« Mobtown Modern demonstrates enduring appeal of Philip Glass | Main | Baltimore Symphony explores the inner child and outer space in fun program »

January 14, 2011

Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh: Another (musical) side to the rivalry

Sorry, but I’m having a little trouble getting all anti-Pittsburgh this week, even if the rest of Baltimore has turned into a nest of evil-wishers. I can’t help it. I kind of like Pittsburgh. It’s got such a cool location on the rivers, such interesting neighborhoods, such friendly people. Just because they have a football team that isn’t worthy to stand in the same arena as the noble Ravens, there’s no reason to hate all Pittsburghians (Pittsburgh-ites? Pitts-ters?).

But with this football rivalry thing in high gear, I figured it was a good time to see how the two cities’ major classical music teams stack up against each other.

I think it would be neat if the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra could have a real battle of the bands at halftime during Saturday’s big game. That way we’d really find out who can kick Beethoven down the field with the biggest fortissimo. Meanwhile, let’s see how some of the stats measure up.

The BSO and PSO both have music directors with two-syllable first names beginning with ‘Ma-’ – Manfred Honeck in Pittsburgh, Marin Alsop in Baltimore. Spooky. They are both good talkers about music, and they both can generate exciting concerts, but the edge clearly goes to Alsop because – well, ‘A’ comes before ‘H.’ And, besides, at 56, she’s four years older than Manfred, and everyone knows conductors get more distinguished and eminent as they age, so we’re talking a 4-point advantage: Baltimore.

Let’s look at some finances. The PSO has a budget of about

$32 million; the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s is around $25 million. They’ve got 90-something players; we’ve got closer to 80. They pay a base salary of around $100,000; the base at the BSO is closer to $75,000.

So, maybe we’re a little smaller and cheaper. But we’ve still got plenty of strength onstage. When these guys get hold of a big score by Tchaikovsky or Adams, we’re talking Touch Down City.

Remember, the BSO has been in business – uninterruptedly – longer. The PSO got started in 1896, but those guys couldn’t keep their orchestra up. It disbanded in 1910 and didn’t resurface until 1926, a whole decade after the BSO was launched. So there. Take that, Pittsburgh. Advantage: Baltimore.

OK, I know what die-hard Pittsburgh Symphony fans are saying: “Look at our history of music directors, the great names who have graced the podium. What a legacy!” Oh, please. Name one.

Otto Klemperer? Oh, yeah. Well, sure he was a legend. I dare you to name another. Fritz Reiner? Um, OK. Granted, he was a huge, huge deal. William Steinberg? Shut up, already. It's so not-cool to brag.

Besides, back in those supposedly oh-so-glorious Pittsburgh days, the BSO was being led by some amazing luminaries, like Gustav Strube, George Siemonn, Ernest Schelling, Werner Janssen and Massimo Freccia. Never heard of them? Well, no one else has either, outside of Baltimore, but they were every bit the musical equivalents of Joe Flacco. Trust me. When you add in this illustrious past, there's just no contest. Final advantage: Baltimore.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF BSO AND IMG ARTISTS (Manfred Honeck photo by Toshiyuki Urano)

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:59 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: BSO, Classical, Clef Notes


People who hail from the great city of Pittsburgh are commonly referred to as 'Pittsburghers'.

What about Loren Maazel? Andre Previn?

I figured it was better to feign ignorance, since we're often known as Baltimorons. (But I really am a big Maazel fan.) TIM


Even though Fritz Reiner spent ten years in Pittsburgh, it was the ten years conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that made him famous.

Oh, Tim.....

Tim, Tim, Tim, Tim, TIM.......

You forgot (and no one else has mentioned??!??!??) Mariss Jansons.

(Another "Ma-," no less. ;^)

He's another of my personal faves, and he did a GREAT job of maintaining high standards after Maazel moved on. (His Shosty 8th with the Pittsburghers is FANTASTIC -- IMHumO, of course!)

Honeck is sure to be another winner, hopefully for THE long-term; the "three-headed beast" they had running things before he came along was "functional," but Andrew Davis doesn't impress me in ANY way, so that was a BIG "minus." (Janowski wasn't much to brag about, either... -- ooh, there's yet ANOTHER "Ma-" for the collection!!!)

Even though I'm a bleed-Black-&-Gold Steelers fan, I have NO qualms about holding both orchestras in high personal regard! %^)

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected