Louisville… Philadelphia… Dallas… the list of US symphony orchestras that are gathering on the precipice of bankruptcy grows longer by the week.
Could Pittsburgh be next? Its president and chief executive, Lawrence Tamburri, walked out of a trustees’ meeting on Monday, saying it was ‘a good time for me to leave’. Right now. Without delay or explanation. That usually means trouble in store.
Tamburri, who had been in charge for seven years, was responsible for hiring the well-liked music director Manfred Honeck and for putting in place an economy plan to stop the constant drain of deficits – $2 million in each of the last two seasons. Honeck, a former Vienna Philharmonic player, told me this summer that as soon as he heard the musicians were being asked to take a pay cut he volunteered the same reduction in his own salary. And when one of his principal players was being lured to Los Angeles, he made damn sure that Pittsburgh matched the deal.
That kind of leadership is rare in US orchestras and, from what I can tell after several phone conversations, the mood in Heinz Hall remains both artistically and organisationally upbeat. Jim Wilkinson, who stepped into Tamburri’s shoes, is a vice-chairman of the board and a steady hand on the tiller. Financially, there is no immediate pressure.
So, why did the prez quit? No-one seems quite sure. Tamburri is a private man with a strong family life. It may just be that he assessed his priorities and decided that now, when there is no crisis and the plan seems to be working, was ‘a good time’ for him to leave. It sometimes happens that way.