Straw in the wind

Note the following, from a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story by Andrew Druckenbrod, about the Pittsburgh Symphony and its new head, Larry Tamburri:

Publicly, the new CEO of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is a laconic leader. Privately, however, he has spent his first four months on the job in nonstop conversations within and without the organization.

“Meeting the community has been very important because the Symphony is a community institution,” Larry Tamburri said. “I have been out in the arts, business, political and religious communities to see what sort of relationships the Symphony has, where things need to be done, what people think of the Symphony.”

He also has instituted community partnership concerts, such as one June 18 at Heinz Hall with the PSO and singer Roberta Flack that will benefit 31 local nonprofits. “It is important for the community to know that we care about it and we are giving back,” he said. “It also puts us in front of a new audience, which is important to the Symphony.”

Similarly, brown bag lunches have resulted in good communication between the musicians and management. “The orchestra is not shy about telling me their opinions, and I find it really useful to hear what is going on in their minds, and it is good for them to hear what I am thinking.”

Tomorrow, Tamburri will step out and meet subscribers and donors at 5:30 p.m. at Heinz Hall “for a discussion of his vision for the orchestra’s future,” says the invitation.

Does this sound routine? It isn’t. Orchestras haven’t, up to now, functioned as community institutions, and orchestra managements haven’t talked much with musicians or ticket-buyers.

But there are signs that all this is changing. Rapprochement with musicians has been a high priority for the past few years, and now there’s a lot of talk about bringing musicians into administrative, financial, and even artistic management. The community, too, is becoming a priority, and so are relations with the audience. Larry’s comments here, in other words, give us one small sign of some places that orchestras might be going.

[Disclaimer: As many readers know, I do projects with the Pittsburgh Symphony, most notably a three-concert series aimed at that elusive new audience, which I help to conceive and program, and then host. I’m also friendly with Larry. My comments here, though, have very little connection with either of these relationships. During my last trip to Pittsburgh, I read Andy’s interview in the paper, just as anyone else might, and then connected the dots between what Larry is quoted as saying, and things I’ve heard many people in the orchestra world talk about.]

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