“It is a great joy that so many of the concerts of the fantastic André Previn era have been saved and are available to the public through the PSO Archives for many generations to come.”

Melia Tourangeau, president and CEO, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Into the PSO Archives

Digitized Concert Recordings: 1976-1984


Andre Previn Photo Collage

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Historical & Archival Records Care Grant


The Pittsburgh Symphony was generously awarded matching funds to digitize 300 reel-to-reel recordings made during André Previn’s tenure as Music Director. The recordings include concerts led by André Previn and 21 other conductors of that era, including Michael Tilson Thomas. This project was supported by a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Historical Archives and Records Care Grant, a program funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The award from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission was announced in December of 2019. The project, originally scheduled to take place during the 2020-2021 season, was delayed due to COVID-19.

This project to preserve and provide access to at-risk historic concert recordings began with the Pittsburgh Symphony Archivist prioritizing reel-to-reel tapes for digitization based on physical condition and the artistic content of each recording. The selection sought to capture both well-known works, as well as rarely-performed compositions. Data about each tape was carefully documented, and the reels were transported to the vendor for treatment and digitization by audio engineers specializing in the conservation of magnetic media. The original reels were returned to the PSO Archives along with the audio files of the digitized content.

While the amount of Symphony concert recordings number in the thousands, this grant project focused on concerts captured between 1976 and 1984 when the late André Previn was Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony. This grant allowed the PSO Archives to make a significant step forward in the ongoing work to digitize and preserve Symphony concerts recorded on at-risk and inaccessible formats.

André Previn

Music Director

1976 - 1984


André Previn became Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1976, following Dr. William Steinberg’s more than 20 years in the position. Not only did Previn bring a fresh perspective to the role, but he also brought his connections to Hollywood and interest in jazz music into the Symphony’s traditional classical sphere. Pittsburgh audiences responded enthusiastically to this newcomer. Season subscriptions and concerts sold out. Under Previn’s tenure, the Pittsburgh Symphony signed a recording contract with Angel/EMI and began recording commercially once again. Previn took the Symphony on its first European tour in 14 years in 1978. The Pittsburgh Symphony also gained national attention through the acclaimed Previn and the Pittsburgh series, which aired on PBS stations across the United States. Under his artistic direction, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was nominated for its first GRAMMY® award. André Previn’s time as Music Director marked a new era for the Symphony, one worth preserving for future generations.

Digitization Process


In order to preserve and provide access to historic audio, the Pittsburgh Symphony Archives recognized the urgent need to digitize reel-to-reel recordings made during André Previn’s tenure as Music Director (1976-1984). The recordings of the live concerts at Heinz Hall were often the only existing copy of this audio. Due to lack of playback equipment and the fragile condition of the reels, most of this audio had not been heard in over two decades. The audio was at risk due to the formula used in the manufacturing of many of these tapes. These tapes were particularly susceptible to “sticky shed syndrome,” or binder hydrolysis, making the need for professional digitization, with the ability to temporarily reverse the hydrolysis, imperative. The reels suffered from additional condition issues such as stepped packs, spoking and curling of the tape. It was extremely time sensitive to treat and transfer these recordings before further deterioration caused the audio to be irretrievable.

The Pittsburgh Symphony partnered with The MediaPreserve to treat and transfer the reel-to-reel recordings. At their facility, reels suffering from binder hydrolysis were treated in a special laboratory oven in a process known as baking the tapes. This temporary solution exposed the tapes to low heat over a long-time span to drive off moisture. This allowed the technicians a single play-through to capture the audio in the new format. Once digitized, the original reels were returned for continued preservation within the PSO Archives. The audio files created from the transfer included a preservation master file and an access copy, following internationally-recognized standards for audio digitization. These recordings are now accessible within Heinz Hall to the public.

For access to the recently digitized historic audio at Heinz Hall, contact the Pittsburgh Symphony Archives to make an appointment.


Historic Pittsburgh Symphony Concert Recordings: 1976-1984


Listen to selections digitized as part of the Pittsburgh Symphony's recently completed Historical & Archival Records Care Grant:


October 22, 1976

Conductor: Rafael Kubelik Composer: Bedrich Smetana Work: “The Moldau,” No. 2 from Má vlast

February 13, 1977

Conductor: André Previn Composer: Sergei Prokofiev Work: Classical Symphony, Opus 25

September 10, 1977

Conductor: André Previn Composer: Richard Strauss Work: Ein Heldenleben, Opus 23

October 14, 1977

Conductor: André Previn Composer: Modest Mussorgsky Work: Pictures at an Exhibition

April 8, 1978

Conductor: Emil Tchakarov Composer: Anton Bruckner Work: Symphony No. 4

May 13, 1978 

Conductor: André Previn Composer: Gustav Mahler Work: Symphony No. 4

April 12, 1979

Conductor: Michael Tilson Thomas Composer: Johannes Brahms Work: Symphony No. 2

May 4, 1980

Conductor: André Previn Composer: Sergei Rachmaninoff Work: Symphony No. 3

April 22, 1982

Conductor: Raymond Leppard Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Work: Symphony No. 34

May 6, 1982

Conductor: André Previn Composer: Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Work: Symphony No. 4

May 1, 1983

Conductor: André Previn Composer: Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Work: Symphony No. 5

September 10, 1983

Conductor: André Previn Composer: Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Work: Symphony No. 6

September 29, 1983

Conductor: André Previn Composer: Richard Strauss Work: Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, Opus 59

November 5, 1983

Conductor: Michael Lankester Composer: Gustav Holst Work: “Jupiter” from The Planets

April 21, 1984

Conductor: Michael Lankester Composer: Anton Bruckner Work: Symphony No. 9