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Front-runners emerge in PSO job search

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

By Andrew Druckenbrod, Post-Gazette Classical Music Critic

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's search for a new managing director is producing the sort of conjecture about possible candidates normally reserved for the hiring of a music director. That's what happens when the bottom line generates more headlines than artistic success.

A handful of candidates is emerging as front-runners for a job that, while it poses great challenges, is still a top post with a world-class symphony.

"The Pittsburgh Symphony is a great orchestra and when you get a call of that nature, you take it," said Daniel Hart, president and executive director of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. "We did talk about the position, [but] I don't know the status of the search. I have a great job here and am focusing on the Columbus Symphony."

PSO board chairman Richard Simmons has said the Symphony wants to hire a replacement for Gideon Toeplitz by the end of June, though he acknowledged "it might take us longer." That person also will have the title of CEO. Yesterday, board president Thomas Todd declined to say whether an announcement was imminent or reveal any details of the search.

There are two schools of thought about the current search: The PSO, with an annual budget of about $30 million, could look for someone with big-budget experience and industry connections, or it could hire an up-and-coming executive from a smaller orchestra open to new ideas. Presumably the former would command more of an income than the latter. Either, it is assumed, will have to have innovative ideas on how to raise money and increase attendance.

Looming large over the search is the PSO's $800,000 cash shortfall this year and the effort to stave off a $2.5 million structural deficit next year, not to mention the hiring of a replacement for outgoing music director Mariss Jansons.

Korn/Ferry International, headquartered in Los Angeles, has been hired by the PSO to coordinate the hunt for a managing director. The following symphonic managers are believed to be among those under consideration:

Daniel Hart, president and executive director, Columbus Symphony Orchestra: Hart is used to working through the same sort of financial and attendance problems afflicting the PSO. The Columbus orchestra's debut in New York's Carnegie Hall happened under his tenure, and he secured funding to eliminate the debt that orchestra had carried since 1991. His contract was recently extended through 2005. He previously led the Colorado Springs Symphony and Virginia Symphony.

Lawrence Tamburri, president and CEO of the New Jersey Symphony: Through Tamburri's leadership, the orchestra finally obtained the "Golden Age" collection of Stradivarius and other top quality instruments it had been offered as a high-priced matching gift. He has been credited with achieving rare accord between the musicians, management and board of the symphony. Tamburri denied being contacted for the PSO job but said he might be rumored to be on the list because he is from Pittsburgh.

Steven Ovitsky, resigned in February as president and executive director of the Milwaukee Symphony: At the time of his departure, Ovitsky told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel the orchestra's looming debt played no role in his decision. He also said he wouldn't rule out another orchestra job. When contacted for about the position, he declined comment, saying, "Sorry, I don't discuss search processes."

Fred Bronstein, Dallas Symphony president: Bronstein began his first season leading the Dallas Symphony last July, with that group facing an $850,000 deficit, and finished it with $20 million in donations. The largely anonymous gifts went to funding 15 principal positions and bolstering the endowment. He has tightened budgets and postponed projects to stabilize the symphony. Prior to this, he was president of the Omaha Symphony. He could not be reached for comment.

Allison Vulgamore, president and managing director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra: Vulgamore is one of few women heading a major national orchestra. She also is overseeing the development of the Atlanta Symphony Center, slated to become the orchestra's home in 2008. Before joining the Atlanta Symphony, she was general manager of the New York Philharmonic, where she also served as acting managing director and orchestra manager. She previously worked for the National Symphony Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestra. Vulgamore also was unavailable for comment.

Post-Gazette Cultural Arts Writer Caroline Abels contributed to this report.

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

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