The Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the world’s preeminent orchestras and one of America’s ‘big five’. They are recognized for their unique sound, which was established by former Music Director Leopold Stokowski during his 29 years with the ensemble. The Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the city’s cultural legacies. Their mission to ‘create and share music of the highest calibre for people of all ages and backgrounds’. Furthermore, they devote themselves to ‘excellence, innovation and creativity, onstage and off’.
In its more than 100-year existence, the orchestra has seen just eight music directors. In the 2012-13 season, the young and talented conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin (b. 1975) was appointed Music Director after having served as Music Director Designate from 2010 to 2012. His contract has been extended twice and currently goes until the 2025-26 season.
The prodigious French-Canadian conductor has already led many of the world’s greatest orchestras. He is the Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in the Netherlands (2008-), where he was appointed by a unanimous vote. Under his direction, the level of The Philadelphia Orchestra has grown tremendously and concerts have become more accessible to the public. The 2017-18 season will be his tenth and final season with the RPO. He has also served as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Orchestre Métropolitan in Montreal since 2000. More change awaits Nézet-Séguin, as he has been selected to succeed James Levine as the third Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York in the 2020-21 season.
Previous Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra include Fritz Scheel (1900-07), Carl Pohlig (1907-12), Leopold Stokowski (1912-41), Eugene Ormandy (1936-80), Riccardo Muti (1980-92), Wolfgang Sawallisch (1993-2003) and Christoph Eschenbach (2003-8). Between 2008 and 2012, Charles Dutoit served as Chief Conductor and now has the title of Conductor Laureate.
Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts has been home to the Philadelphia Orchestra since 2001. They perform there during the main season, from September to May. In addition to Verizon Hall, the Philadelphia Orchestra Association owns the Academy of Music—the oldest operating opera house in the country and former home of the orchestra (101 seasons). The orchestra returns to the Academy of Music, which is affectionately referred to as the ‘Grand Old Lady of Locust Street’, each year for the much-anticipated Academy Anniversary Concert and Ball. During the summer season, the Philadelphia Orchestra performs in the Mann Center for the Performing arts and many other venues in the region, including Penn’s Landing, Longwood Gardens and the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Many of these concerts are part of the orchestra’s free Neighborhood Concert Series.
They also give one concert per year in New York’s Carnegie Hall and have an annual three-week residency at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in New York. In addition, they enjoy a partnership with the Bravo! Vail Music Festival. Furthermore, the Philadelphia Orchestra provides many educational and community programmes including PlayINs, Side-by-Sides, PopUP concerts, free Neighborhood Concerts, School Concerts and residency work in Philadelphia and abroad. The orchestra’s strong interest in the community dates back 1921, when Stokowski introduced a series of children’s concerts. One such programme is HEAR, ‘a portfolio of integrated initiatives that promotes Health, champions music E ducation, eliminates barriers to Accessing the orchestra and maximizes impact through Research’. These projects are aimed at members of the community who are currently experiencing trauma—including homelessness, along with public school students and a broad range of community members. These programmes help bridge the gap between age and background.
IN addition to HEAR, the Philadelphia Orchestra also has specific programmes for children and adults, including Sound All Around for the youngest children and Family Concerts for children aged 6 to 12 and their families. They also give School Concerts that are free for School District of Philadelphia elementary schools and have the TeenTix programme for high school students. Also, they have established eZseatU for full-time college students, allowing them to attend an unlimited number of concerts for just 25 dollars per season. Adult programmes are centred more on lectures and conversations and include the free PreConcert Conversations and Lecture/Luncheons with guest speakers. In partnership with Drexel University, the Philadelphia Orchestra launched LiveNote™, ‘an interactive concert guide for mobile devices that allows concert-goers to follow along with real-time custom musical, emotional and historical highlights’, in the 2014-15 season.
The Philadelphia Orchestra has a strong international presence. In 1973, it became the first American Orchestra to perform in the People’s Republic of China. Their connection with China was re-established in 2012 through a partnership with the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Beijing. The residency aims to connect young, Chinese composers with the orchestra, in order to ‘further their orchestral skills’. This initiative also brings music to the provinces of china. The success of the residency resulted in a long-term extension and the orchestra’s return in 2013. In June 2014, the orchestra, under the direction of Nézet-Séguin, completed its first Tour of Asia and China Residency. Their concert in Shanghai was especially important, as it was broadcast live and reached more than 200,000 people. The orchestra returned to China in 2016 and 2017. In 2015, the Philadelphia Orchestra and Nézet-Séguin embarked on their first European tour together.
Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra also made headlines in September 2015 during their performance that welcome Pope Francis to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. They performed at the Festival of Families and provided the liturgical music for the Papal Mass. These events were seen by millions of people live and even more in broadcasts.
The Philadelphia Orchestra has a rich tradition of recording that began in 1917. Under Stokowski, Ormandy and Muti, they made a tremendous number of recordings. In 1925, they were the first symphonic orchestra to make electrical recordings. Many other firsts include having been the first to perform its own commercially sponsored radio broadcast (1929, NBC), the first to perform on the soundtrack of a feature film (1937, Paramount’s The Big Broadcast), the first to appear on a national television broadcast (1948, CBS), the first major orchestra to give a live cybercast of a concert on the internet (1997) and the first major orchestra to multi-cast a concert to large-screen venues through the Internet2 network.
The orchestra recently partnered up with the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label to record Stravinsky’s riot-inducing The Rite of Spring and Stokowski’s transcriptions of works by Bach and Stravinsky. They also recorded Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with pianist Daniil Trifonov (August 2015). The Philadelphia Orchestra also releases many live recordings and is a major presence on the radio.
The Philadelphia Orchestra is also dedicated to innovation and collaboration. They have given the American premieres of many important works such as Mahler’s Symphony no. 8 (‘Symphony of a Thousand’), Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances.