Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra

Warren Davidson, Music Director, Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra

Q&A with Warren Davidson

By Courtney Tolmer
Endowments Communications Assistant

The Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra has had several names during its 56 years. What was once the Bethel Park Orchestra later became the Carnegie Civic Orchestra, and in 1983 the PCO was born. Volunteer musicians who share a love for classical music perform for audiences throughout Pittsburgh. Music Director Warren Davidson, now in his seventh season with the PCO, describes how the organization has made an impact on the region.

Q: What was your organization’s biggest triumph of the past year?

A: Every performance we present represents an enormous triumph; it is very difficult to choose one over another. Instead, I would say that our biggest triumph is that we continue to grow artistically, to improve the quality of our concerts while staying true to our calling as an amateur orchestra.

Q: What was the biggest trial?

A: The nature of last year’s programming — a celebration of some of Pittsburgh’s ethnic heritages — meant that there were unfamiliar works performed, some of which had special rhythmic challenges. “Sinfonia India” by Mexican composer Carlos Chavez, Bulgarian composer Pancho Vladigerov’s “Vardar Rhapsody and my own arrangement of Serbian music from Kosovo had rhythmic structures quite different from what the orchestral musician finds in the standard German/Italian/French repertoire.

Most symphonic music can be counted in groups of two beats of equal length, like a march, or three beats of equal length, like a waltz. In Bulgarian and Serbian music, it is very common to have patterns of one “short” beat and one “long” beat, or two short and one long, or two short-one long-two short. In short, a very different way of counting than what our musicians are used to. We also expect our rhythm to stay the same for long periods of time and that we will trot along in two or three equal beats for a minute or two or three. Chavez’s “Sinfonia India” violates that expectation by changing the basic rhythms very frequently, jumping back and forth between two beats, three beats and five beats. That’s extremely challenging for any orchestra — and for this conductor. I am happy to say that our orchestra really rose to the challenge!

Q: What issue or event has had the most impact — positive or negative — on your organization in the past year and how have you responded?

A: In February, we held our concert performance, not in our usual venue of Upper St. Clair High School but at St. Bernard Roman Catholic Church in Mt. Lebanon, and instead of our usual Saturday evening performance time, the concert was on Sunday afternoon. The orchestra was positioned right up against the pews, so there was very little distance between the performers and the audience, which made for more intimate communication in both directions. Both orchestra and audience felt that there was a special good feeling about the concert. Also, we believe that we reached some people who had not attended PCO concerts before. As a result, we will present another Sunday afternoon concert at St. Bernard’s this season.

Q: What new initiatives have been started?

A: Small groups of PCO members have begun giving outreach performances in residential facilities. This has been a successful new undertaking, and there is demand for more of these events, so we are working to expand the project, involving more orchestra members and more performances.

Q: As head of this organization, what goals do you have for it next year?

A: Recruit more players for the viola section!

Q: So if your organization were a person, what type of personality would you say it had?

A: Friendly, open-hearted, cooperative. Your favorite aunt or uncle.

Q: What’s one of the biggest misconceptions about your organization?

A: People do not recognize that we are a volunteer orchestra.

Q: Can you share a short story about an incident or event that illustrates the impact you believe your organization is having on your local community or the region?

A: I was approached after a concert by someone I knew, though not well: the mother of an elementary schoolmate of mine, whom I knew to be a piano teacher and church musician. With tears in her eyes, she said it was the first time in years that she had actually loved listening to music. She thought she had lost her love of music entirely, but was deeply moved by our concert.

Q: Could you share a short story about an individual’s experience that captures what your organization is meant to be to the community?

A: Another brief story is about a musician who joined our orchestra recently, and is so very excited to be performing on stage for the first time in eight years. Something had been missing in her life — the process of practicing her instrument, engaging with great music, and working together with other musicians toward the common goal of a public performance — and now she has that joy back.

Author: Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra    Posted: 11/20/2014

All comments and opinions expressed within "In the Spotlight" are those of the authors and not of The Heinz Endowments.
© 2017 The Heinz Endowments