The New York Philharmonic is the oldest active symphony orchestra in the United States, organized during 1842. Based in New York City, the Philharmonic performs most of its concerts at Avery Fisher Hall. The orchestra is older than any other American symphonic institution in existence by nearly four decades; its record-setting 14,000th concert was given in December 2004. Since 2002, the Philharmonic's music director has been Lorin Maazel, whose tenure is scheduled to conclude at the end of the 2008-2009 season. Starting with the 2009-2010 season, Alan Gilbert is scheduled to become the Philharmonic's next music director.
The orchestra was founded by Ureli Corelli Hill in 1842 as the New York Philharmonic Society – the third Philharmonic on American soil since 1792, declaring as its purpose "the advancement of instrumental music." The first concert of the New York Philharmonic took place on December 7, 1842 in the Apollo Rooms on lower Broadway before an audience of 600. The concert opened with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 led by American-born conductor Ureli Corelli Hill, who was also founder and first president of the Philharmonic. Two other conductors, German-born Henry Christian Timm and French-born Denis Etienne, led parts of the eclectic, three-hour program, which included chamber music and several operatic selections with a leading singer of the day, as was the custom. The musicians operated as a cooperative society, deciding by a majority vote such issues as who would become a member, which music would be performed and who among them would conduct. At the end of the season the players would divide any proceeds among themselves.
After only a dozen public performances and barely four years old, the Philharmonic organized a concert to raise funds to build a new music hall. The centerpiece was the American premiere of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, to take place at Castle Garden on the southern tip of Manhattan. About 400 instrumental and vocal performers gathered for this premiere. The chorals were translated into what would be the first English performance anywhere in the world. However, with the expensive US$2.00 ticket price and a war rally uptown, the hoped-for audience was kept away and the new hall would have to wait. Although judged by some as an odd work with all those singers kept at bay until the end, the Ninth soon became the work performed most often when a grand gesture was required.
During the Philharmonic's first seven seasons, seven musicians alternated the conducting duties. In addition to Hill, Timm and Etienne, these were William Alpers, George Loder, Louis Wiegers and Alfred Boucher. This changed in 1849 when Theodore Eisfeld was installed as sole conductor for the season. Eisfeld, later along with Carl Bergmann, would be the conductor until 1865. That year, Eisfeld conducted the Orchestra’s memorial concert for the recently assassinated Abraham Lincoln, but in a peculiar turn of events which were criticized in the New York press, the Philharmonic omitted the last movement, "Ode to Joy", as being inappropriate for the occasion. That year Eisfeld returned to Europe, and Bergmann continued to conduct the Society until his death in 1876.
Leopold Damrosch, Franz Liszt's former concertmaster at Weimar, served as conductor of the Philharmonic for the 1876-1877 season. But failing to win support from the Philharmonic's public, he left to create the rival Symphony Society of New York in 1878. Upon his death in 1885, his 23-year-old son Walter took over and continued the competition with the old Philharmonic. It was Walter who would convince Andrew Carnegie that New York needed a first-class concert hall and on May 5, 1891 both Walter and Russian composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky conducted at the inaugural concert of the city's new Music Hall, which in a few years would be renamed for its primary benefactor, Andrew Carnegie.
The German-born, American-trained conductor Theodore Thomas, who had achieved fame and great success conducting his own orchestra, the Thomas Orchestra, in competition with the Philharmonic for over a decade, began conducting the Philharmonic in 1877. With the exception of the 1878-1879 season (when he was in Cincinnati and Adolph Neuendorff led the group), Thomas conducted every season until 1891. He raised the orchestra to a virtuosic level before leaving in 1891 to found the Chicago Symphony, taking 13 Philharmonic musicians with him.
Another celebrated conductor, Anton Seidl, followed Thomas on the Philharmonic podium, serving until 1898. Seidl, who had served as Wagner's assistant, was a renowned conductor of the composer’s works; Seidl's romantic interpretations inspired both adulation and controversy. During his tenure, the Philharmonic enjoyed a period of unprecedented success and prosperity and performed its first world premiere written by a world-renowned composer in the United States – Antonín Dvořák's Ninth Symphony "From the New World." Seidl’s sudden death in 1898 from food poisoning at the age of 47 was widely mourned. Twelve thousand people applied for tickets to his funeral at the Metropolitan Opera House at 39th Street and Broadway and the streets were jammed for blocks with a "surging mass" of his admirers.
