Former Music Director Lauded for Launching Orchestra into a New Era

February 28, 2019

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PITTSBURGH, PA—The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra joins the world in mourning the loss of André Previn, its beloved music director from 1976 to 1984.

“André Previn was a musical genius, a revolutionary figure who came to Pittsburgh and launched the symphony into a remarkable new era of international acclaim,” said Melia Tourangeau, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. “We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and all who enjoyed his music around the world.”

“It is with tremendous sadness that I learned this afternoon of the passing of the great Maestro André Previn. The world has lost a true musical legend and the symphony has lost a close and dear friend. I was so fortunate to play under his baton many times as a member of the Vienna Philharmonic and recall his gentle approach. He was humorous, friendly and a natural partner in music-making,” said Manfred Honeck, Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. “When the symphony played at Carnegie Hall, Maestro Previn came backstage to share how happy and pleased he was to hear the outstanding playing of the orchestra. My heart goes out to his family and to all of the musicians he touched over the years. He will be greatly missed.”

“I have no doubt that I was incredibly fortunate to start my career in the United States with a bona fide genius on the podium. I had so much respect for his musical talent which went far beyond his conducting. He and I shared a love of jazz, which we discussed fairly often,” said Harold Smoliar, Principal English Horn. “He had the most incredible sense of humor. Working with him was a high point of my career.”

Previn is widely credited for launching a new era for the symphony after his arrival in 1976. He told the Pittsburgh Symphony’s former Vice-President for Artistic Planning Robert Moir, “When I arrived for the first rehearsal, the musicians were tuning and doing the thing with the reeds and all that. And I suddenly had a moment of absolute pleasure. I thought, ‘That’s my orchestra. They’re tuning for me.’  I couldn’t get over it. It was so wonderful.”

Previn’s direction brought sold-out houses, the addition of a Thursday night series and a new recording series. He launched Previn and the Pittsburgh, a string of award-winning specials produced by WQED-TV, which ran for three years and became the highest-rated classical music series on PBS at the time. It showcased the diversity of the conductor’s musical interests, talents and friends, including the symphony’s former Principal Keyboard Patricia Prattis Jennings, and featured guest artists like John Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Yo-Yo Ma, Stephen Sondheim and Itzhak Perlman. Composer Miklos Rosza appeared as a guest to hear the symphony play his Oscar-winning score for the movie Ben-Hur.

Under Previn’s leadership, in 1977 the PSO signed its first recording contract in eight years. The 1980 Angel release of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, conducted by Previn with soprano Elly Ameling, received a Grammy Award nomination for the year’s Best Classical Recording. Previn would eventually make more than 25 recordings with the symphony. Previn’s wish for a European tour was realized in 1978 (the PSO’s first since 1964), playing in 13 cities as exceptional ambassadors for the city. During his time with the symphony, he composed a Concerto for Harp and Orchestra (March 2008) for Principal Harpist Gretchen Van Hoesen,and Reflections for English Horn, Cello and Orchestra (1982) for Anne Martindale Williams, Principal Cello, and Harold Smoliar, Principal English Horn.

After leaving the symphony, Previn returned regularly to the Heinz Hall stage (more than 20 times). Most recently, he led a subscription week in March 2012 which also included his own Triple Concerto for Trumpet, Horn, Tuba and Orchestra, written for former Principal Trumpet George Vosburgh, Principal Horn William Caballero, and Principal Tuba Craig Knox. A movement from this work was also included in a program in February 2016 as part of the symphony’s 120th anniversary celebration.

Media Contacts
Julie Goetz | Director of Communications
jgoetz@pittsburghsymphony.org | 412.392.4866