Boasting 446 bridges, the city of Pittsburgh is the perfect location for the League of American Orchestras’ 2023 National Conference with its theme of “Bridges to the Future,” as orchestras embrace the opportunities that lie ahead. After all, Pittsburgh sits at the confluence of two rivers that form a third, and that convergence makes it the ideal site for a Conference that is all about the joining of ideas—and the creation of new ones. The team at the Pittsburgh Symphony, this year’s host orchestra, plans to roll out the red carpet (and likely some things in black and gold) to welcome everyone to the Conference.
“The Pittsburgh Symphony looks forward to sharing why our city is one of the country’s hottest destinations and to spending time together in insightful discussion, presentations, and friendship,” says Pittsburgh Symphony President and CEO Melia Tourangeau. Anticipating the Conference, Pittsburgh Symphony Music Director Manfred Honeck adds, “There is nothing like great music—a highly dynamic form of art—to bridge unforgettable connections between people. We are honored to welcome everyone to Pittsburgh to work together for an orchestral future that is even bolder and brighter.”
Here’s a look at just some of what’s in store at the League’s 2023 National Conference.
Inspiring Music and Speakers
The Conference will showcase the power of music to bring comfort and hope in times of challenge. On Wednesday afternoon, June 14, the Opening Session at Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts will feature not one but two youth orchestras: the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra performing Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez led by Music Director Jacob Joyce and the Three Rivers Young Peoples Orchestras playing Umoja, Anthem of Unity for Orchestra by Valerie Coleman under the direction of Music Director and Conductor Brian Worsdale. Since 1974, Three Rivers Young Peoples Orchestras has provided Pittsburgh youth with opportunities to make music outside of schooltime with other musical kids who also love music. The Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra, one of the longest-running youth orchestras in the United States, has been educating and inspiring young musicians as well as dazzling local and international audiences with their performances for nearly 80 years. The promise of seeing the Heinz Hall stage full of young musicians who are committed to training and performing orchestral works, and developing a lifelong passion for music, is a powerful vision of the possibilities of building “Bridges to the Future.”
The Opening Session will feature a keynote address by National Endowment for the Arts Chair Maria Rosario Jackson as well as welcomes from League CEO and President Simon Woods, Tourangeau, Honeck, Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and City of Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Rainey.
At the Conference concert on June 14, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Manfred Honeck’s direction will showcase the depth and vitality of their artistic partnership as well as celebrating works with Pittsburgh roots. Wynton Marsalis’ fanfare Herald, Holler, and Hallelujah (co-commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony) opens the program and is followed by another Pittsburgh Symphony commission, Forging Steel by Stacy Garrop, that will have its world premiere in Pittsburgh just a few days earlier on June 9. The Pittsburgh Symphony concert also showcases the outstanding talent of 20-year-old Spanish violin virtuoso Maria Dueñas, who will take center stage in Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole. Two of the Pittsburgh Symphony’s signature works bring the program to a grand conclusion: Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (1919), as well as an innovative collaboration with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in Ravel’s Bolero featuring original choreography by former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Susan Jaffe, who now heads American Ballet Theatre.
Live music-making is a focal point this year, and on Thursday morning, June 15, Conference delegates will be able to experience a concert presented by UniSound, the alliance of Pittsburgh organizations that provide music education and performance opportunities for youth. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop music, this elective session will feature Guardian of Sound’s “Hip Hop Orchestra,” a music and education project deploying current music through the lens of acoustic and orchestral instruments. Under the leadership of Founding President and Director Michael Chapman, the ensemble includes instrumentalists, singers, and rappers who explore beat-making, produce original music, learn to read and write music with standard notation, and learn arrangements of hip-hop, rock, popular, jazz, and classical music.
Live music-making is a focal point, with performances by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra, Three Rivers Young Peoples Orchestras, and Guardian of Sound’s Hip Hop Orchestra.
A highlight of Thursday afternoon’s Plenary Session will be the presentation of the League’s Gold Baton award to Deborah Borda, followed by a conversation between her and author, narrator, and filmmaker Jamie Bernstein. Stepping down this summer from her second stint as president and CEO of the New York Philharmonic, Borda has not only led two of the nation’s most prominent orchestras through periods of remarkable growth and development, but she has extended the boundaries of what an orchestra can be in the 21st century and been an inspiration to many in the field. During her decades-long career, Borda has held top posts at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Bernstein is an author, narrator, and filmmaker who has transformed a lifetime of loving music into a career of sharing her knowledge and excitement with others. Inheriting her father Leonard Bernstein’s passion for teaching, she has devised new ways of communicating her own excitement about classical music.
