The Philadelphia Orchestra is considered to be one of the “Big Five” American orchestras. Founded in Philadelphia in 1900, the brains behind this classical music establishment is Fritz Scheel, the same person who would become the first music director and conductor of this orchestra.
It’s hard to believe at first that a musical establishment like this would have its roots from humble beginnings. Along with Scheel, the number of original members of the orchestra is actually small. However, their skills were immediately discovered by those who know quality classical music. Richard Strauss became a guest conductor for the Orchestra, Artur Rubenstein made his American debut with them, and they also performed at the White House for an exclusive concert in 1906.
Even when the founder Scheel died abruptly in 1907 because of an illness, the upward momentum of the Philadelphia Orchestra just could be stopped. Even though the Orchestra was besieged by bad leadership and bad performances in the years after Scheel’s death, it was fortunate that they were able to weather the storm. Leopold Stokowski brought the Orchestra back to prominence during his reign from 1912-1936. This is where their distinct musical style, dubbed as “Philadelphia Sound” gained prominence around the nation.
Eugene Ormandy then took over as the Orchestra’s musical director, and held that position for 44 years (until 1980). It was during his leadership where a lot of their greatest performances, such as their historic 1973 tour of China, were held. He was then succeeded by Riccardo Muti, holding the position until 1992. His main contribution is with the production of recordings of the symphonies of legendary masters such as Beethoven and Brahms. Wolfgang Sawallisch, Christoph Eschenbach, and Charles Dutoit would carry the title musical director over the last 20 years. Currently, the leadership mantle is held by newly-appointed music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin.
Over its 110+ years of existence, the Philadelphia Orchestra has made history in all kinds of ways. In 1925, they became the first symphony orchestra in America to use electrical recordings. They are also the first to make a commercially sponsored radio broadcast in 1929 and the first to appear on national television in 1948. They are also the first orchestra to utilize an online live stream in 1997. But arguably their most important feat is their groundbreaking tour of China in 1973. It is considered as a major diplomatic event, and it paved the way for future American orchestras.