In 1909, to ensure the financial stability of the Philharmonic, a group of wealthy New Yorkers led by two women, Mary Seney Sheldon and Minnie Untermyer, formed the Guarantors Committee and changed the Orchestra's organization from a musician-operated cooperative to a corporate management structure. The Guarantors were responsible for bringing Gustav Mahler to the Philharmonic as principal conductor and expanding the season from 18 concerts to 54, which included a tour of New England. The Philharmonic was the only symphonic orchestra where Mahler worked as music director without any opera responsibilities, freeing him to explore the symphonic literature more deeply. In New York, he conducted several works for the first time in his career and introduced audiences to his own compositions. Under Mahler, a controversial figure both as a composer and conductor, the season expanded, musicians' salaries were guaranteed, the scope of operations broadened, and the twentieth-century orchestra was created.
In 1911 Mahler died unexpectedly, and the Philharmonic appointed Josef Stransky as his replacement. Many commentators were surprised by the choice of Stransky, whom they did not see as a worthy successor to Mahler. Stransky led all of the orchestra's concerts until 1920, and also made the first recordings with the orchestra in 1917.
In 1924, the Young People's Concerts were expanded into a substantial series of children's concerts under the direction of American pianist-composer-conductor Ernest Schelling. This series became the prototype for concerts of its kind around the country and grew by popular demand to 15 concerts per season by the end of the decade.
Mengelberg and Toscanini both led the Philharmonic in recording sessions for the Victor Talking Machine Company, initially in a recording studio and eventually in Carnegie Hall as electrical recording was improved. All of the early electrical recordings for Victor were made with a single microphone, usually placed near or above the conductor, a process called "Orthophonic." Mengelberg's most successful recording with the Philharmonic was a 1927 performance in Carnegie Hall of Richard Strauss' Ein Heldenleben. Toscanini's recordings with the Philharmonic actually began with a single disc for Brunswick Records in 1926, recorded in a rehearsal hall at Carnegie Hall. Additional Toscanini recordings with the Philharmonic, all for Victor, took place on Carnegie Hall's stage in 1929 and 1936. By the 1936 sessions Victor, now owned by RCA, began to experiment with multiple microphones to achieve more comprehensive reproductions of the orchestra.
The year 1928 marked the New York Philharmonic's last and most important merger: with the New York Symphony Society. The Symphony had been quite innovative in its 50 years prior to the merger. It made its first domestic tour in 1882, introduced educational concerts for young people in 1891, and gave the premieres of works such as Gershwin's Concerto in F and Holst's Egdon Heath. The merger of these two venerable institutions consolidated extraordinary financial and musical resources. At the first joint board meeting in 1928, the chairman, Clarence Mackay, expressed the opinion that "with the forces of the two Societies now united... the Philharmonic-Symphony Society could build up the greatest orchestra in this country if not in the world."
Of course, the merger had ramifications for the musicians of both orchestras. Winthrop Sargeant, a violinist with the Symphony Society and later a writer for The New Yorker, recalled the merger as "a sort of surgical operation in which twenty musicians were removed from the Philharmonic and their places taken by a small surviving band of twenty legionnaires from the New York Symphony. This operation was performed by Arturo Toscanini himself. Fifty-seventh Street wallowed in panic and recrimination." Toscanini, who had guest-conducted for several seasons, became the sole conductor and in 1930 led the group on a European tour that brought immediate international fame to the Orchestra.
That same year nationwide radio broadcasts began. The Orchestra was first heard on CBS directly from Carnegie Hall. To broadcast the Sunday afternoon concerts, CBS paid $15,000 for the entire season. The radio broadcasts continued without interruption for 38 years. A legend in his own time, Toscanini would prove to be a tough act to follow as the country headed into war.
Artur Rodzinski, Bruno Walter, and Sir Thomas Beecham made a series of recordings with the Philharmonic for Columbia Records during the 1940s. Many of the sessions were held in a historic vaudeville theater, Liederkranz Hall. Sony Records later digitally remastered the Beecham recordings for reissue on CD.
Leopold Stokowski and Dimitri Mitropoulos were appointed co-principal conductors in 1949, with Mitropoulos becoming Musical Director in 1951. Mitropoulos, known for championing new composers and obscure operas-in-concert, pioneered in other ways; adding live Philharmonic performances between movies at the Roxy Theatre and taking Edward R. Murrow and the See it Now television audience on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Orchestra. Mitropoulos made a series of recordings for Columbia Records, mostly in mono; near the end of his tenure, he recorded excerpts from Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet in stereo. In 1957, Mitropoulos and Leonard Bernstein served together as Principal Conductors until, in the course of the season, Bernstein was appointed Music Director, becoming the first American-born-and-trained conductor to head the Philharmonic.
