The Philadelphia Orchestra at 100

3. Commissioning And Recording

FRANK J. OTERI: To get back to music that the Philadelphia Orchestra promulgated through the century, I was thinking, Of course, you can’t possibly include everything, but there is definitely an emphasis on European composers, and I’m thinking, William Schuman wrote symphonies that were premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra, and in fact the first recording of Charles Ives’s First Symphony was by the Philadelphia, but those works were somehow not included. But I guess you can’t include everything.

SIMON WOODS: This orchestra definitely, over the years, has had more of an association with European composers. That’s a fair comment. This orchestra has never played very much American music. And even just last year, when we played a concert of Bernstein, it’s interesting what a somewhat lukewarm response it had from our audience, which is surprising because that’s of course not what you’d expect at all if you were playing it in New York. This orchestra does not have a particular close association with American composers with the absolute huge exception of Samuel Barber, of course.

FRANK J. OTERI: Interesting.

BRIAN ATWOOD: Despite that though, we can’t forget that the Philadelphia Orchestra does have a long-standing commitment to new music. In fact, that’s evident in our commissioning project for this 100th anniversary season. Simon, you might want to speak that.

SIMON WOODS: I think if you look at the history of the orchestra, look at the great works, which have commissioned or premiered over the years, it’s just an absolutely extraordinary list. We are absolutely aiming to keep that tradition going, and as part of our centennial celebration we’ve commissioned a bunch of composers, an extremely good and varied list of composers who we think represent a kind of … how can I put this? They will help to bring out what this orchestra does best. And I think to some extent that brings us back to the question about Elliott Carter. This orchestra doesn’t have a tradition of playing modernist music. It has a tradition of playing more conservative kind of contemporary music. We didn’t say that the composers we commissioned are conservative, but if you look at people like Richard Danielpour and Aaron Jay Kernis or Rautavaara and some of the other people we’re commissioning, they’re certainly their music has a quality of sonorous quality which is closely matched to the identity of this orchestra, so it continues the line in that sense.

EDWARD CAMBRON: A large percentage of those are American composers, right?

SIMON WOODS: Yes.

FRANK J. OTERI: I know that this season you’re doing two of the commissions, you’re doing the work by Hannibal and then you’re doing the Eighth Symphony of Rautavaara. I should point out that even though Rautavaara is from Finland (in fact I had a wonderful meeting with him in Helsinki last October during the festivities around his 70th birthday), he studied with Aaron Copland. He studied with Roger Sessions, and with Vincent Persichetti. So there are definite American ties in his music.

SIMON WOODS: Although recently, of course, his music has not been known in this country at all. It’s only in very recent years. He did a commission, I think, in Minnesota. [Plymouth Music Series] In recent years, he’s beginning to get a name in this country.

FRANK J. OTERI: The last symphony he wrote was written for the Bloomington School of Music in Indiana.

SIMON WOODS: It’s worth saying that for that piece we’re also going to do something else that’s characteristic of this orchestra: we’re going to play in our tour of Europe in 2000. Next May, we will play both the European premiere of the Rautavaara symphony in Cologne and then we will play the Finnish premiere in Helsinki, which is consistent with this orchestra’s commitment to spreading the word about music it has commissioned.

FRANK J. OTERI: Do you plan to record the works that you’re commissioning?

JOSEPH H. KLUGER: We did receive a proposal from Ondine Records to do just that, but unfortunately the economics of that could not be worked out in time to make that possible.

FRANK J. OTERI: This is actually a very big issue with orchestras around the country, and this strikes me very personally. I’m a record collector and got interested in this music by collecting records, largely buying records of the Philadelphia Orchestra, with Eugene Ormandy and with Leopold Stokowski, buying LPs of core repertoire and in fact the very first LP I bought was Ormandy’s recording of the Bartók Third Piano Concerto, which I see you’re doing this season. It’s one of my favorite records to this day. So it occurred to me that this great orchestra is not getting the word out to the rest of the world on recordings.

JOSEPH H. KLUGER: We share your frustration, which is why we are working creatively to try to find a new method of working with our musicians to make that possible. But we’ve got to approach the recording process differently from the way it’s been done.

