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The Philadelphia Orchestra is a symphony orchestra based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the United States. One of the "Big Five" American orchestras, it was formed by Fritz Scheel in 1900. The orchestra is based at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, where it performs its subscription concerts, numbering over 130, in Verizon Hall.
Since Scheel's death, the orchestra has had eight music directors and one chief conductor, including Charles Dutoit, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy and Christoph Eschenbach; as of 2013, the incumbent is Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
From its founding until 2001, the Philadelphia Orchestra gave its concerts at the Academy of Music. The orchestra continues to own the Academy, and returns there one week per year that includes the Academy of Music's annual gala concert and concerts for school children. The Philadelphia Orchestra's summer home is the Mann Center for the Performing Arts. It also has summer residencies at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and since July 2007 at the Bravo! Vail Valley Festival in Vail, Colorado. The orchestra also performs an annual series of concerts at Carnegie Hall. From its earliest days the orchestra has been active in the recording studios, making film soundtracks and numerous gramophone recordings.
The orchestra was founded in 1900 by Fritz Scheel, who also acted as its first conductor. The orchestra had its beginnings with a small group of musicians led by the pianist F. Cresson Schell (18571942). In 1904, Richard Strauss guest conducted the orchestra in a program of his compositions, and in 1906 the Polish pianist Artur Rubenstein made his American debut with the orchestra. Additionally in 1906, the orchestra traveled to the White House to perform in an exclusive concert.
In February 1907, Leandro Campanari took over and served as interim conductor for a short time during Scheel's illness and after his death. A flautist in the orchestra, August Rodemann, had stood in before Campanari's arrival. He started sabotaging the performances and Campanari was obliged to remove himself from a bad situation.
In 1907, Karl Pohlig became music director and served until 1912. New music he programmed was unpopular with audiences, and revelations that he had an extra-marital affair with his secretary caused outrage. The orchestra cancelled his contract and gave him a year's salary ($12,000) in severance to avoid a suit from Pohlig alleging a conspiracy to oust him.
Leopold Stokowski became music director in 1912 and brought the orchestra to national prominence. Under his guidance, the orchestra gained a reputation for virtuosity, and developed what is known as the "Philadelphia Sound." Stokowski left the orchestra in 1941, and did not return as a guest conductor for nearly 20 years.
In 1936 Eugene Ormandy joined the organization, and jointly held the post of principal conductor with Stokowski until 1938 when he assumed the role full-time. He remained with the orchestra for a total of 44 years, after which he became Conductor Laureate. Ormandy conducted many of the orchestra's best-known recordings and took the orchestra on its historic 1973 tour of the People's Republic of China, where it was the first Western orchestra to visit that country in many decades. The tour was highly successful and it has since returned for three additional successful tours.
Riccardo Muti became principal guest conductor of the orchestra in the 1970s, and assumed the role as Music Director from Ormandy in 1980, serving through 1992. His recordings with the orchestra included the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, and Alexander Scriabin, for the EMI and Philips labels.
Wolfgang Sawallisch succeeded Muti as Music Director from 1993 to 2003. He made a number of recordings with the orchestra of music of Robert Schumann, Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner, among other composers, for the EMI label. However, the orchestra lost its recording contract with EMI during this time, which led to a musicians' strike for 64 days in 1996. Near the end of Sawallisch's tenure, the orchestra released a self-produced set of recordings of the Schumann symphonies with Sawallisch conducting. In 2003, Sawallisch was named Conductor Laureate.
In 2003, Christoph Eschenbach became music director. This appointment was controversial because Eschenbach had not conducted the orchestra in over four years and there was a perceived lack of personal chemistry between him and the musicians prior to the appointment. At least one early report tried to downplay this concern. The orchestra returned to commercial recordings with Eschenbach, on the Ondine label. However, in October 2006, Eschenbach and the orchestra announced the conclusion of his tenure as music director in 2008, for a total of five years, the shortest tenure as music director in the history of the Philadelphia Orchestra, along with Pohlig.
In February 2007, the orchestra named Charles Dutoit to the newly created posts of chief conductor and artistic adviser for four seasons, starting in the fall of 2008 and running through the 20112012 season. This move was made to provide an "artistic bridge" while the orchestra searched for its eighth music director. According to news articles from August 2007, the orchestra had now devised a search process in which each musician in the orchestra would have a say in the choice of the next Music Director.
