New Leadership

Pittsburgh's two signature cultural institutions -- the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra -- each announced new leadership within the last week. As everyone in Steelers Nation knows by now, Mike Tomlin, non-Pittsburgher, will take over the football team. And as everybody in the symphonic equivalent of Steelers Nation now knows (what would that be called, anyway?), Manfred Honeck, also (as it happens) a non-Pittsburgher, will become the new music director of the PSO.

The selections have some things in common, in addition to the fact that both men are non-natives. Both are reported to have uncommon charisma. Both have reputations that have earned them raves around their respective professions. And despite the high public regard for both, they aren't quite frontrunners when it comes to job openings. Pittsburgh has picked up a couple of up-and-comers.

Some interesting differences emerge, however, from the two searches.

The Steelers played this close to the vest, as professional sports teams typically do: So far as the public was aware, the interview committee consisted of Art Rooney, Dan Rooney, and Kevin Colbert. Were the players consulted? As is the custom, apparently not -- and a few players quietly let it be known that they would have preferred to play for someone else.

With the PSO, however, Honeck came in for a workout, er, tryout -- again, industry-standard practice -- and his performance blew the players away.
Dick Simmons, chairman of the board of trustees and a major PSO benefactor, said, "In the 16 years I have been associated with this orchestra, I have never heard the overwhelming endorsement of a conductor by the musicians, and that includes some pretty high-level conductors."

And (industry practice) again, the players were formally represented on the PSO search committee.

Industry traditions and practices are always different. But I have to suspect that the players' endorsement of the new PSO music director -- in fact, their participation in the selection process -- means easier acceptance and faster success for Honeck. Tomlin has won over the Rooneys; with the fans, it's going to be just win, baby.


1 Response to "New Leadership"

Jonathan Potts said... 1/25/2007 11:55 AM

I could be completely wrong, but I'm guessing the average PSO musician will have a longer tenure with the orchestra than the average Steeler will have playing in Pittsburgh. Free agency means that many marquee (sp?) players leave after only a few years, and the Rooneys are particularly unsentimental in letting key players walk. So picking a coach with the players' input would have short-term value but not much in the long run.

On the other hand, there was a case to be made that Ken Whisenhunt's relationship with Ben Roethlisberger, the team's franchise quarterback, should have made him the frontrunner. Of course, had Cowher retired three years ago, picking a coach based on his rapport with Tommy Maddox would have turned out to be have been rather short-sighted.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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