Pittsburgh enters 7th year without a concertmaster

Pittsburgh enters 7th year without a concertmaster


norman lebrecht

May 22, 2022

The Pittsburgh Symphony has hired five new players, but its viola section is still depleted and its concertmaster’s seat has been vacant for six whole seasons.

The music director Manfred Honeck is brother of the Vienna Philharmonic concertmaster.

Has he set the bar too high?

Or is the pay too low?

One guest concertmaster after another has failed to het signed.


  • Petros Linardos says:

    We should not underestimate the importance of a good concertmaster. Nevertheless: cynics might point out that even without one, the Pittsburg Symphony under Honeck has been making first class recordings in recent years.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    King Arthur and the Sword
    Siegfried and the Horn
    Alexander and the Guardian Knot
    An anonymous violinist and the Concertmaster of the PSO?

  • Axl says:

    In Kansas city and Houston it took quite long also in successor cases Geller and Huang, but they get great appointments. So there’s hope 🙂

    And in Pittsburgh’s case it was also a decade when they try find successor to Robert Langevin as new principal flute. So this isn’t first time in there. And it’s obvious that Mr. Honeck want to find high quality player who is the best match to them

  • Stuard Young says:

    Who have been the guest concertmasters? Amazing that the Pittsburgh Viola section is so depleted. There are very strong string programs in Pennsylvania, with some of the finest teachers in the country, not more than 6 hours from Pittsburgh by car. That radius takes in Nee York, Philadelphia, and Cleveland, additionally to Pittsburgh itself. Must be money? (and shaky job security?)

    • D says:

      One of the guest concertmasters in recent years has been the brilliant young Alexi Kenney. In his case, instead of hiring him permanently for the first chair, they ended up engaging him as a soloist instead; he made his solo debut with Pittsburgh this past weekend in Bartók’s 2nd concerto, to great acclaim.

  • Chicagorat says:

    READER DISCRETION ADVISED – The following post contains crude language that could hurt the sensitivities of some readers and viola players. Do not read if you are easily offended.


    This is such an extraordinarily odd problem to have, especially when Pittsburgh’s neighbors in the windy city have very recently demonstrated how to conduct proper auditions.

    Mr. Lebrecht is asking the right question. Why is Maestro Honeck setting the bar so high? He has already surpassed and even humiliated Chicago, earned all Midwestern bragging rights, and securely established his orchestra in the US top five along with Philly, New York, Cleveland and LA. Relax and enjoy what you have achieved, and start building bench strength for rainy days.

    • perturbo says:

      Cleveland hasn’t had a concertmaster in the years since Preucil was fired in 2018. First Associate Concertmaster Peter Otto has done the job since then–not sure if there have been guest concertmasters.

  • chris says:

    The concertmaster’s job is one of the highest paid positions in the orchestra .
    By bringing in ” guest concertmasters ”
    for all of their subscription concerts the
    orchestra has been saving itself hundreds of
    thousands of dollars annually…. Which is exactly
    their intentions !

    • MacroV says:

      I doubt much money is saved. You probably have to pay a guest CM more than the weekly rate for a permanent one (quantity discount if it’s a full-time gig), and if the Assoc. CM is in the role, there’s probably premium pay for that. And if it’s a big piece, you might have to hire an extra to fill out the first violin section.

    • Greg Takacs says:

      Especially during this Covid period we are living through. Attendance is down, to this day.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    Imagine how much money PSO and BSO are saving each year without the highest paid player.
    I suspect that’s worth mentioning.

    • Sar Peladan says:

      Yes, but who is doing the bowings and leading sectionals?

      • Oliver says:

        An associate Concertmaster can do the bowings for a new piece or one that the orchestra has not played before. As for sectionals, they are extremely rare at that level of orchestral playing and mostly for new and extremely difficult works. Plus, they are conducted either by the music director or an assistant conductor. The Concertmaster is mostly important for presence, inspiration, reliability and super high quality playing. And importantly, for translating into technical terms what the conductor asks for during rehearsals.

        • Greg Takacs says:

          Concertmaster occasionally “conducts” an orchestra, if the guest conductor is really bad.

      • OverYNS says:

        Haha. Sectionals

  • Douglas Quigg says:

    Don’t you mean ‘concertmaster seat’ as opposed to ‘eat’?

    • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

      Indeed that is a large part of the problem.

      The orchestra audition committee has eaten all the concertmaster candidates as part of the final audition process and now they can’t find anyone to audition.

  • chet says:

    1) The bar has indeed been set way high, the prior concertmaster went on to be the concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, so if Honeck is waiting for the next guy in Pittsburgh who can also fill in in Berlin, he’s waiting for Godot.

