Obituary: Gideon Toeplitz / Managing director of Pittsburgh Symphony from 1987 to 2003

Nov. 18, 1944 -- Oct. 16, 2011

In orchestra circles, Gideon Toeplitz had a reputation as a managing director whose toughness as a negotiator was matched by his gruff approach.

Yet friends and industry colleagues say he had the best interest of orchestras in mind, most prominently the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1987 to 2003.

Highlights of his tenure include restructuring its finances and signing conductor Mariss Jansons as music director, Marvin Hamlisch as pops conductor, increasing international touring and establishing relationships with major artists.

Mr. Toeplitz, formerly of Squirrel Hill, died in his sleep on Sunday in Israel. The exact cause was not yet known, but he had diabetes. He was 66.

"Gideon, in his long and notable career, made a great contribution to music," said conductor-composer John Williams.

Mr. Toeplitz was steeped in music from his birth in Tel Aviv, Israel. His father, Uri, was a principal flutist of the Israel Philharmonic, and famed pianist Rudolf Serkin was his godfather.

While Mr. Toeplitz advanced enough as a flute player to be a substitute in his father's section, he eventually revealed to its music director, Zubin Mehta, that he would rather run an orchestra than play in it. The conductor arranged for Mr. Toeplitz to attend the University of California, Los Angeles, which had the first arts management program, after he graduated from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1969.

Soon after, the Boston Symphony Orchestra hired Mr. Toeplitz in administration. That began his lifelong love of that orchestra's summer home at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Mass., and he stipulated that his ashes be scattered at his estate near there.

After rising to the Boston Symphony's orchestra manager, he left to lead the Rochester Philharmonic, the Houston Symphony and then the PSO. Along the way he gained the admiration of many in the business.

"I knew Gideon Toeplitz for nearly 30 years and always appreciated his professionalism and dedication to the music world," said conductor Charles Dutoit. "He was certainly amongst the best managers in America."

His early years with the PSO, during the Lorin Maazel tenure as music director, saw great steps after financial difficulties. Mr. Toeplitz righted the ship in the 1990s, including reducing the orchestra's exorbitant draw on its endowment, raising its budget and booking the PSO on important European and world tours with Mr. Maazel and Mr. Jansons.

"We all still benefit from his vision and leadership during a critical period in the orchestra's history," said PSO president Lawrence Tamburri.

But Mr. Toeplitz resigned in 2002 amid a growing deficit and lagging ticket sales.

While the stock market dive following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had delivered a blow to the orchestra's endowment by around $30 million, his suggestion that the PSO might consider filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy put him at odds with the board. He denied his decision to resign had anything to do with the specter of bankruptcy, only saying, "I need a different environment."

Neither he nor his family could have foreseen that that environment would be hospitals and rehab centers after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

"His exploratory surgery on a benign brain tumor was in July of 2007," said Gail Ransom of Friendship, to whom he was married from 1977 to 2004. In the hospital he contracted a staph infection, she added, and "two weeks later he was in a coma."

He recovered and even visited Heinz Hall for a concert last season, but never regained his pre-surgery strength.

Mr. Toeplitz, who attended Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside, is survived by daughters Ilana and Shira Ransom Toeplitz, of Boston and Washington, D.C., respectively; a brother, Yaron Toeplitz of Asseret, Israel; and a half-sister, Gabrielle Heichal of Jerusalem.

Plans for a memorial in Pittsburgh and Boston will be announced later.

Andrew Druckenbrod, Post-Gazette Classical Music Critic: ; 412-263-1750. First Published October 18, 2011 4:00 AM


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