Orchestra Spotlight:
The Philadelphia Orchestra

About the Orchestra

The Liberty Bell The Liberty Bell (click to enlarge)

Philadelphia, ‘the City of Brotherly Love,’ was an early capitol of the United States and is the home of the Liberty Bell. It’s a city whose wealth has long been concentrated along a rail corridor (hence the name: Main Line), but it has colorful ethnic neighborhoods (think of South Philly) and has also been the site of fierce racial clashes. The Franklin Institute is in Philadelphia, as is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Academy of Music, the Curtis Institute ... and The Philadelphia Orchestra.

That name says it all: The Philadelphia Orchestra. Three equal words. And those words have come to mean “a product of the highest quality.” The Philadelphia Orchestra.

The orchestra has a rich history and many traditions. As recently as the mid-1970s most of the players were Curtis graduates, every Monday was devoted to recording sessions in the historic Academy of Music, and the players wore business attire on the train to NY, where they performed 8 times a year. But “the times, they are a-changin'," to quote Bob Dylan. Jim Undercofler, the former Dean of the Eastman School of Music (also the birthplace of Polyphonic) is the new President and CEO of The Philadelphia Orchestra. Christoph Eschenbach is stepping down, and Charles Dutoit has a four year appointment as Chief Conductor and Artistic Adviser while the music director search is carried out.

Charles Dutoit Charles Dutoit, Chief Conductor and Artistic Adviser (beginning in the 2008-09 season). Photo Credit: Chris Lee. (Click to enlarge.)

The orchestra’s first two music directors, Fritz Scheel and Carl Pohlig, are not as well known as the conductors who have led the orchestra more recently: Stokowski, Ormandy, Muti, Sawallisch, and Eschenbach; all of them are towering musical figures. Ormandy cultivated a sound particular to the orchestra, and the “Philadelphia sound” became world-famous. Many of the players were legendary too. At one time the principal winds were Marcel Tabuteau (oboe), William Kincaid (flute), Anthony Gigliotti (clarinet), Sol Schoenbach, (bassoon), and Mason Jones (French horn). The players who replaced them were often their former students, so the traditions were passed along.

Here are two paragraphs from the orchestra’s website about some of the “firsts” unique to Philadelphia:

The Philadelphia Orchestra at Verizon Hall The Philadelphia Orchestra at Verizon Hall, The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Photo Credit: Jessica Griffin. (Click to enlarge.)

Throughout its history, The Philadelphia Orchestra has introduced an unprecedented number of important works as world or American premieres, including Barber’s Violin Concerto, Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Its illustrious tour history includes a number of landmarks events. In 1936 the Orchestra became the first American orchestra to undertake a transcontinental tour, in 1949 it toured Great Britain as the first American orchestra to cross the Atlantic after World War II, and in 1973 it became the first American orchestra to perform in the People’s Republic of China.

The Orchestra also boasts an extraordinary record of media firsts. It was the first symphonic orchestra to make electrical recordings (in 1925), the first to perform its own commercially sponsored radio broadcast (in 1929, on NBC), the first to perform on the soundtrack of a feature film (Paramount’s The Big Broadcast of 1937), the first to appear on a national television broadcast (in 1948, on CBS), and the first major orchestra to give a live cybercast of a concert on the Internet (in 1997).


Comments (Click to Hide)

This was a terrific article! As a 1978 Curtis graduate and a member of the National Symphony in DC, I found this very interesting and inspiring!
Ldrcats on July 27, 2019 at 7:53 PM

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