Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

Melia Tourangeau, CEO and president of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, looks to lead the ensemble forward after a discordant strike.



(page 1 of 3)


photos by Janelle Bendycki

 

Melia Peters stepped onto the stage of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in a tea-length black dress. As she sat down on the piano bench, she played the first notes of her senior recital at the prestigious music school. She had every reason to feel confident, having nailed the program during the dress rehearsal.

 What she hadn’t predicted, however, was a wardrobe malfunction. As she played her program of Bach, Chopin and Beethoven, the chiffon sleeves of the Laura Ashley dress she wore — a loaner from a friend — slipped off her shoulders, disrupting her rhythm.  

 She froze. Gripped by the stage fright that had dogged her for years, she lost her concentration. The performance in 1994 was bad — and she knew it.

 She kept her composure until she walked backstage. But the minute she saw her parents, she burst into sobs. She felt terrible guilt about the tens of thousands of dollars they had spent on her classical music education. She felt as though she had let them down; her parents were sympathetic.

“You don’t have to do this for a living,” her father consoled her.  “Please understand that.” She knew she didn’t want to become a concert pianist, but what else could she do after all of that education?

As it turned out, that cringe-worthy recital was the start of a career in classical music for the future Melia Peters Tourangeau — but not as a concert pianist. After graduating from the Ohio music school she started down a new path — in the competitive world of symphony orchestra management. She worked her way up to the presidency of the Grand Rapids Orchestra in 2005 before becoming CEO of the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera. Then in May 2015, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra appointed Tourangeau, then 44, as its new CEO and president.

While she no longer has to battle stage fright, Tourangeau has had to deal with some major problems as an administrator — most recently, a bitter and bruising labor battle with 96 PSO musicians and two librarians. For the first time in 41 years, the symphony’s musicians walked out during a 55-day strike that forced the cancellation of most of the orchestra’s fall concerts.

Battle lines were drawn. Fans of the musicians joined the picket lines, wrote letters to newspapers and planted lawn signs showing their support. An unfamiliar face to many Pittsburghers, Tourangeau was pitted against the striking musicians, though she had the backing of the symphony board of  trustees and civic leaders, as well as leaders of city foundations, which provide funding to the orchestra.

She ultimately negotiated a five-year contract with local members of the American Federation of Musicians that cut their salaries in the first year by 10.5 percent — much less than the initial 25 percent and subsequent 15 percent cuts initially proposed by management. And then, after Tourangeau secured a generous donation from an anonymous benefactor, the pay cut was further reduced to 7.5 percent for the first year.

The musicians also agreed to switch from a defined pension plan paid for by the PSO to a 401(k) plan in the fourth year of the contract. As part of the cost-cutting, Tourangeau agreed to cut her own salary. When she arrived at the PSO, she was paid $400,000 — a salary she says was “the median salary for the top 25 orchestras in the country.”

During the strike talks, she offered to take a 15 percent pay cut in solidarity with the musicians. “After the settlement, the board felt that my reduction should match the musicians’ 10.5 percent reduction,” making it $358,000. “That puts my salary second to the lowest of the top 25 orchestras,” she wrote in an email.  “Even with this reduction, we are realizing an administration expense savings of over 15 perfect with our other staff changes.”

Tourangeau’s handling of the strike earned praise from the chairman of the PSO board. “She showed good leadership in a very stressful situation,” says Devin McGranahan. “Emotions ran high. We have her to thank that it only lasted [55] days and not a lot longer.”

But Meredith Snow, chairperson of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, sees it differently. Snow, whose organization advocates for members of the American Federation of Musicians, says she is concerned about the long-term impact of salary cuts on the stature of the PSO and its ability to attract top musicians from around the world.

The 7.5 percent pay cut knocked the PSO out of the country’s top 10 orchestras in terms of salary, an elite group made up of what musicians consider to be “destination orchestras.” Before their pay cut, according to Snow’s organization, Pittsburgh’s symphony musicians had a minimum salary of $107,238, which put it 10th among U.S. orchestras, between Cleveland and Cincinnati. But a post-strike minimum salary of $99,196 drops them to 12th place, behind Cincinnati and Dallas.  

Being knocked out of the top 10 symphonies “was a blow,” says Snow.

“What’s most frustrating is that it takes decades for orchestras to build themselves up to that stature. Then within the short span of a month or two, the management says, ‘We are going to cut.’ Why would you undercut the very product you’re trying to market? Management views it as replacing one cog for another. It ignores the artistry and subtlety. It takes years to create one voice out of 100 instruments.”

​Tourangeau counters that high musician salaries alone do not make or maintain a top-tier orchestra. “It involves recruiting and retaining the best talent. It’s touring internationally and being invited to the best venues in Europe,” she says. “We’re winning Grammy nominations — that’s how you qualify as a top-tier orchestra.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

PIT Turns to CMU to Make Airport Smartest in the World

The airport authority will use minds at CMU to discover ways to make it easier for passengers to get from the terminal’s parking lots to their seat on the plane.

Celebrate August Wilson's Birthday With a King and a Block Party

The ninth play in the 10-part Pittsburgh Cycle will open outside at the August Wilson House.

First Look: Soju in Garfield

Simon Chough’s Korean restaurant is six years in the making.

I Feel Pretty Isn't What You're Expecting (And That's Okay)

Reviews of "I Feel Pretty" and "Super Troopers 2," plus a rundown of events at the Pittsburgh Underground Film Festival.

