As I’ve admitted before, I’m a bit of a nerd, about any number of things. I would argue that very few people would endeavor to catalog “interesting” things from Pittsburgh archives without being a bit of a nerd. In any case, one place this extends to is classical music and the orchestra: I played violin through elementary, middle, and high school (though I was never very good) and I attend what is probably more than the usual number of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concerts for a college student. And as it turns out, there is a collection of digitally available Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra posters.
There is a wide variety: some seem to be tour posters, advertising for concerts overseas, while others simply advertise the coming season at home in Pittsburgh. One advertises for a 1964 concert in Tehran, an event that seems unlikely now. It’s written double, in both English and (what I assume is) Persian. Tickets, at 200 rials, are available at the American Embassy and the Hilton Hotel. There is no indication of what they will play on the evenings in Tehran, only the time and place. Another poster, according to its caption, details a concert in Leningrad, USSR in 1989—there is no double writing on this one, only Russian.
An interesting one, pictured above, is the season poster for 1944-45. The imposing face of Fritz Reiner, musical director, stares you down as he peers out over the orchestra. The planned soloists for the season are pictured around the poster, a pianist seated at his piano, several of the violinists holding their instruments. I’m particularly fond of the serious looking man in the bottom image, his violin tucked under his chin, clearly feeling emotion into whatever he’s playing. Again, it doesn’t make any mention of what they will be playing, something I’m used to seeing on any PSO advertisement around town. I am generally interested in what will be played, rather than any soloist—though I will admit to being excited by a note on a poster over the summer that a concert would feature the departed concertmaster of the PSO that my friends and I had fallen in love during my freshman year—so maybe it still is a little bit about who plays. There are only two women soloists featured, both seemingly vocalists.
There is some question here of why. Why preserve these posters? Why digitize them and make them available to the public? Anything that we preserve, one could argue, is significant only insofar as it can tell us something we wouldn’t otherwise know. Without the posters, we wouldn’t know…what? The soloists from the 1944 season? Maybe, but arguably the more interesting thing isn’t what they uniquely tell us, but the thing that they can tell us in a different way. A different relationship with the Middle East and Iran in particular means orchestra concerts in Tehran. A reminder that Leningrad and the USSR really existed as places to visit and perform music.
Maybe that’s enough to make something worth preserving, perhaps. Maybe we keep and find the things that tell us something in a new way, in a more concrete way, than we otherwise would. Maybe these sorts of documents and images can keep culture alive.
(Well, and in this particular season, the posters can tell us that there were actually concerts—the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra walked out in September, and there have been no concerts since).
Check out the full digital catalog of PSO poster
Here’s an interesting discussion of the crazy data and preservation of the New York Philharmonic