The Conference will conclude with a lunch on Friday, June 16 at a Closing Plenary Session featuring two thought-provoking presentations. First, Kiran Singh Sirah, president of the International Storytelling Center, will be interviewed by Jessica Satava, executive director of South Carolina’s Greenville Symphony Orchestra, about his observations on orchestras’ own storytelling during the Conference—and how stories can help build a sense of identity and belonging and instill courage, determination, and perseverance. Then, Byron Stripling, principal pops conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, will wrap up the week with his own personal story of devotion to giving back and the power of music.
On Friday night after the Conference, be sure to stick around for the Pittsburgh Symphony’s 2022-23 Grand Finale Weekend. The Pittsburgh premiere of a newly co-commissioned work by Jessie Montgomery, Transfigure to Grace, opens the program and Dueñas shines once more in Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole. Respighi’s dramatic pictures of Rome—Roman Festivals and The Pines of Rome—bring the program and season to a rousing conclusion.
Pre-Conference Seminars and Conference Elective Sessions
Open to everyone for an extra fee, pre-Conference seminars on Tuesday afternoon, June 13, will engage participants in four-hour explorations of vital topics:
- Kiran Singh Sirah will lead “Storytelling: A Simple Tool for Powerful Change” to help orchestra personnel understand themselves and one another, and shape how they experience the world. This seminar will focus on how orchestras’ stories can help reimagine the past, cultivate greater purpose, build a more vibrant institution, explore collective potential, and connect with new audiences in a changing world.
- Two commissioners from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service—Fulton Mikos and Rick Queer—will present “Collective Bargaining in the Post-Covid Workplace” to help participants understand the dynamics of the current collective bargaining landscape. This seminar will explore the strategic role of the chief spokesperson and the bargaining committee, practical pointers and tips on preparation and planning for bargaining, the stages of bargaining and possible pitfalls that can sabotage the process, and tips on getting to an agreement.
- League Board Chair Doug Hagerman (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra) and League Board Members Marisa Eisemann (Albany Symphony), Bill Gettys (Asheville Symphony Orchestra), and Pat Richards (Utah Symphony | Opera) will lead “High-Performing Governance = Exceptional Orchestras,” focused on developing boards that align their work with their orchestra’s goals and covering the hot topics that are keeping board leaders up at night. This seminar will examine collective and individual responsibilities, building and recruiting a high-functioning board, fiduciary and strategic work, diversity and inclusion, the role of musicians in governance, and fundraising by the board.
New at this year’s Conference will be a Tech Fair, free for everyone on Wednesday morning, June 14. The League will bring together businesses and administrators to facilitate dialogue about how to use new and existing technologies in marketing, data management and customer relationship management, ticketing, online program notes, digital music readers, and audience engagement apps for enhanced learning, experience-building, and optimal day-to-day operations. Delegates will have the opportunity to gain working knowledge of the options and learn about a variety of technological solutions and how peers are incorporating these innovations.
Elective sessions at this year’s Conference will focus on four key strategic action areas, identified by the League through its current strategic planning process as critical for orchestras’ future:
- Redefining audiences, role in community, and relevance
- Accelerating the pace of change in equity, diversity, and inclusion
- Youth development and participation
- Financial and organizational sustainability
Experts from inside and outside the orchestra field will lead elective sessions covering topics that include equitable and inclusive orchestras, non-classical programming, innovation, trends in giving, budgeting, volunteers, orchestra demographics, commissioning, shared services, youth perspectives, and what’s happened in the 30 years since the publication of the landmark Americanizing the American Orchestra study.
Elective sessions at this year’s Conference will examine key strategic action areas for orchestras.
Networking and Learning
Building off the enthusiasm that was generated at last year’s Conference, when delegates enthused about the value and importance of coming back together in person, small-group Constituency Meetings will gather delegates each day by peer group and across constituencies to focus on their most pressing concerns. Whether you are connected to the orchestra field as an executive director, board member, staff member, conductor, musician, or student, there will be agendas designed specifically for you, as well as special networking events, including those for administrators of African, Latinx, Asian, Arab/Middle Eastern, or Native American descent (ALAANA); young professionals; and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA+) attendees.
The League’s Volunteer Council is planning inspiring sessions and networking opportunities for orchestra volunteers from across the country, including presentations by the 2022 Gold Award of Excellence winners, a panel discussion with volunteers and executive directors on leveraging volunteer power, a session focusing on insights on community engagement from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and a fun dining event at an historic restaurant the evening prior to Conference.
As always, the Exhibit Hall will serve as the central gathering point for networking breaks and receptions: a place to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, and visit with Conference exhibitors and sponsors.
Join us in Pittsburgh to address the urgent opportunities and exciting changes we are all facing as we build bridges to the future.
The Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown sits at the point of the Golden Triangle—the picturesque spot where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers come together to form the Ohio. With the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s Heinz Hall, the Conference host hotel is located in the city’s dynamic, walkable Cultural District full of arts and activities. Visit leagueconference.org to learn more.