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Obit of Seymour Rosen, former head of PSO and national arts institutions

Written by Andrew Druckenbrod on .

The official link to our obit of Seymour Rosen is here, and that will have any updates or additions that I might not get to adding here.


Seymour Rosen

May 8,1925-March 16, 2013

 By Andrew Druckenbrod

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

Seymour Rosen’s 11-year tenure with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was a major part of a long career as a highly respected orchestra executive. His time as managing director here had a long-reaching effect, including overseeing the move from the Syria Mosque to Heinz Hall and the hiring of Andre Previn.

 

Mr. Rosen died of cardiac arrest Saturday in his home Valhalla, NY. He was 87.

 

In the summer of 1967, Mr. Rosen came to Pittsburgh to lead the PSO during a turbulent but optimistic time in the American orchestra field. He guided the PSO to a full-time status, one of only a dozen orchestras that operated for 52 weeks a year.

 

“He really understood how orchestras work,” said his son Jesse Rosen, who followed his father into the field and is now President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras (known as the American Symphony Orchestra League until a few years ago). “He was a manager in the field when the profession was just growing up. He was a part of this movement in the 1960s and ‘70s during which a professional class developed that brought business acumen with discerning musical judgment and artistic purpose.”

 

“He was tough but fair,” said Harold Steiman, a trombone player in the orchestra at the time and later a manager. “There were financial crises, but he would always manage them.”

 

“Mr. Rosen was a strong manager, who kept audience enthusiasm as well as financial stability through difficult times,” said former Post-Gazette classical music critic Robert Croan. “I had much respect for his abilities, although he was known at times for being autocratic and sometimes difficult. Outside the office I found him and his wife charming.”

 

According to the Pittsburgh Symphonhy’s recent book on its history Mr. Rosen, who left Pittsburgh to lead the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1978, presided over many milestones. The number of annual PSO concerts increased from 174 to 259, the annual operating budget rose from $1.5 to $3.5 million, attendance more than doubled, to 500,000-a-year, and season ticket subscriptions tripled. He also established the PSO summer home in Ambler, near Philadelphia and played a large role in moving the home of the PSO from the Syria Mosque in Oakland to Heinz Hall Downtown in 1972.

 

But it is for his role in the change of artistic leadership of the PSO that Mr. Rosen will be most remembered. The first was the unenviable task of getting beloved music director William Steinberg, whose health was failing, to step down.

 

“I felt and the board felt that he could no longer carry the weight of a full season,” he said at the time according to the PSO archives. “It would be unfair to him and the orchestra for him to continue.” Mr. Steinberg officially retired in 1976.

 

Mr. Rosen’s next move made headlines worldwide, the hiring of popular musician and Hollywood star Andre Previn to succeed Steinberg. After Mr. Previn made a big splash in his debut with the PSO Mr. Rosen drove him to the airport and said, “I am going to ask you a question. If you won’t answer it I won’t ask.”

 

“What the hell are you talking about?” asked Mr. Previn. “I’m going to ask you to be new music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra," Rosen said. Mr. Previn took the offer, the board approved it and he had the post in 1976.

 

Born in New York City in 1925, Mr. Rosen studied a double bass and performed professionally as a classical and jazz bass player when still in high school. He attended Queens College for a year before being drafted into the 99th Infantry during World War II. He was wounded and captured in Battle of Bulge in December of 1944 and sent to a German POW camp until he was freed in April 1945. He was later awarded a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

 

Upon his return to the U.S. things moved rapidly both professionally and personally for Mr. Rosen. After knowing Bernice Malkind, a dancer with Martha Graham troupe, for only three days in a summer camp in upstate New York, he proposed to her and they were married soon after. He then enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music, studying bass there from 46-49. After a stint as a freelancer and with the Aeolian American Piano Corp manufacturer in Long Island, he took an American Symphony Orchestra League manager’s training course and in 1961 became manager of Orchestral Society of Westchester, New York. in 1962 he took over Columbus Symphony Orchestra, led the Buffalo Philharmonic from 1963-66 and became American Symphony Orchestra League executive director in 1966.

 

Mr. Rosen's career after departing from the PSO took him to new heights of the classical music field. In 1978  at the age of 52, he took over the top management position in the Philadelphia Orchestra. That post further solidified his stature and in 1982 he was hired by Carnegie Hall as managing and artistic director. In 1986, he left for a position at Arizona State University. In 1989 he founded the Institute for Studies in the Arts there.

 

"[He was] perhaps, the most respected management person in the American performing arts field," wrote Sheldon Morgenstern in his 2001 critique of the business, "No Vivaldi in the Garage: A Requiem for Classical Music in North America."

 

While being at the helm of Carnegie Hall was a highlight of Mr. Rosen’s career – he came on the specific request of famed violinist Isaac Stern – he was most proud of his tenure at the PSO, said his son:

 

“He was an innovator. When he was in Pittsburgh he grew the endowment to the largest in the field and that really represented the development of a strong underpinning of finance in the field. He was able to rally the corporate leaders behind the orchestra. That was a real leadership move on his part.”

 

But Mr. Rosen’s hard work came at a price. “He wasn’t around very much because he was working all the time,” said his son, who was a proficient trombonist who performed with the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra and also attended Juilliard. The family resided in the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Highland Park, Squirrel Hill and Oakland. “But he carved out time, coming to my baseball games and our performances.”

 

Mr. Rosen is survived by his wife Bernice of Valhalla, sister Beverly Scheer of Williamstown, Mass., daughter Judy of Milwood, New York and son Jesse of New York City. Funeral services will be private.

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