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PSO faces time of transition with several posts to fill

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

By Andrew Druckenbrod, Post-Gazette Classical Music Critic

In its 106-year history, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has undergone many transitions in its leadership, but rarely has it been looking to fill so many positions at the same time.

Mariss Jansons
Music Director

The PSO is searching for a managing director/executive vice president, a board president, a music director, a resident conductor and a vice president of development. Managing director Gideon Toeplitz leaves in May, music director Mariss Jansons and resident conductor Lucas Richman a year later and board president Tom Todd will step down in November.

In fact, the most stable member of the upper echelon of the PSO will be the chairman of the board, Richard Simmons, who has worked with the PSO since 1990. "There is no perfect time for a change at the top," said Simmons.

The sheer number of changes in high positions at the PSO is not typical for the industry, although top symphony leaders occasionally leave or arrive together.

"Every situation is different," says Jack McAuliffe, vice president of the American Symphony Orchestra League. "Typically there is not a wholesale change. The only time you find that is if everything was broken, and you don't have that situation in Pittsburgh. You are seeing a transition."

"Change creates opportunity -- we have tremendous opportunity as well as risk," said Todd. "We have an extremely strong and engaged executive committee made up of knowledgeable community leaders who are dedicated to the orchestra and an outstanding board. They will provide, together with the senior staff, the continuity necessary to see us through the change."

Gideon Toeplitz
Executive Vice President

But the board hopes to make the transition period as short as possible. "We must be closer to hiring a music director, and hopefully we will have a managing director in the summer," said Simmons.

A pressing reason for getting new leaders in place is that the PSO's contract with its musicians expires at the end of the current fiscal year on Aug. 31. The PSO has projected that it could be more than $1 million in the red at that point, making the negotiations critical.

"The sense that this is a lot to do at once is right, and it is particularly challenging considering the financial situation," says Hampton Mallory, PSO cellist and chairman of the orchestra committee. "But the musicians are stepping forward to help with development, marketing and other aspects. There is a willingness to help."

Although Todd still will be in office when negotiations take place, he, too, is stepping down.

"The normal period of the president to serve is three to five years, and I think that is a good idea, because in any organization change in leadership is good," said Todd, whose term expires in October.

Lucas Richman
Resident Conductor

In part because so many aspects of the PSO are in flux, most don't expect the new managing director to make wholesale changes in the staff. Unlike a head coach or CEO, new orchestral managers usually don't bring in their own people. "What you may see, depending on the direction the new leadership takes, is evolutionary change -- that takes a while to figure out," said McAuliffe.

Although they are stepping down, Toeplitz and Todd are willing to help the transitional process.

"I am not going to leave Pittsburgh or be uninvolved in the Pittsburgh Symphony," said Todd. "I think all the ingredients are in place for a positive and smooth transition."

Andrew Druckenbrod can be reached at adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750.

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