In December 2008, at the invitation of Dutoit, Yannick Nézet-Séguin made his first guest-conducting appearance with the orchestra. He returned for a second series of concerts in December 2009. In June 2010, Nézet-Séguin was named the eighth Music Director of the orchestra, effective with the 20122013 season. He immediately assumed the title of Music Director Designate, with a scheduled duration under that title from 2010 to 2012, with 2 weeks of scheduled appearances in the 20102011 season, and 5 weeks of scheduled appearances in the 20112012 season. His initial contract as music director is for 5 seasons, with 7 weeks of scheduled concerts in the 20122012 season, 15 weeks in the next 2 seasons, and 16 weeks in the subsequent 2 seasons of his Philadelphia contract.
The Philadelphia Orchestra's current concertmaster is David Kim. Past concertmasters have included Norman Carol and Erez Ofer. Since 2000, the Associate Conductor of the orchestra is Rossen Milanov, who is scheduled to conclude his tenure in Philadelphia after the 20102011 season. Past Associate Conductors of the orchestra have included William Smith and Luis Biava. The resident chorus of the orchestra is the Philadelphia Singers.
On April 16, 2011, the Philadelphia Orchestra's board of directors voted to file for Chapter 11 reorganization due to the organization's large operational deficit. This is the first time that a major U.S. orchestra has filed for bankruptcy. Amid mounting dissent from the musicians, Nézet-Séguin offered in August 2011 to work a week without pay in a gesture to help relieve the financial crisis. On July 30, 2012, the orchestra announced that it had officially emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, effective that day.
The Philadelphia Orchestra boasts a number of significant media firsts. It was the first symphony orchestra to make electrical recordings (in 1925). It was the first orchestra to make a commercially sponsored radio broadcast (on NBC in 1929) and the first to appear on a national television broadcast (on CBS in 1948). The Philadelphia was the first American orchestra to make a digital recording of the complete Beethoven symphonies on compact disc (in 1988), and the first major orchestra to give a live cybercast of a concert on the internet (in 1997). In 2006, the orchestra was the first to offer downloads of music from its own website without a distributor.
In other firsts, the Orchestra made diplomatic history in 1973 when it became the first American orchestra to tour the People's Republic of China, performing in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. In 1999, under Wolfgang Sawallisch, it became the first American orchestra to visit Vietnam. More recently, the orchestra appointed Carol Jantsch principal tuba as of 20062007. According to the announcement, she is likely the first full-time female principal tuba player in an American orchestra.
The Orchestra was known for its special relationship with the composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. In particular he and Ormandy were close associates and Rachmaninoff was supposed to have said that in his American years he composed with the sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra in his head. The recordings of the music of Rachmaninoff by Ormandy were noted as being closest to the composer's desire. Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, his last work, was premiered by Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, to whom it is dedicated, on January 3, 1941.
The Orchestra's first recordings were made in Camden, New Jersey, in 1917, when Leopold Stokowski conducted performances of two of Brahms's Hungarian Dances for the Victor Talking Machine Company. The historic first electrical recordings were also made in Camden, in April 1925, beginning with Saint-Saëns' Danse macabre. Later, in 1926, Victor began recording the Orchestra in the Academy of Music. Stokowski led the ensemble in experimental long-playing, high-fidelity, and even stereophonic sessions in the early 1930s for RCA Victor and Bell Laboratories. They recorded the soundtrack for Walt Disney's Fantasia in multi-track stereophonic sound in 1939-40.
Arturo Toscanini made a series of recordings for RCA Victor with the orchestra in 1941 and 1942. Due to technical problems with the masters, the recordings were never issued on 78-rpm discs. In the 1970s, after extensive electronic editing, all of the recordings were issued by RCA on LP and later were digitally remastered for CD by BMG.
The Orchestra remained with RCA Victor through 1942. Following a settlement of a recording ban imposed by the American Federation of Musicians, the Orchestra switched to Columbia Records in 1944, recording some of the dances from Borodin's Prince Igor. It returned to RCA Victor in 1968 and made its first digital recording, Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, in 1979. The Orchestra has also recorded for EMI and Teldec.
In May 2005, the Philadelphia Orchestra announced a three-year recording partnership with the Finnish label Ondine, the Orchestra's first recording contract in 10 years. The resumption of a regular recording program was one of Christoph Eschenbach's stated priorities as music director. A number of recordings have been released since November 2005, to international acclaim.
On September 21, 2006 the Philadelphia Orchestra became the first major United States orchestra to sell downloads of its performances directly from the orchestra's website. While other American orchestras had downloads of their music on the internet, the Philadelphia Orchestra said it was the first to offer the downloads without a distributor. In 2010, the orchestra abandoned this practice and formed a partnership with IODA, a digital distribution company with downloads available through a variety of online retailers, including iTunes, Amazon.com, Rhapsody, and eMusic.
In other media, musicians from the orchestra were featured in a documentary film by Daniel Anker, Music from the Inside Out, which received theatrical release and television airings. The film has received both positive and negative criticism.