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The Philadelphia Orchestra - Sumptuous-Sounding Rolls Royce Of U.S. Orchestras

  The world-famous Philadelphia orchestra was founded in 1900 by a German-born conductor by the name of Fritz Scheel  and was succeeded by a countryman of his by the name of Karl Pohlig.
   These two worthies have been completely forgotten , but when the legendary London-born 
conductor Leopold Stokowski  took over the orchestra in 1912 at the age of only 30 , he transformed  the orchestra into one of the finest in existence with his mixture of  musical brilliance , glamorous image and technical savvy . 

   Stokowski was always at the forefront of  musical and technological  innovation , and made the
first recordings  of an orchestra in 1925  using the then revolutionary electronic  system ,
replacing the primitive  and woefully inadequate  acoustical  method .  He  championed the music of  leading  composers of his day such as Stravinsky , Prokofiev ,Shostakovich and others  and cultivated the so-called  "Philadelphia sound "  ; the most plush ,colorful  and  exciting  sounds that had ever come from an orchestra . 

   He made  sumptuous  transcriptions of the organ music of Bach , having begun as an organist in England  himself  which  scandalized the musical puritsts ,and made  recordings of them which are still classics .  He may have been a  shamelss showman , but he was  an undeniable  musical
genius.  His freewheeling  interpretations ,which often took outrageous liberties with the written texts ,  and  outraged many critics and musicologists ,but no one could accuse
him of being dull  as a conductor !

   When Stokowski  stepped down ,  a young Hungarian-born conductor by the name of
  Eugene Ormandy  was the new man in Philadelphia .  He had begun as an orchestral
 violinist ,  and had begin to make a  successful career as a conductor , and had been music
 director of the Minneapolis symphony , now known as the Minnesota orchestra ,which he
 had built into an excellent  one. 

   He remained with the orchestra until his retirement at  the age of 80 in 1980 ,  more than 40 years !  Ormandy was not as flamboyant a personality as Stokowski , but  preserved the sumptuous "Philadelphia sound "  and made  hundreds of recordings with the orchestra
of repertoire ranging from  Mozart and Beethoven  to contemporary composers ,for labels such as R.C.A.  and what is now Sony Classical, formerly Columbia records ,than  C.B.S.
records , and  late in his career ,the English label E.M.I.

   A young ,talented and  dynamic  Italian conductor named Riccardo Muti  (1941-) , began to appear regularly with the Philadelphians in the 1970s, and was named principl guest conductor .  In  1981 , he succeeded Ormandy .  Some critics faulted him for allegedly
"destroying" the famous Philadelphia sound , as he  wanted a leaner ,  crisper  sorority from
the orchestra .  But to these ears ,  the orchestra still sounded fine .  He continued to make recordings for EMI with the orchestra as well as the now defunct Dutch label  Philips,
as well  as giving  performances of  Italian operas  in concert with the orchestra .

   Muti, now a seasoned veteran about to turn 70 , has recently become music director of the Chicago symphony , and had vbeen music director of  the renowned La Scala opera in Milan  and the Philharmonia orchestra in London .  In 2003, the distinguished German conductor  Wolfgang Sawallisch (1923-) ,who had been a regular guest conductor with the
orchestra became music director , and was praised for "restoring"  the Philadelphia sound , and continued to make recordings  with EMI ,  especially the tone poems of Richard Strauss,  a composer with whose music he had long been closely associated . He had previously been music director of  the Bavarian State opera in Munich, one of Germany's
leading opera companies ,  as well as a regular  with top orchestras and opera companies all over Germany and Europe .

   In  2003 , another distinguished  German conductor ,  Christoph Eschenbach (1940-) ,who began as a piano virtuoso, succeeded  Sawallisch , but  his  stay with the orchestra lasted only until  2008 .  There were reports that  Eschenbach and the orchestra did not have the "right chemistry",
which sometimes happens .  The distinguished Swiss French conductor Charles Dutoit
(1936 -)  was appointed not music director but chief conductor as an interim  appointment
until a full-fledged new music director could be found .  A chief conductor does not quite have the same authority is  management,such as appointing new musicians . Dutoit
had been a regular and pop[lar guest conductor for many years .

  Last year, the young and switfly rising  French-Canadian conductor Yannick-Nezet-Seguin  was appointed music director after having had considerable success as guest conductor  and
impressing the orchestra with his talent ,and will  assume his post in 2112 .  Every one is
hoping for the best with this new appointment ,and it looks very promising. But unfortunately, serious financial problems ,including loss of endowment funds and  dissapointing  ticket sales have forced this great and prestigious orchestra to declare bankrupcy ,  which is unprecendented among  America's so--called "big five" orchestras,
New York,Philadelphia,Boston,Cleveland and Chicago .  Let's all hope that this financial mess can be surmounted .

   The Philadelphia orchestra had played in  Philadelphia's elegant if acoustically challenged
 Academy of Music concert hall  since its beginning  in 1900 , but moved the the new Verizon hall  in 2001 , which  is said to be an improvement acoustically if not  ideal . 
The orchestra  has a Summer residence in  Saratoga , in upstate New York  at that town's music festival . 

   Other eminent conductors who have made recordings with the Philadelphia orchestra include  James Levine ,  Arturo Toscanini ,  Charles Munch , Charles Dutoit ,  Andre Previn,
Christian Thielemann ,  Bruno Walter , and even Sergei Rachmaninov ,who was much better known as a piano virtuoso but also conducted .

   The Philadelphia orchestra became the first American orchestra to tour the people's republic of China in 1973 under Eugene Ormandy and in 1929 became the first orchestra
to make a radio broadcast ,when the R.C.A. company sponsored it ,among other firsts.
This great orchestra remains  a  formidadble plaer in American classical music .
It remains a Rolls Royce of orchestras .
Posted: May 30 2011, 05:29 PM by the horn | with no comments
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