A Centennial Celebration
Curated by Marjorie
Touring England and Europe
Audio-visual excerpt of Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in a rehearsal of the last movement of Brahms' 2nd Symphony, filmed in May 1949 in Birmingham, England
Although Leopold Stokowski had first announced plans for a British tour in 1924, financial problems, transportation difficulties, and a world war all conspired to keep the Orchestra at home until 13 May 1949, when it sailed for Liverpool on the Parthia for a twenty-seven day tour of England and Scotland. The tour was sponsored by the British impresario Harold Fielding, who underwrote the entire trip. A huge artistic success, the tour was financially unrewarding, and it was not until nine years later that the Orchestra returned to Great Britain during its eight-week traverse of Europe in 1958.
Conducting without the score and without a baton, Ormandy carves the music in space and every gesture is immediately met with an extension sometimes apparently with still more meaning than he had asked for. This is a phenomenon of total fusion of the conductor's intentions and the orchestra's execution.
--Het Parool, Amsterdam, 20 May 1955
Another in the series of "firsts" for which Eugene Ormandy was known was his 1955 European tour with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the first time a Symphony orchestra traveled abroad as official emissaries of the United States. Sponsored by the International Exchange Program of the American National Theatre and Academy and the U.S. Information Agency, the thirty-five-day tour included twenty-eight concerts in twelve countries. The group flew directly to Brussels from Philadelphia in three chartered planes (appropriately christened "The Music Box," "The Ormandy Special," and "The Philadelphia"), transporting ten tons of instruments and 1,700 pounds of music.
In keeping with the Orchestra's role as musical ambassadors, an American composition was programmed in sixteen of the seventeen cities in which the orchestra performed. The exception was Helsinki, where the last two concerts of the tour were devoted exclusively to the works of Jean Sibelius. And it was during its stay in Helsinki that the entire Orchestra was driven twenty-five miles into the country to Ainola, Sibelius' villa, for a meeting with the ninety-year-old composer, whose Symphony no. 1 had been recorded by Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1941 [Biddulph 062]. Sibelius greeted the 108-member group from the porch of his house and thanked the musicians for "a perfect performance" of his music, which he had heard broadcast the previous evening.
This historic trip was to be the first of four European tours led by Ormandy. Preceded in its visits by its prodigious recordings catalogue, the Orchestra was already well-known in European music circles. However, on the evidence of the critical reception, each of these tours served to solidify the international reputation the Orchestra had attained via the recording studio.
The execution of the whole program can be described with one word: masterful. The playing was characterized by freedom and naturalness, and at the same time, by technical perfection and an exceptional degree of cultural presentation. The sonority of the ensemble is like a noble monolith, full of clarity, light and warmth, ideally balanced, as if created by one hand out of one magic keyboard.
--Trybuna Robotnicza, Katowice, 16 June 1958
The Orchestra's 1958 traverse of Europe, which included a performance at the Brussels World's Fair, was the lengthiest tour then to have been undertaken. Over an eight-week period the Orchestra performed in twenty-seven cities, only seven of which they had visited previously. Particularly significant were the concerts in Rumania, Poland, and the Soviet Union, the only occasion the Orchestra has visited these countries. Audience response was so overwhelming throughout the East European portion of the tour that the musicians were frequently mobbed by music-lovers and autograph-seekers as they attempted to leave the concert hall.
Last update: Thursday, 16-Jun-2011 14:00:18 EDT