Symphony festival wanted

The observer: Spring ’08
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Several years ago, the rush was on to figure out what should be Pittsburgh’s “First Day Attraction” — the one-​of-​a-​kind crowd pleaser that would bring tourists to Pittsburgh. The experts pointed to Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Bilbao’s Guggenhem Museum as examples.

Ideas proliferated, from the fascinating to the facetious. Time passed, and the collective regional consciousness decided to forget about the One Big Thing and let 100 flowers bloom. And so Greater Pittsburgh has played from strength, building on existing assets from the Carnegie museums to the Cultural Trust to the rivers, bike paths and natural beauty.

Certainly one of the region’s great assets is the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. One night at a home where a small group had gathered to hear virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell, a man said, “Americans love competition — why not have a competition of symphonies?”

Hmm,” thought an observer. Although musicians are as competitive as the next person, the idea of a glorified “Battle of the Bands” wouldn’t quite fit the stature of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and its counterparts in other cities.

But an offshoot of that idea could be interesting. As Stratford, Ontario, puts on its famous Shakespeare Festival, why couldn’t Pittsburgh host a music festival attracting the greatest orchestras in the world?

In the first few years, as the event cuts its teeth, the organizers could bring in one domestic orchestra and one European orchestra for nine nights of music — three from the PSO and three each from the two guest orchestras.

Imagine being able to hear Europe’s greatest orchestras — Berlin, Vienna and Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebau — and the great orchestras of the United States — Cleveland, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, New York— all of them in Pittsburgh.

What would it cost to bring in the orchestras? For a domestic orchestra, roughly $600,000, and for a European orchestra, roughly $900,000. Call it $1.5 million, give or take. Let’s presume that the visiting symphonies would foot half of their cost in making the trip. That’s $750,000 for two orchestras. Round it up to $1 million to be safe.

The venue could be Heinz Hall or it could be Point Park — depending on the weather. The price of tickets would be extremely reasonable.

Why not consider it a loss leader to encourage cultural tourism and attract symphony lovers to Pittsburgh when the weather’s beautiful and the three rivers and the Cultural District are alive with activity?

Douglas Heuck

A journalistic innovator, Heuck has been writing about Pittsburgh for 25 years, as an investigative reporter and business editor at The Pittsburgh Press and Post-​Gazette and as the founder of Pittsburgh Quarterly. His newspaper projects ranged from living on the streets disguised as a homeless man to penning the only comprehensive profile in the latter years of polio pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk to creating a statistical means of judging regional progress that has led to similar projects across the country. Heuck’s work has won numerous national, state and local writing awards. His work has been cited in the landmark media law case “Food Lion vs. ABC news.”

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