“The orchestra must reach the hearts of the people. It is not so impossible as one might think to awaken a love for fine music in a generation brought up on sports, the movies and television.” — William Steinberg, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conductor and music director, 1952-1976.
This quote is profoundly relevant, given the PSO labor dispute. Having worked in marketing for a regional symphony, where I managed to raise subscription rates by an unheard of 42 percent, I have to say the problem isn’t what the PSO is paying its musicians, or the number of sick/vacation days, or anything else covered by their contract. The problem is in its marketing department and its programming.
The PSO needs to expand the types of music and the variety of concerts and market to younger generations. Play one movement of a symphony and pair it with newer works from up-and-coming composers; include popular music artists in intimate sessions with the symphony; integrate social media more effectively.
If the PSO keeps marketing to older patrons, attrition is going to hurt its subscriptions every year. The musicians themselves have proved this with their impromptu concerts recently. They were well-attended by a variety of people. Videos of them performing in the street have gone viral. If the PSO does not change, we as a city will lose the most venerable cultural institution that we have. That is completely unacceptable.
I support the musicians; they keep music alive in Pittsburgh not only by performing but also by teaching the next generations at universities here. If we lose these musicians, our universities will suffer, too.