The Philadelphia Orchestra at 100

4. Programming American Music

FRANK J. OTERI: The majority of the eight composers you’ve commissioned are Americans.

SIMON WOODS: Plus one Brit, one Finn, and one Puerto Rican…

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, since Puerto Rico is a U.S. Commonwealth and Roberto is based in the United States, I think it’s fair to say he’s also an American composer. Which gets me to my next point, which is it’s interesting that you say the Philadelphia Orchestra has not been traditionally associated with “American composers.” I think one of the interesting things about this season and about highlighting works which the Philadelphia Orchestra in fact gave the world premiere performances of, is that a number of composers we perceive of as Europeans were in fact naturalized Americans and therefore were in fact American composers. I’m thinking now of composers like Bartók and Rachmaninoff, who spent the majority of his life in the United States, of Schoenberg and Stravinsky, who became naturalized U.S. citizens. Kurt Weill, as well, whom I see you’re also doing on this season. These composers became American composers, and a lot of the music they wrote in this country, I’m thinking now specifically of Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto and his Concerto for Orchestra, are very American works in a lot of ways.

SIMON WOODS: What do you think is American about the Bartók Third Concerto?

FRANK J. OTERI: There is definitely a jazz influence, there’s a lot of syncopation going on.

Bartok -- Concerto -- CD covoer

RealPlayer  [30 seconds]
RealAudio sound clip
from BARTÓK – PIANO CONCERTO No. 3, Third Movement – Allegro Vivace
Gyorgy Sandor – piano, Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
World Premiere Recording {Columbia Masterworks LP ML 4239}, Out Of Print

JOSEPH H. KLUGER: You may think this is a heretical statement. The world becomes smaller through technology and our ability to travel. I think, with all due respect to the American Music Center, I think we’ve got to start to recognize that we live on one world, and music is music, and the Philadelphia Orchestra is an international orchestra. The conductors are from all over the world, some of them are American, some of them are European, some of them are Asian, as are the musicians. We just have to make sure we’re presenting the best there is in the world, recognizing that that comes from many different places, and stop apologizing because we either do too much or too little of any one nationality.

FRANK J. OTERI: I’d like to challenge that for a second. When I traveled around in Europe, I discovered that Sibelius is on the money in Finland. And almost all the programs in Finland include works by Sibelius. You go to Germany, and Clara Schumann is on the money. Not just a composer, but a woman composer!

JOSEPH H. KLUGER: I would be equally critical of them in saying that their audiences are missing out on some of the great music of the world, composers like Stravinsky and Barber and William Schuman. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be performing those works, all I’m saying is the parochial point of view, wherever you are, we should be playing more Sibelius in America and less in Finland. We should be playing more American composers in Europe. It’s just a personal statement.

BRIAN ATWOOD: And we’re very lucky, actually, that this orchestra has made that commitment throughout its entire history. And when you look back and start to program a season such as what we’ve done with the 100th, I think you’ll find that the reason we’ve got such a varied list of composers and a vast variety of different areas where they come from is because that directly reflects the history of this orchestra, and we’ve always had a commitment to that and I think we’re continuing that now in our commission projects. Yes, there are a number of American composers, and I think that’s something that we’ve wanted to work on for a while, but as Simon mentioned we also have a number of folks from other countries and other areas of the world that are also being commissioned for this.