Leonard Bernstein, who had made his historic, unrehearsed and spectacularly successful debut with the Philharmonic in 1943, was Music Director for 11 seasons, a time of significant change and growth. Two television series were initiated on CBS: the Young People's Concerts and "Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic." The former program, launched in 1958, made television history, winning every award in the field of educational television. Bernstein continued the orchestra's recordings with Columbia Records until he retired as Music Director in 1969. Although Bernstein made a few recordings for Columbia after 1969, most of his later recordings were for Deutsche Grammophon. Sony has digitally remastered Bernstein's numerous Columbia recordings and released them on CD as a part of its extensive "Bernstein Century" series. Although the Philharmonic performed primarily in Carnegie Hall until 1962, Bernstein preferred to record in the Manhattan Center. His later recordings were made in Philharmonic Hall. In 1960, the centennial of the birth of Gustav Mahler, Bernstein and the Philharmonic began a historic cycle of recordings of eight of Mahler's nine symphonies for Columbia Records. (Symphony No. 8 was recorded by Bernstein with the London Symphony.) In 1962 Bernstein caused controversy with his comments before a performance by Glenn Gould of the First Piano Concerto of Johannes Brahms.
In 1971 Pierre Boulez became the first Frenchman to hold the post of Philharmonic Music Director. Boulez's years with the Orchestra were notable for expanded repertoire and innovative concert approaches, such as the "Prospective Encounters" which explored new works along with the composer in alternative venues. During his tenure, the Philharmonic inaugurated the "Live From Lincoln Center" television series in 1976, and the Orchestra continues to appear on the Emmy Award-winning program to the present day. Boulez made a series of quadraphonic recordings for Columbia, including an extensive series of the orchestral music of Maurice Ravel.
In 2000, Lorin Maazel made a guest-conducting appearance with the New York Philharmonic in two weeks of subscription concerts after an absence of over twenty years, which was met with a positive reaction from the orchestra musicians. This engagement led to his appointment in January 2001 as the orchestra's next Music Director. He assumed the post in September 2002, 60 years after making his debut with the Orchestra at the age of twelve at Lewisohn Stadium. In his first subscription week he led the world premiere of John Adams' On the Transmigration of Souls commissioned in memory of those who died on September 11, 2001. Maazel is scheduled to conclude his tenure as the Philharmonic's Music Director at the end of the 2008-2009 season.
In 2003, due to ongoing concerns with the acoustics of Avery Fisher Hall, there was a proposal to move the New York Philharmonic back to Carnegie Hall and merge the two organizations, but this proposal did not come to fruition. Currently, Avery Fisher Hall is scheduled to undergo renovations starting in 2010. On December 18, 2004, the New York Philharmonic performed its 14,000th concert, a milestone unmatched by any other symphony orchestra in the world, setting a Guinness World Record.
In April 2007, the Philharmonic announced that it would add a new position, of "principal conductor", to the orchestra, as well a composer-in-residence position, a "director for a mini-festival", and an artist-in-residence. On July 18, 2007, the Philharmonic named Alan Gilbert as its next music director, effective with the 2009-2010 season, to succeed Lorin Maazel. In addition, the same announcement stated that Riccardo Muti would guest-conduct from 6 to 8 weeks per season and conduct the orchestra on tours, in an equivalent of a "principal guest conductor" without a formal title with the orchestra. It was also reported that the orchestra would retreat from the earlier announced plan of a division of labor between a music director and a "principal conductor".
The visit was anticipated as an opportunity to broaden relations with one of the world's most isolated nations. The U.S. State Department viewed the invitation as a potential softening of anti-U.S. propaganda. In response to initial criticism of performing a concert limited to the privileged elite, the New York Philharmonic arranged for the concert to be broadcast live on North Korean television and radio. It was additionally broadcasted live on CNN and CNN International.
DID you watch 'Love Actually' on RTE the other night? If you did, and if you enjoyed the wretched thing, if you positively wallowed in it, then chances are you will never find love actually. Sorry to break the bad news.
Dec 19, 2008; Love, actually, is a very serious affair altogether DID you watch 'Love Actually' on RTE the other night? If you did, and if you...