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New PSO president Lawrence Tamburri faces big challenge

Praised for 12-year tenure heading New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Duquesne University graudate hailed for collaborative skills

Friday, September 19, 2003

By Andrew Druckenbrod, Post-Gazette Classical Music Critic

Pittsburgh native Lawrence Tamburri, who garnered praise during his 12-year tenure heading the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, was officially announced yesterday as president, managing director and CEO of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

With Symphony musicians facing a contract likely to be heavy with concessions, and the organization staring at a deficit nearing $3 million, Tamburri's reputation as a collaborator will be tested.

"His particular skill is building consensus with the people who work with him -- orchestra, staff and board," said Henry Fogel, president of the American Symphony Orchestra League. "I think Larry is one of the most imaginative and innovative of orchestra managers."

"What he has done in New Jersey is to build an orchestra where the musicians felt part of the flow and didn't feel antagonized," said critic Greg Sandow, who writes for the Wall Street Journal. "He created a place where the musicians are valued."

"I see it as a collaborative environment," Tamburri said in a statement. "Together we will work to uphold the artistic excellence that defines the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, while creating a stable sustained financial base."

The 52-year-old Tamburri lived in East Liberty and Shaler and graduated from Duquesne University. He played the bass in jazz combos and in classical ensembles, studying under former PSO assistant principal bass player Robert Leininger.

George Clewer, president of the Pittsburgh Musicians Union and a saxophone player, performed with Tamburri in the '70s.

"He was a excellent string bass player," he said. "The more musical background you have, the better for this job."

"Larry has a great reputation among musicians nationally," said Zachary Smith, the PSO musicians' spokesman. "He sees the big picture and brings people together."

"He makes sure that everyone has a voice in the decision, though he isn't afraid to making the decision if it is his to make," said Frances Rowell, a cellist in the New Jersey Symphony.

Tamburri, who will join the PSO Jan. 1, will be making a significant step up in orchestra size. The New Jersey Symphony's budget is $15.2 million with 76 musicians and a 36-week season. In comparison, the PSO's budget is $31 million with 99 musicians and a 52-week season.

The PSO did not reveal the terms of his contract.

"I don't think it is easier to manage smaller-budget orchestras," said Fogel. "The numbers are smaller but there are fewer resources and it is just as difficult to keep them going."

"Larry brings all of the necessary talents and skills," PSO chairman Richard Simmons said in a statement.

Early in Tamburri's tenure, the New Jersey Symphony's deficit forced it to cut salaries, eliminate staff positions and cancel some concerts -- all measures the PSO has undertaken for similar reasons.

Tamburri launched an aggressive fund-raising campaign and secured a $3 million deficit-reduction grant from the state in 1995. Tamburri also oversaw a new musician's contract in September, highlighted by a 5 percent salary reduction.

But the high point of Tamburri's career was the symphony's acquisition of 30 rare Italian string instruments, including many Stradivarius, from a donor for the reduced price of $18 million.

"The Strad [acquisition] is remarkable," said Fogel. "A hundred years from now, people will be listening to those Strads."

Tamburri's former boss, New Jersey chairman Victor Parsonnet, praised Tamburri as a fund raiser.

"He has all kinds of contacts, great ideas and he's not afraid to ask for big amounts of money from people," Parsonnet said.

Prior to running the New Jersey Symphony, Tamburri headed the Savannah Symphony from 1986 to 1991, and earlier worked for the New Hampshire and Mesa symphony orchestras.

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

Andrew Druckenbrod can be reached at or 412-263-1750.

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