January 12, 2010
Speaker: Chuck Vogel, Volunteer, PSO Speakers Bureau
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was formed in 1896 by the Art Society. It quickly attained high standards under conductor Frederic Archer, and Victor Herbert, the Irish-born leading composer of Broadway operettas.
Shortly after a stock market panic which resulted in loss of the private donations that supported the orchestra, the orchestra cancelled its 1910 season. The orchestra was disbanded for the next sixteen years. The Art Society tried to fill the gap by booking touring orchestras.
The musicians themselves finally revived the orchestra.Players, mainly from the various theaters, held fourteen unpaid rehearsals and donated $25.00 each to play a Sunday concert on April 24, 1927. The next day nine of its board members were arrested for violating a Pennsylvania’s law banning secular music-making on the Sabbath, an event which turned out to be good publicity.
The orchestra played under Elias Breeskin and locally-born conductor Antonio Modarelli, and in 1936 was carried by radio network to the eastern two-thirds of the US. In 1937 it engaged Otto Klemperer as music director. History records that it took him only six weeks to raise it to international professional standards. Under music directors William Steinberg, André Previn, Lorin Maazel, and Maris Janssons, the PSO has remained one of America’s top symphonies.