One the biggest highlights of my childhood is being part of the orchestra. I first joined a youth chamber orchestra, an orchestra with just stringed instruments, when I was in sixth grade, and after a couple of years moved onto a larger symphony. As I was practicing for auditions, I had several youth symphonies to choose to join in the Bay Area. There were the “better” ones that people always talked about, such as the San Francisco Youth Symphony Orchestra (SFSYO). SFSYO was the orchestra many people wanted to be in because of all the perks. Compared to the other Bay Area symphonies, they were the ones who practiced in the beautiful Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco (the same hall that the San Francisco Symphony performs in), had sponsorship for their tours, and had opportunities to meet well known classical musicians. I don’t want to get into too many details, but you could think of SFSYO as the Porsche of youth orchestras in the Bay Area.
Similarly, there are also Porsches in the professional music world. Some of them are the more notable ones that even non-musicians have heard of, such as the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, and Boston Symphony Orchestra. These symphonies are populated with only the best of the best; auditions for a spot in the orchestra could come once a decade, if not more. The concertmaster, or first chair of the first violin section, of the San Francisco Symphony has held his seat since 2001, and the assistant concertmaster has had her seat since 1990. But what about other orchestras in the nation? There are countless of other great symphonies all over the country that have amazing and talented musicians.
For example, there’s the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) in Pennsylvania. Recently there has been talk, including from the orchestra members, that the orchestra’s reputation might be on the line because of one reason: paycheck cuts. Musicians in the orchestra said that cutting their pay sends a message to the public and other musicians that the orchestra isn’t as “great” as other orchestras, and this turns away potential and current members of the orchestra. The turnover rate would start to increase as the members start to seek other higher-paying orchestras. Moreover, it also could also affect music students’ perspective and cause them to turn elsewhere post-graduation.
As of today, negotiations between the PSO musicians and board of directors are at a stand still. There’s some chatter that they are working towards reaching an agreement, but in the meantime PSO musicians have been putting on their own free concerts while the schedule ones have been cancelled. It’s a nice gesture, what the musicians are doing, and even though it strips the public from the concerts that they were looking forward to, it’s a bold move that brings attention to the importance of funding the arts.