'Play On': an illustrated look at Pittsburgh Symphony's past and present

March 7, 2012 12:36 pm
  • A photo of Victor Herbert, first music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, then known as Pittsburgh Orchestra, is among the photos found in the book "Play On."
    A photo of Victor Herbert, first music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, then known as Pittsburgh Orchestra, is among the photos found in the book "Play On."
  • Cover of "Play On: An Illustrated History of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra" (self-published). $45; www.pittsburghsymphony.org.
    Cover of "Play On: An Illustrated History of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra" (self-published). $45; www.pittsburghsymphony.org.
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The illustrious history of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is now an illustrated one.

The orchestra has just released "Play On," a 212-page, coffee-table book filled with old photographs and information that tracks the group from 1896 and the founding of its predecessor, the Pittsburgh Orchestra, to today. Begun by the late Hax McCullough and finished by Mary Brignano, it gives ample space to each music director's tenure, lists every member in its history and gives a comprehensive look at the orchestra.

It also has quite a few did-you-know facts. Here are 10:

1. Andrew Carnegie built Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, the first home of the Pittsburgh Orchestra, but he was not a guarantor of the group. "He believed the citizens of Pittsburgh should support their orchestra," the book states.

2. Only three U.S. cities -- New York, Boston and Chicago -- had permanent orchestras when the Pittsburgh Orchestra was founded in 1896. A 10-concert subscription that first season cost $5-$10.

3. The first orchestra to perform in Carnegie Music Hall was not from Pittsburgh. At the gala opening in 1895, the New York Symphony Society, an early competitor of the New York Philharmonic, performed, led by Walter Damrosch.

4. Gustav Mahler, a favorite composer of current PSO music director Manfred Honeck, conducted in Pittsburgh once. In 1910 (a year before he died), Mahler lead the New York Philharmonic at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland. It was the first concert presented by a group that brought in orchestras after the Pittsburgh Orchestra went bankrupt in 1910. It re-formed as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1926.

5. During World War I, that same presenting group, the Pittsburgh Orchestra Association, banned "all music written by any German composer, and all music by a subject of any of Germany's allies" for the 1917-18 season. Needless to say this hindered programming for the Philadelphia Orchestra that was booked for five concerts.

Andrew Druckenbrod: adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1750. Blog: www.post-gazette.com/classicalmusings. Twitter: @druckenbrod.
First Published 2012-03-06 23:21:27

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