Obituary: Seymour Rosen/Orchestra executive who worked for Pittsburgh Symphony

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Seymour Rosen's 11-year tenure with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was a major part of a long career as a highly respected orchestra executive. His time as managing director here had a long-reaching effect, including overseeing the PSO's move from the Syria Mosque to Heinz Hall and the hiring of Andre Previn as its music director.

Mr. Rosen died Saturday of cardiac arrest in his home in Valhalla, N.Y. He was 87.

In the summer of 1967, Mr. Rosen came to Pittsburgh to lead the PSO during a turbulent but optimistic time in the American orchestra field. He guided the PSO to a full-time status; it was one of only a dozen orchestras that operated for 52 weeks a year.

"He really understood how orchestras work," said his son Jesse Rosen of New York City, who followed his father into the field and is now president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras (known as the American Symphony Orchestra League until a few years ago). "He was a manager in the field when the profession was just growing up. He was a part of this movement in the 1960s and '70s during which a professional class developed that brought business acumen with discerning musical judgment and artistic purpose."

"He was tough but fair," said Harold Steiman, a trombone player in the orchestra at the time and later a manager. "There were financial crises, but he would always manage them."

"Mr. Rosen was a strong manager, who kept audience enthusiasm as well as financial stability through difficult times," said former Post-Gazette classical music critic Robert Croan. "I had much respect for his abilities, although he was known at times for being autocratic and sometimes difficult. Outside the office I found him and his wife charming."

According to the Pittsburgh Symphony's recent book on its history Mr. Rosen, who left Pittsburgh to lead the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1978, presided over many milestones. The number of PSO concerts a year increased, the annual operating budget rose from $1.5 to $3.5 million, attendance more than doubled, to 500,000 a year, and season ticket subscriptions tripled. He also established the PSO summer home in Ambler, near Philadelphia, and played a large role in moving the home of the PSO from the Syria Mosque in Oakland to Heinz Hall Downtown in 1971.

But it is for his role in the change of artistic leadership of the PSO that Mr. Rosen will be most remembered. The first was the unenviable task of getting beloved music director William Steinberg, whose health was failing, to step down.

"I felt and the board felt that he could no longer carry the weight of a full season," he said at the time, according to the PSO archives. "It would be unfair to him and the orchestra for him to continue." Mr. Steinberg officially retired in 1976.

Mr. Rosen's next move made headlines worldwide -- he hired the popular musician and Hollywood star Andre Previn to succeed Steinberg.

After Mr. Previn made a big splash in his debut with the PSO Mr. Rosen drove him to the airport and said, "I am going to ask you a question. If you won't answer it I won't ask."

"What the hell are you talking about?" asked Mr. Previn. "I'm going to ask you to be the new music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra," Mr. Rosen said. Mr. Previn took the offer, the board approved it and he had the post in 1976.

Born in New York City in 1925, Mr. Rosen studied a double bass and performed professionally as a classical and jazz bass player when still in high school. He attended Queens College for a year before being drafted into the 99th Infantry during WWII. He was wounded and captured in the Battle of Bulge in December 1944, and sent to German POW camp until he was freed in April 1945. He was awarded a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Upon his return to the United States things moved rapidly both professionally and personally for Mr. Rosen. After knowing Bernice Malkind, a dancer with the Martha Graham troupe, for only three days in a summer camp in upstate New York, he proposed to her. They married shortly therafter.

He then enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music, studying bass there from 1946-49. After a stint with the Aeolian American Piano Corp. manufacturer in Long Island, he took an American Symphony Orchestra League manager's training course and in 1961 became manager of Orchestral Society of Westchester, N.Y. In 1962 he took over Columbus Symphony Orchestra, led the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1963-66 and became American Symphony Orchestra League executive director in 1966.

When he took the position with the PSO, he lived in city neighborhoods of Highland Park, Squirrel Hill and Oakland. After departing the PSO, Mr. Rosen's career took him to new heights of the classical music field. In 1978, at age 52, he took over the top management position in the Philadelphia Orchestra then in 1982 he was hired by Carnegie Hall as managing and artistic director. In 1986, he left for a position at Arizona State University. In 1989 he founded the Institute for Studies in the Arts.

"[He was] perhaps, the most respected management person in the American performing arts field," wrote Sheldon Morgenstern in his 2001 critique of the business, "No Vivaldi in the Garage: A Requiem for Classical Music in North America."

While being at the helm of Carnegie Hall was a highlight of Mr. Rosen's career -- he came on the specific request of famed violinist Isaac Stern -- he was most proud of his tenure at the PSO, said his son:

"He was an innovator. When he was in Pittsburgh he grew the endowment to the largest in the field and that really represented the development of a strong underpinning of finance in the field. He was able to rally the corporate leaders behind the orchestra. That was a real leadership move on his part."

But Mr. Rosen's hard work came at a price. "He wasn't around very much because he was working all the time," said his son, who was a proficient trombonist who performed with the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra and also attended Juilliard. "But he carved out time, coming to my baseball games and our performances."

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Rosen is survived by a sister Beverly Scheer, of Williamstown, Mass., and daughter Judy, of Milwood, N.Y. Funeral services will be private.

Classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod: adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750. He blogs at www.post-gazette.com/classicalmusings. Twitter: @druckenbrod.

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