Pillbox

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

On Friday evening, hundreds of staff, students, and community members packed into the College of Fine Arts (CFA) theaters to hear musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony play. The audience did not pay a cent for the nearing-on-two hours of entertainment. And the musicians, despite looking and playing their best, were not paid for their efforts.

Negotiations for a renewed three year contract between the musicians and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Inc. (PSO) Management began in February, extended two weeks beyond contract renewal, and continued for another two weeks with federal negotiators until the musicians' strike began Friday, Sept. 30. Management will not budge from their final offer of a dramatically-reduced salary, modified retirement plans, and reduced orchestra personnel.

These cuts, if accepted, would be devastating to the future of the Pittsburgh Symphony. As one of the ten best symphonies in the country, respected and acclaimed worldwide, the group boasts some of the best musicians. The dramatic drop in salary would put the PSO's pay on par with symphonies of much less caliber. With these cuts, "we would not be able to recruit and retain the same types of musicians that we have now," Micah Howard, chair of the Pittsburgh Symphony Musicians Committee, says in a press release with TribLIVE. This pay drop would not only discourage newcomers from joining, but would also drive top talent to other orchestras.

Management seems adamant on these changes, however. All concerts have been canceled until Oct. 27. On Tuesday, management released a statement declaring its intent to hire out other musicians in the community to replace the orchestra, in an effort to bring music to its patrons. Members of the community recognize this as a scare tactic. "Pittsburgh's community [of musicians] is so tight," Lisa Levinson said. "There's no way anyone is willing to walk through the picket lines." Levinson, a Pittsburgh native, has been a part of the music community since 1980 and has bought ticket subscriptions to PSO concerts for 35 years.

The musicians are not staying silent, however. Picketers in bright yellow "Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony" T-shirts have swarmed Heinz Hall ever since the strike began, including members of the symphony, community members, and dozens of Carnegie Mellon students. The musicians have also been putting on free concerts and playing in the streets. A brass quartet serenaded passersby in front of downtown restaurants last weekend in lieu of the John Williams concert, and musicians also performed outside the Pittsburgh courthouse. On the PSO's annual day of giving, Tuesday, the musicians organized and put on 11 free concerts, making their own "Day of Music" thanking the community for their support.

The performance that should have taken place in Heinz Hall on Friday was dubbed "CMU night at the PSO" and is a standing tradition; School of Music students annually attend one show at the symphony en masse in celebration of our strong relationship. Nearly all private instrumental instructors are also members of the PSO, as well a large number of the chamber music coaches. The show at Heinz Hall was canceled, but the musicians, who believe that "the show must go on," organized the concert Friday night in Kresge Theatre, asking for students' help in publicizing the event to the greater Carnegie Mellon community.

The sisters of Sigma Alpha Iota stood in front of Doherty Hall on Wednesday, handing out flyers to all passersby. Music students set out a table in front of CFA on Friday afternoon, distributing yellow ribbon pins in support of the striking symphony members. And the result was astounding. Not only was Kresge Theater packed, but Alumni Concert Hall (ACH) was utilized as a second performance space. The audience in ACH overflowed the seats, utilizing the periphery aisles and back wall as standing and sitting room. The musicians performed two parallel concerts, staggered twenty minutes apart, to prevent turning audience members away. The concert featured string quartets and octets, an oboe quartet, a woodwind trio, and cello and bass quartets playing music spanning from Mozart to modern-day Piazzolla. Between pieces, the musicians introduced themselves; many attended Julliard and other schools of great musical prestige, and some gained doctorate degrees in music performance or left posts with other orchestras when they were offered positions here. All of the musicians, though, were happy to be part of the PSO, sharing amazing experiences of international tours and genuine gratitude for the opportunity to play with such talented colleagues. And the thanks were bestowed on the audience as well: "we just want to play for you and make you happy," explained Tatjana Mead Chamis, violist and MC for the night in ACH.

The show doesn't end here. The musicians held a free full-scale orchestra concert on Sunday afternoon, playing Dvorak's New World Symphony, Wagner's overture to Die Meistersinger, Telemann's Concerto for Two Violas, and a movement from Mozart's G Major Flute Concerto. The latter two pieces featured students from Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School as soloists.

On the program for Friday night's concert were a few pieces of Entartete Musik, which translates to "degenerate music." Like a large portion of artists in the World War II era, many Germanic composers and musicians were labeled as "degenerate" due to their heritage; they fled Germany, and performing their work was banned. Chamis describes that musical arts "skipped a generation" in Germany, Vienna, and other affected areas, as the fine musicians had been driven away.

If the PSO disbands, or the dramatic cuts proposed by management are forced upon them, such a diaspora is conceivable for music in Pittsburgh. The fates of the musicians will obviously be much different than those under the Third Reich, but Pittsburgh's top musical talent will move elsewhere. Not only will this affect the course and quality of the PSO, but this will send shock waves through the community. In Carnegie Mellon's School of Music, a large portion of the technical training that instrumentalists receive is from the musicians of the PSO, some of the best in the world. In the case of PSO's collapse, the quality of a Carnegie Mellon musical education will crumble.

Although we see overwhelming support of the musicians from the Pittsburgh community, the strike has not been resolved. To learn more about events held by PSO musicians in the future, how to support the musicians, or for more information please visit http://musiciansofthepso.org, or the Facebook page Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.