Who needs these overpriced soloists?

Who needs these overpriced soloists?


norman lebrecht

February 01, 2011

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra are coming on a European tour this summer. For what I heard when I was there in November, the orchestra are very pleased with conductor Manfred Honeck and sounding as good as they have done in half a lifetime.

The stations on their tour will include Paris, Berlin, the Beethovenfest in Bonn and (yet to be confirmed) the BBC Proms. And the money is coming from the Pittsburgh region, which needs to raise its international profile.
What puzzles me is this. The tour is about the orchestra. The orchestra is in great shape. Why, then, pay a fortune for two of the most expensive soloists on the circuit – mesdames Anne-Sophie Mutter and Hélène Grimaud – neither of whom gets out of wraps for less than $30,000 and both of whom frequently appear in all the cities where the Pitts will appear?
Do Pittsburgh lack the confidence to play without an expensive dame on stage? Or is the music industry so chicken it won’t dare to present a good band without fancy dressing?
Form where I sit, booking star soloists who add no discernible value acts as a detriment to the orchestra and waste of its sponsors’ money. Agree?
Honeck with Anne-Sophie (picture: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Here’s the press release:

Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Europe 2011


The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and his
Music Director Manfred Honeck are
returning to Europe from 23 August to 12
September 2011
. They will be appearing at 12 concerts in 9 cities including
Rheingau Music Festival, Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, Grafenegg Festival,
Musikfest Berlin, Beethovenfest Bonn, Lucerne Festival, Paris and Vilnius,
Lithuania. Additional performances
in the UK will be announced at a
later date.


Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Hélène Grimaud will be joining the
orchestra on tour. Programme highlights will include Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.
5, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, Mendelssohn’s
Violin Concerto and Rihm’s Violin Concerto.


Europe with our wonderful musicians is always a special experience for me,” says
Music Director Honeck. “It is fantastic to create music with our world-class
orchestra in some of the finest music halls in the


“I am
excited to return to the music capitals in Europe with the Orchestra and Manfred
Honeck, who both received tremendous accolades on their previous tour”, says
Lawrence Tamburri, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
“Honeck is a master of the core Austro-German repertoire, which historically is
part of the PSO heritage.”


will also continue its partnership with the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance as an
ambassador for the Pittsburgh region in Europe. In 2006, the PSO and the
Pittsburgh Regional Alliance formed a partnership to leverage the world-class
reputation of the orchestra to market the Pittsburgh region to potential
investors. This first-in-the-nation model has resulted in positive business
investment activity for the region: The management consulting and IT company
SYCOR chose to locate their North American headquarters in Pittsburgh, Delta
Airlines decided to begin direct flights from Pittsburgh to Paris and several
other projects have emerged from the partnership.



26 August              

Rheingau Musik Festival, Wiesbaden


27 August                  

Schleswig-Holstein Musik


















Musikfest Berlin



PR² classic – Kreuznacher Str. 63 – 50968

Tel: +49 221 38 10 63 – Fax: +49 221 38 39 55



  • Marie Lamb says:

    Although some people making the decisions must think that the expensive soloists are necessary, I think that the PSO is fine without them, and that people would attend the concerts even without the added star power. WCNY-FM carries their weekly broadcasts, and there is plenty of interest in them because of their quality. Our PD is very impressed with the high performance standards and with the well-produced shows, and I agree that they’re doing a fine job with Honeck at the helm. While some listeners e-mail me to request Pittsburgh’s broadcast schedules, the interest is in what the orchestra will be playing; nobody asks us who the soloists will be. In times like these, an orchestra that is already one of the finest in North America doesn’t need such artificial respiration to fill the seats on an already expensive tour. Nothing against the ladies, but IMHO, the money could be put to better use toward the orchestra’s future. This is a subject that concerns me, since in Syracuse our symphony orchestra must raise $375,000 by the end of this week to finish its 50th season, and a total of $1.75 million by August to stay in business for next season and beyond. And this is *after* they cut the length of the season and abandoned a performance of the Mahler 5th due to lack of funds! While Pittsburgh has deeper pockets than the SSO, it seems to me that all orchestras need to think down the road in a time when money is so tight.

  • JohnofOz says:

    Perhaps its just the promoters. i asked the question of the Australian Youth Orchestra last year. Why did they tour with a foreign singer? Promoter demands for high profile soloists, it seems. The Chinese said they wanted Lang Lang! Too expensive of course. But it does seem strange to me that the AYO cannot find an internationally acclaimed Australian singer to tour with.
    Where’s Cheryl when you need her?

  • Brian Wise says:

    There was a study out last year that found that classical audiences make their ticket-buying decisions based much more on repertoire than star soloists. I can’t remember the source of the study offhand but it suggested that seeing “Beethoven’s 5th” on a brochure or web site means more than X soloist or Y conductor.
    Pittsburgh may be concerned that they don’t have the name recognition on their own to fill European halls, thus the decision to hire high-priced soloists.

  • Warrior Princess says:

    We had no US orchestras at last year’s Proms, so the arrival of the Pittsburgh (a most excellent bend, IMO) would be very welcome. They certainly have ‘name recognition’ as far as most of the Prommers are concerned! Honestly, we don’t need the distractions of Ms. Mutter or Ms Grimaud, talented though these players are. I’d much prefer a jolly good performance from the orchestra!

  • William H. says:

    The current “star” system may have always been thus, but in these times it just seems ludicrous for the big name soloists to keep on reaping $30k fees and the like, admittedly much of which goes to management agencies, when the orchestras are in such financially shaky straits. Can’t they lower their fees to reflect these less than flush times for the arts that they purport to represent, and thus leave their colleagues a little more coin for their efforts. Or for that matter, to allow a little break to some audience members who are less able to afford the tickets to concerts in their economic situations.
    I don’t question the desire to program works like major concerti, but whatever became of the idea of using younger, up and coming young talent that haven’t been hyper-hyped with obligatory breathless media interviews and fancy photo-shoots? Why not give these younger artists a chance to show themselves, and at much more reasonable fees to the orchestra they perform with? It may be naive, but wouldn’t it be great for some of us in the audience to say we saw so-and-so BEFORE they became such huge superstars?
    And for that matter, what about the idea of letting the orchestra personnel (Concertmasters or the Principals, pianists excepted) perform in concerti with their own colleagues? Many of these artists are fully capable of performing at such levels, and the orchestras might be very proud to show them off.

  • Alas, if I had the $30,000.00 (each) I’d pay it too!

  • Carl Bly says:

    I am a musician and I choose which concerts I attend in Washington DC by what the literature is, not the soloist. There are so many great works that need to be heard and are not regularly performed you do not have to have a concerto on the program!

  • AVI says:

    Agree to the general point, musically in particular.
    But sponsors and promoters often have a desire to showcase the best talent; audiences often wish to see the best talent. Inevitably that tends to mean high fees to the top players. Corporate sponsors in particular may wish to be associated with super-talent; the extra cost is small compared to the superior brand association. That’s not a waste of money for them at all.
    If AHS & HG often appear in the same cities the Pitts are touring to, does their presence on this tour somehow legitimise the Pitts for the audience?
    A super soloist can often rescue a poor or average orchestral performance (and vice-versa of course). A younger, more inexperienced, or less talented soloist may tend to succumb to external pressures or be pulled into an average band performance. On a tour there are bound to be a couple of concerts which aren’t quite as good as the rest (sadly) – why is another topic altogether! – so possibly booking stars like this may give a “better chance” of achieving good reviews throughout the tour and enhancing the orchestra’s reputation around Europe?