The next most visible position after Mr. Honeck’s is the concertmaster — the first chair of the first violin section.
First chair may have been merely something to rub in during high school orchestra, but in the cutthroat world of professional classical music, the difference between principal and section player can amount to tens of thousands of dollars of salary, as well as recognition and prestige.
Pittsburgh’s concertmaster slot has remained open for years as the orchestra patiently searched for exactly the right fit, the person who best understood its culture and aspirations. The previous concertmaster’s salary hovered around $300,000, according to public documents.
Aside from the money and status, why did David McCarroll, the guy who finally got the job, accept the offer from Pittsburgh? Well …
“Touring is a very important component of why I was attracted to this orchestra,” said Mr. McCarroll, sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Essen, Germany, still basking in the glow from a performance of Mahler’s first symphony in Dusseldorf that brought down the house the night before.
Appointed as Pittsburgh concertmaster in the spring, Mr. McCarroll had spent the past seven years playing in the Vienna Piano Trio. He said the opportunity to tour in Europe — and to be welcomed with such fervor — is something that defines a top caliber orchestra.
“I know these audiences,” he said. “The reaction to the symphony is not typical. This is not usual, it’s not normal.”
Who wouldn’t want a job where they got that kind of acclaim? Even if you have to leave your hometown to actually get it.
“We’re famous everywhere else except Pittsburgh,” said Bill Caballero, the orchestra’s principal French horn player. “We go to these places and they go crazy for us.”
Mr. Caballero, whose compensation is in the vicinity of $285,000 a year, according to the symphony’s public documents, has been with the orchestra since 1989. He has been approached by other orchestras, though the Pittsburgh Symphony was able to renegotiate and keep him.
He called the extension of Mr. Honeck’s contract “unusual,” as it’ll bring the conductor’s tenure with the PSO to 20 years — a very long time for a conductor to stay with a single orchestra.
Other members of the orchestra, especially newer players, also said the tours are a key part of what drew them to audition for the Pittsburgh Symphony and to take the job, even if they had positions of comparable salary elsewhere.
Room where it happens
Years ago, Mr. Honeck received a personal letter from superstar violinist Anne Sophie-Mutter, a longtime friend and also a soloist on the orchestra’s latest tour. She asked him to listen to a teenage violinist; being “discovered” by a top conductor can help a young career take wing.
After Mr. Honeck and Mary Persin, the orchestra’s vice president of artistic planning, heard Noa Wildschut play, they were impressed enough to invite her to perform with the symphony in Pittsburgh. In 2017, the 16-year-old violinist joined the PSO for a special Thanksgiving concert.
Ms. Persin is Mr. Honeck’s right-hand woman. While he was waving his arms and asking brass to play softer or for more precision from the strings in overseas rehearsals, she was often meeting with artists and agents in backstage rooms.
“It’s important to Manfred and I to identify new talent, so the tours are an opportunity to start that conversation,” Ms. Persin said.
It’s also important to identify guest conductors, as Mr. Honeck only conducts a little over half of the concert season with the orchestra. The remaining spots are occupied by guests.
“Guest conducting per week can be much more lucrative than a salary,” said Lawrence “Larry” Loh, a former resident conductor with the Pittsburgh Symphony who is now music director of an orchestra in Syracuse, N.Y.
Mr. Loh’s career includes a mix of touring and salaried engagements.
“Travel is paid, and the fees are really great,” he said.
Where’s the ‘exchange’?
So the Pittsburgh Symphony travels to Europe frequently, as it has promised its conductor it would. Do European or other American orchestras come here, too? Here’s a story about that, and, yes, it’s a recruiting story.
The Pittsburgh orchestra used to have a fund to present great orchestras from the U.S. and Europe in concert in the 1990s, later discontinued for economic reasons. Besides hosting orchestras from Cleveland and Chicago, Pittsburgh welcomed the Oslo Philharmonic with its then-music director Maris Jansons.
This was no coincidence — the Pittsburgh Symphony had its eye on poaching Jansons to be its music director. As soon as the concert ended, Mr. Moir said the PSO whisked Jansons away, wining and dining him on top of Mount Washington at the home of a board member with several Pittsburgh Symphony musicians in attendance.
Later, Jansons would accept the post of Pittsburgh’s music director and served from 1997-2004.
Jeremy Reynolds: [email protected] or 412-263-1634; twitter: @Reynolds_PG. His work at the Post-Gazette is supported in part by a grant from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Getty Foundation and Rubin Institute.