The Philadelphia Orchestra at 100
1. Why An All-20th Century Season?
FRANK J. OTERI: This all began when my assistant, Nathan Michel, read an article in The New York Times announcing the Philadelphia Orchestra’s idea to do an all-20th-century season He said, “Frank, you’ve got to look at this.” I said, “This is remarkable. I’d love to get everybody involved in this together in a room and talk about how they’re going to make this happen.” We always talk about how we wish orchestras were doing more with 20th-century music and were focusing on 20th-century music, and here we have this whole season which is about that. So that’s the initial inspiration behind our interest in getting together with all of you. The first question I’d like to ask everybody is, how did this all come about?
JOSEPH H. KLUGER: As with a lot of good ideas, they are somewhat inspirational but also a by-product of a lot of input. In this particular case, when we were working with Maestro Sawallisch several years ago to plan this season, we said to him: “Maestro, the orchestra is celebrating its centennial…”
SIMON WOODS: Which, incidentally, coincides with the millennium.
JOSEPH H. KLUGER: We said, “Maestro, this calls for not only the usual special-event concert, but something that is a real artistic statement. Can you come up with an idea that’s important to you that we can use as a red line throughout the season?” So he thought about it and came back to us and, actually, originally proposed, because our centennial really spans two seasons (…the 1999-2000 season is our 100th season, but our actual birthday is on Nov. 16, 2000. . .), he came to us and said, “For two years, I’d like to have on the subscription season programs devoted exclusively to works written in the last 100 years.” It was actually his idea.
FRANK J. OTERI: Wow.
JOSEPH H. KLUGER: And he presented it to us somewhat apologetically, worried that we were going to react with fear and trepidation from a marketing point of view. And I remember finding myself and others who heard the idea initially getting excited by it and saying to him, “Well, maestro, we think probably we’re very excited by this because it’s the kind of thing that we think is going to galvanize us behind something that he believes in, and therefore we can believe in. We did, after looking at some of the repertoire ideas, conclude that we should not merely perform all works but really focusing on the great works of this century. In the face of deciding that we were going to try to perform only the great works of the century, we concluded that it was best to focus this initially on only one season, rather than two. That’s something the marketing people I think were pleased to hear as well.
FRANK J. OTERI: This is so interesting to me, in terms of the marketing behind this, because as a young person I got interested in classical music specifically because of contemporary music. If I lived in Philadelphia, I’d be here every night. You’ve sold a subscription to me! And from a marketing standpoint, I know so many people who I think would be much more interested in classical music if the focus was on the contemporary rather than on the past. So what is the marketing for this?
SIMON WOODS: I’m just a little bit cautious about using the word “contemporary.” Much of this music is not contemporary. You have to be clear when you’re talking about 20th-century music that that’s not what we’re predominantly playing. And, indeed, we have picked up some criticism from the more radical end of people’s taste for not doing enough contemporary music. But if you look at the repertoire, it is predominantly the first half of the 20th-century, so I think we have to get away from using the word “contemporary,” because that’s not really the point of this season. It’s not about living composers. It’s about celebrating two things. It’s about celebrating the 100 years of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the particular associations that this orchestra had with different composers in the past, like Stravinsky and Bartók and Rachmaninoff, and many others, like Shostakovich. And on the other hand, also celebrating what a rich and vibrant history the last 100 years has been.
JOSEPH H. KLUGER: Many of those works, of course, were contemporary when they were performed by us originally and are now part of the standard repertoire, so there is a message we’re trying to deliver with that.
EDWARD CAMBRON: From a marketing perspective, I wouldn’t be telling you the truth if I didn’t say that when I first heard the concept there was a bit of concern on my part. I think that traditional audiences in America are traditionalists. But once Sawallisch and Simon Woods started putting the programs on, it became clear that it was a blend and it was a blend of music that was meaningful to the Philadelphia Orchestra, works that we premiered or composers that we championed that our traditional audience would love to focus on and to celebrate. And at the same time, I remember after the press announcement, I got a lot of calls. I like to think of myself as still young; I’m not sure I am. But I got a lot of calls from some of the music groups in Philadelphia who really were saying for the first time that they were going to subscribe to the Orchestra. So I think the marketing would appear to be a big challenge in the beginning, and it still is, but we have the opportunity to get both sides of the spectrum. I think for the traditionalists there’s a lot in the season that they’re going to love. They’re going to love it because it has a unique relationship to the Orchestra. And I think there are a lot of new works, or works that people are not as familiar with, that are going to bring in that other group. So I’m really looking forward to having a blend in our audience that we may not have had in previous years. And I think that this season allows us to do that.
BRIAN ATWOOD: The nice thing is, too, that that does carry over into the public relations end of things as well. I think that we had a similar reaction to Ed’s when we first heard that the season was going to be music from this past century. But I think that immediately, our tune changed, and we realized that there was such potential for media and press opportunities. And when the season actually was laid out and the pieces that we were going to be performing were put down, we thought it was a real exciting opportunity, and we look forward to it. There are a number of pieces and concerts during the course of the season, and I was going to say “Kudos to you, Simon, for spreading them out very nicely in that during the course of the season there are specific jumps during the season that we can really — from a crude point of view — lay into from a PR point of view.