Founded in 1900, The Philadelphia Orchestra has distinguished itself as one of the leading orchestras in the world through a century of acclaimed performances, historic international tours, and best-selling recordings. Led by Music Director Wolfgang Sawallisch since 1993, the Orchestra recently celebrated its 100th Anniversary through a series of activities surrounding the year 2000, with performances, publications, tours, and broadcasts (including the internationally televised gala Birthday Concert on November 16, 2000). Following ten highly-acclaimed years at the helm, Wolfgang Sawallisch will become Conductor Laureate in the fall of 2003 when Christoph Eschenbach becomes The Philadelphia Orchestra's 7th Music Director.
The Philadelphia Orchestra annually touches the lives of more than 1 million music lovers worldwide through its live performances (more than 300 concerts and other presentations each year), publications, recordings, and broadcasts. A major winter subscription season is presented in Philadelphia each year from September to May, including expanded education and community partnership programs. The Orchestra's schedule each summer includes a month-long outdoor season in Philadelphia at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, followed by a three-week residency each August at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. In addition, the Orchestra appears annually at New York's Carnegie Hall, performing encores of some of its acclaimed concerts from Philadelphia.
The Orchestra's continuing acclaim throughout the world is regularly acknowledged through frequent tours, both at home in North America and overseas. Recent trips include appearances in Asia in 1999 and again in May-June 2001, to Europe in 2000, and a scheduled three-week tour across much of the USA in September-October 2001.
Only six conductors have served as music director during the ensemble's first century, giving Philadelphia a unity of performance and musical guidance unprecedented among American symphony orchestras. Two Germans, Fritz Scheel (1900-1907) and Carl Pohlig (1907-1912), served as its first music directors, forming the ensemble and carrying it through its first twelve seasons. British-born Leopold Stokowski was appointed conductor in 1912 and quickly began leading the Orchestra toward new visions of musical excellence and excitement. Leading a series of major world and USA premieres, including works by Alban Berg, Gustav Mahler, Sergei Rachmaninov, Arnold Schoenberg, Scriabin, Sibelius, and Igor Stravinsky, Leopold Stokowski firmly established Philadelphia's prominence in American classical music. In addition to making widely-acclaimed recordings with his ensemble, he instituted many other Philadelphia Orchestra traditions, including concerts created especially for children and symphonic tours throughout the country.
Hungarian-born Eugene Ormandy assumed the music directorship in 1936. For the next 44 years, he first maintained and then expanded upon the Orchestra's unique artistry and musical excellence. Under Ormandy's skilled hands, the Orchestra refined its famed "Philadelphia Sound" and travelled widely, touring throughout North America, Europe, Latin America, Japan, Korea, and China. Perhaps Ormandy's most lasting legacy is a Philadelphia discography of nearly 400 recordings (including three best-selling Gold Records), many of which have been reissued on compact disc and are considered classics of the LP era.
Ormandy turned over the Orchestra's leadership in 1980 to Riccardo Muti. The Italian-born conductor built upon the Orchestra's tradition of versatility by introducing new and unfamiliar music from all periods. An advocate of contemporary music, Riccardo Muti commissioned works by a wide range of composers and appointed the Orchestra's first composer-in-residence. Riccardo Muti also revived the Orchestra's operatic tradition, presenting concert performances of operas by Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, and others.
Wolfgang Sawallisch became Music Director of The Philadelphia Orchestra in 1993, following a distinguished 21-year tenure as head of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich His tours with the Orchestra have included performances on four continents, generating critical praise and public applause in concert halls from Beijing to Birmingham and from Buenos Aires to Boston. Acclaimed as one of the greatest living exponents of the Germanic musical tradition, Wolfgang Sawallisch has enriched and expanded upon the Orchestra's century-old reputation for excellence in this repertoire, while also promoting new and lesser known compositions. His suggestion to devote the Orchestra's entire Centennial Season in 1999-2000 to works written during the Orchestra's first century resulted in critical acclaim and box office success.
In December 2001, The Philadelphia Orchestra moves to its new home at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Designed and built especially for the Orchestra, the Kimmel Center will host the Orchestra's home subscription concerts each year from September through May. The center includes two performance spaces, the 2500-seat Verizon Hall for orchestral presentations and the 650-seat Perelman Theater for chamber music concerts. Designed by architect Rafael Viñoly and acoustician Russell Johnson of Artec Inc., the Kimmel Center will provide the Orchestra with a state-of-the-art facility for concerts, recordings, and education activities. The landmark building is named in honor of Philadelphia businessman and philanthropist Sidney Kimmel, who gave the largest individual gift toward its construction. Kimmel has served on the Board of Directors of The Philadelphia Orchestra since 1995.
In addition to the many important premieres it has presented during the past century, The Philadelphia Orchestra 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), the first American orchestra to record the complete L.v. 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 other firsts, the Orchestra made film history in 1939 when it recorded the soundtrack for Walt Disney's 1940 Fantasia, the landmark animated feature film that did much to popularize symphonic music in the USA. In 1973, the Orchestra made diplomatic history 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.