Eyewitness 1962: Steinberg contract led to a symphony record


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Whoever wrote the story about the longtime conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony signing a contract extension swung for the fences in trying to attract sports-minded readers.

"William Steinberg, a veteran right hander, inked a new pact yesterday," the anonymous reporter wrote in the May 4, 1962, edition of the Post-Gazette.

After Steinberg signed that agreement 50 years ago this month, he went on to have the longest tenure as music director in the orchestra's history.

"Steinberg's decision to stay here, despite offers he has received to lead major orchestras elsewhere, indicates the rapport existing among him, the musicians and the community," according to the story. "He frequently has said that he does not believe any other city in the world supports its symphony orchestra as Pittsburgh does."

Steinberg was born in Cologne, Germany, in 1899. Like many other Jewish musicians, scientists and artists, he was forced to leave Germany after Adolf Hitler took power.

He immigrated in 1936 to what was then called Palestine. While there, he was co-founder of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, now the Israel Philharmonic. "He came to the U.S. in 1937 at the request of the late Arturo Toscanini to become associate conductor of the NBC Symphony Orchestra," the story said.

Steinberg had been music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic in 1952 before he was offered the top post with the PSO.

Steinberg would remain as director until 1976. His 24 years in the position is a period of service not likely to be exceeded. His closest rivals are Loren Maazel, director for 12 years, and Fritz Reiner, who served 10 years.

When Steinberg retired he was named director emeritus. He returned to conduct the orchestra for the last time in December 1977, just a few months before his death on May 16, 1978.

During nearly a quarter century in Pittsburgh, Steinberg maintained a busy schedule outside the city. His multiple responsibilities were summarized in a story that appeared the day after he died.

Between 1958 and 1960 Steinberg commuted between Pittsburgh and London, where he was musical director of the London Philharmonic. In 1964 he was principal guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic. From 1969 to 1972 he served simultaneously as musical director of the Pittsburgh and Boston symphonies.

The 1962 story reporting on his new contract included his summer schedule. There were guest appearances at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, the Ravinia Festival near Chicago and Berkshire Festival in Massachusetts. He planned to conduct in Europe in Lausanne, Salzburg, Rome and Turin.

"I like to conduct in Europe in order to enjoy more my homecoming to America," he said on the day he announced his intention to remain in Pittsburgh.

In his obituary, the Post-Gazette's Tom Hritz wrote of the conductor's work for multiple symphonies, "The dual positions often led to rumors that Steinberg was ready to leave Pittsburgh."

The German-born maestro had rejected that notion once and for all in 1968. "We are too closely wed, the Pittsburgh Symphony and I, to contemplate any divorce," he said.

pittsburgh250eyewitness

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159. Additional stories in the "Eyewitness" series can be found by searching the terms "Barcousky" and "eyewitness" on the P-G website.


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