steinberg bringing the PSO a national audience with the PBS television series, Previn and the Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh born Lorin Maazel took the helm in 1984 serving until 1996. Maazel conducted the orchestra on several international tours. Mariss Jansons led the PSO from 1997 unitl 2004. A series of guest conductors lead the PSO from 2005 to 2008. Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck became the PSO's ninth music director beginning with the 2008-2009 season. Marvin Hamlisch became the PSO principal pops conductor in 1995. At its home in Heinz Hall the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performs 21 weeks of classical concerts annually, a seven weekends Pop series with Marvin Hamlisch, and the Fiddlesticks Family Concert series along with many special non-subscription concerts.