Get Your Clark Bars While You Can – They May Soon Be Gone

Production of Pittsburgh native candy bar may halt if the current producer cannot find a new buyer.

Coughlin's Law Wants To Be Your Mount Washington Destination

Notes on the busy new bar and restaurant near Grandview Avenue.

The 2018 Return of the Burgh-y Mother's Day Gift Guide

It's back! From the dog mom to the working mom, we've got you covered with these locally made must-haves.

Patriot Games Can’t Diminish Harrison’s Place in Steelers History

James Harrison intimidated opposing players in a way not seen since the days of Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene.

Bruno Sammartino Dies; Wrestling's Longtime Champ Was 82

The Italian-born star died surrounded by family in his adopted home of Pittsburgh.

It’s Road Repaving Season in Pittsburgh. Is Your Street on the List?

The City of Pittsburgh has finalized its street paving plan for 2018. You’re one click away from finding out if your street or route to work is on the list.

Three Rivers Champion: James S. Perry

Perry combined his love for athletics and volunteerism to create a youth athletic association that at its height provided organized softball and baseball to more than 350 boys and girls.

Three Rivers Art Festival Brings Music and New Art For 59th Summer

Point State Park, Gateway Center and sites across the Cultural District will host free, world-class art and events during this year’s 10-day festival.

Sound of Silence: Century III to be Sold at Sheriff's Sale

The nearly 40-year-old mall encounters foreclosure once again. Will this sale be the end of the line?

Pittsburgh Riverlife President & CEO Vivien Li Resigns

Li is returning to Boston to be with family members who are in declining health.

The Best Ways to Reuse and Repurpose Wedding Decor

From new decor in the home to donations to charity, check out these ways to repurpose leftover wedding decor.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


PIT Turns to CMU to Make Airport Smartest in the World

PIT Turns to CMU to Make Airport Smartest in the World

The airport authority will use minds at CMU to discover ways to make it easier for passengers to get from the terminal’s parking lots to their seat on the plane.

Comments

Celebrate August Wilson's Birthday With a King and a Block Party

Celebrate August Wilson's Birthday With a King and a Block Party

The ninth play in the 10-part Pittsburgh Cycle will open outside at the August Wilson House.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
First Look: Soju in Garfield

First Look: Soju in Garfield

Simon Chough’s Korean restaurant is six years in the making.

Comments

New Chefs Coming to Smallman Galley

New Chefs Coming to Smallman Galley

Smallman Galley will rotate its third class of chef/owners this June … but this time there’s a twist.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 2018 Return of the Burgh-y Mother's Day Gift Guide

The 2018 Return of the Burgh-y Mother's Day Gift Guide

It's back! From the dog mom to the working mom, we've got you covered with these locally made must-haves.

Comments

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

A coffee shop, an iconic landmark, an airport and beyond — these are the best places to practice the art of people watching.

Comments


Coughlin's Law Wants To Be Your Mount Washington Destination

Coughlin's Law Wants To Be Your Mount Washington Destination

Notes on the busy new bar and restaurant near Grandview Avenue.

Comments

Smallman Galley Goes 3D With Its New Cocktail Menu

Smallman Galley Goes 3D With Its New Cocktail Menu

The bar team at the Strip District restaurant incubator continues its flights of fancy with Flashback Flavors.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Patriot Games Can’t Diminish Harrison’s Place in Steelers History

Patriot Games Can’t Diminish Harrison’s Place in Steelers History

James Harrison intimidated opposing players in a way not seen since the days of Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene.

Comments

Penguins Seeking 3-Peat With The Swagger of a Champion

Penguins Seeking 3-Peat With The Swagger of a Champion

The power play, star power and goaltending are among the primary weapons the Penguins have at their disposal in their quest for another championship. But so, too, is an unshakable belief they can hoist Lord Stanley's Cup three times in a row.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
I Feel Pretty Isn't What You're Expecting (And That's Okay)

I Feel Pretty Isn't What You're Expecting (And That's Okay)

Reviews of "I Feel Pretty" and "Super Troopers 2," plus a rundown of events at the Pittsburgh Underground Film Festival.

Comments

Despite The Rock, Rampage Is a Wild Misfire

Despite The Rock, Rampage Is a Wild Misfire

A review of "Rampage," plus an update on the former Friends of the Hollywood Theater and other local movie news.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Best Ways to Reuse and Repurpose Wedding Decor

The Best Ways to Reuse and Repurpose Wedding Decor

From new decor in the home to donations to charity, check out these ways to repurpose leftover wedding decor.

Comments

How Lucky Socks Played a Key Role in Couple’s Wedding

How Lucky Socks Played a Key Role in Couple’s Wedding

A pair of puffin socks played a big role in this Pittsburgh couple’s relationship — and, in a surprise move by their pastor, their wedding.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Toll Gate Revival Gearing Up for New Location, New Experience

Toll Gate Revival Gearing Up for New Location, New Experience

The vintage décor and reclaimed materials business owned by Seth Hunter will open in a larger Lawrenceville warehouse next month.

Comments

Take a Sneak Peek at Our 2018 Ultimate House

Take a Sneak Peek at Our 2018 Ultimate House

Tours of Empire on Liberty, a one-time furniture and carpet warehouse in Bloomfield turned into a mixed-use structure, take place this month. The tour includes a look at the penthouse and two condos.

Comments