    2) Either the Pittsburgh violin section is so cohesive and the orchestra is so integrally organized that it doesn’t need a concertmaster, or a concertmaster is just just overrated and overpaid when he’s just another principal player like all principal players.

  • chet says:

    Without a concertmaster, the violin section can fall apart spectacularly, as it happened in Paris recently


    Paris has been looking for 2 years and has held 4 separate auditions each trying out 8 to 12 serious candidates some sitting in as invited concertmasters and has yet to announce they’ve found one they are satisfied with.

    So for Pittsburgh about to go 7 seasons without is remarkable.

    Honeck, a viola player from the Vienna Philharmonic, must be doing double duty as conductor and concertmaster, indicating bowing etc to the violins.

    But a conductor can only do so much, even with van Zweden, who was concertmaster at the Concertgebouw, the Paris first violins still fell apart during the above performance and the absence of a permanent concertmaster who knows his section well must have been a big factor.

    • Music lover says:

      Orchestre de Paris does not match the level of the PSO. As one conductor with very close ties to the Orchestre de Paris candidly told me recently… They have fantastic players, but like their national football team, lots of stars who don’t play together

      • John Kelly says:

        In other words, a typical Parisian orchestra…………

      • BP says:

        Would that be the world champion football team ?

      • chet says:

        The Orchestre de Paris certainly does not pay like Paris Saint Germain.

        The concertmaster is paid around 84 000€ (which is shockingly low even among European orchestras).

        Messi and Neymar are each paid 75 Million € (which is shockingly high even among European clubs).

        But of course, concertmasters get multi-million endorsements from tuxedo companies and bow makers ; ) ha ha ha

  • Phil Greenfield says:

    Boston didn’t hire a concertmaster last year, and hasn’t named anyone so far after their 2nd round of auditions held earlier this spring. Cleveland hasn’t named a new one either, nor has Detroit. Are they all playing the money game? Has the position become superfluous in the modern orchestral world? I’m not sure what to think, other than that the notion that a great orchestra can’t find a qualified leader for its string section–if it really wants one–is absurd.

    • Sar Peladan says:

      Considering what is going on with some instruments, perhaps no one is really good enough anymore?

    • Joel Stein says:

      The BSO has not really had a concertmaster since 2018 when Malcolm Lowe was injured-this year the other long time first chair violinist was gone most of the year.

    • In the know says:

      It’s common knowledge that Boston is trying very hard to convince Mr. Pittsburgh – Berlin to move to Boston…

    • Greg Takacs says:

      All are saving cash.

  • Andrew Clark says:

    Pittsburgh really has been sounding very good as an ensemble on recordings and in person. Hoenick really has done a fine job there.

  • Peter says:

    Clearly these orchestras are looking for the most outstanding violinist they can find, and the process of bringing in guest concertmasters is to find someone who can lead, blend in with the section, and can command the respect of the orchestra.
    That aside, why is there a picture of the Pittsburgh SO on strike?

  • chris says:

    Robert Chen , Frank Huang , Robyn Bollinger , Yoonshin Song , Noah Bendix-Balgley and Alexi Kenney have all been frequent ” guest concertmasters ” – and that’s not a bad thing ! In fact it’s kind of
    fun seeing who the mystery concertmaster will be each week – you
    don’t know who it’s going to be until you open
    up your program booklet ! In the olden
    days of the PSO the orchestra would gather on stage , the lights would dim ,
    the audience would get silent …and then
    the concertmaster – Fritz Siegal – would come out to a round of applause and
    would take a solo bow before beginning
    to tune the orchestra ….. But not anymore !

    • David K. Nelson says:

      I did not expect to see a reference to Fritz Siegal in these comments! His tenure as Pittsburgh’s concertmaster was over 20 years.

      He was already a concertmaster at age 19 (Illinois Symphony), then later (1950 or so) Chicago’s Grant Park Symphony and a local radio orchestra. I think he also served the Boston Pops as concertmaster for a time.

      In 1959 he became concertmaster in Waukesha WI (at a time when there really was no Milwaukee Symphony) succeeding Herman Clebanoff. Not so many years earlier the concertmaster had been the (once) famous child prodigy Florizel von Reuter whose stand partner was my first teacher, so I heard a lot about Seigal at my early lessons. Reuter mentions Siegal’s “tremendous technique” in his autobiography.

  • freddynyc says:

    Apparently the bar wasn’t set too high in the case of the NY Phil’s current concertmaster……

  • Dietmar says:

    Too many bad viola jokes???