FRANK J. OTERI: I know that several orchestras, like the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony and I believe several smaller orchestras around the country, have initiated their own recording companies and are releasing works themselves.

JOSEPH H. KLUGER: I think you’ll find that the orchestras you mentioned are not actually forming their own record companies, they are reissuing historical broadcasts on CD. In fact, we’re doing a similar thing with a 12-CD set that’s going to come out this fall. But what we’re doing, and I think the St. Louis Symphony is the other orchestra that I’m aware that’s doing it, is we’ve formed a record company to make new records for our own account, if you will. We’ve recently issued the first of those, coming out on a boutique label called Water Lily Acoustics. And that’s the first of what we hope will be several that come out where we take the risk on our own to manufacture and distribute the recording.

FRANK J. OTERI: I have the Water Lily Acoustics recording, and it is a remarkable achievement in terms of the fidelity of the orchestra. There was a lot of work done to make this a real audiophile product.

JOSEPH H. KLUGER: It is designed to be a very true sound, using, I guess, two microphones and an analog tube system for recording on tape, which is then transferred to various digital formats.

FRANK J. OTERI: I guess the one thing that concerned me about the disc, even though it sounded fantastic, is I was wondering what the market was for such a recording beyond the audiophile market, since it was a collection of various of short pieces of repertoire from different composers, there was no overall theme to the disc.

SIMON WOODS: I think it’s worth saying that the three Dvorák overtures—In Nature’s Realm, Carnival, and Othello—were written as a set and were originally published as a set called Nature, Life and Love, and, interestingly enough, although particularly Carnival and to some extent In Nature’s Realm get recorded and played, there are many, many different recordings, there is no currently available recording, I don’t think, of the complete cycle together.

Dvorak -- In Nature's Realm -- CD cover

RealPlayer  [60 seconds]
RealAudio sound clip
from ANTONIN DVORÁK – In Nature’s Realm featured on the CD Nature’s Realm, The Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch {Water Lily Acoustics WLA-WS-66-CD}.
The three Dvorák overtures featured on this CD were given their world premiere performances at a farewell concert in Prague in 1892 shortly before Dvorák’s departure to America and were performed on the Carnegie Hall concert welcoming him to New York.

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JOSEPH H. KLUGER: The theme is actually focused not so much on the repertoire itself, but more on the concept of creating a product that has sonic excellence that matches the sonic excellence of this orchestra, which we think — we hope — creates a unique identity in the marketplace. The other question is how do you differentiate a recording today from what’s out there? And it is really difficult to make the case, no matter how good the interpretation, that the world needs another Beethoven cycle. And so what we’re trying to do is come up with a niche that we think will appeal not only to audiophiles but to others who are looking for things that sound good today. So this is a repertoire that highlights the sonic excellence of the Philadelphia Orchestra in this new retro recording format.

BRIAN ATWOOD: And in addition to that, one interesting point about the new disc is in the fact that it’s our first recording on this new label, it also makes a statement, when you look at the actual pieces, in that all of the Dvorák pieces are overtures and the Liszt work is Les Préludes. It’s sort of a new beginning both on the recording end of things and also in the pieces themselves. I think that’s a nice thing.

FRANK J. OTERI: That sounds like the headline of a press release! What I found so interesting about the recording is that it was recorded on this label Water Lily Acoustics, which isn’t normally associated with classical music, but is associated with wonderful recordings of non-Western musics, of cross-cultural improvisatory music, of jazz, sort of very progressive things in music. I think it’s very important that the orchestral community reclaim the notion of being progressive and reclaim the notion that this is music that is part of an ongoing tradition. It makes me hope that these commissioned works could be recorded on a label like this to send a message that will get this music out to a new audience.

JOSEPH H. KLUGER: We agree with you. We’re hoping that this first recording is successful so that we can find a financial model for doing many more like that.

FRANK J. OTERI: Let’s talk about the other new works. I noticed that you’ve commissioned Michael Daugherty, who wrote the wonderful Metropolis Symphony a few years back.

SIMON WOODS: There’s also James MacMillan, Richard Danielpour, Roberto Sierra, Jennifer Higdon and Aaron Kernis.