Philadelphia classical music events, discussion, and directory
The Philadelphia Orchestra has scheduled a 4 concert celebration of Stokowski June 21-23 with a return to their historic home - the Academy of Music. The concerts include multimedia content with live effects and projected visuals designed by stage director, James Alexander, with a creative special effects team at Symphony V.0. This initiative is an introduction to the 2012/2013 season of which Stokowski will be its central theme. The orchestra also started a blog that will highlight content about him that was gathered this year by researchers.
Here are the videos created about the celebration so far. So what do you think? Are you planning to go to any of these concerts? What do you think about the use of special effects? Stokowski was a known innovator so do you believe he'd appreciate these staging effects, or is he turning in his grave? What about the programming itself? Do you like the idea of an audience choice concert? Do you have other innovative ideas that you think the orchestra should consider?
I think that it is a fine idea to honor the legacy that Leopold Stokowski left as the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. However, the concert series to be performed at the Academy in June falls well short of the kind of tribute owed to Stokowski. The "special effects" that will be highlighted at these concerts are, at best, a nod to one aspect of Stokowski's interests. It is unfortunate that most of today's audience members remember Stokowski (if they know of him, at all) as the conductor in the Disney film, "Fantasia". While he was Music Director in Philadelphia, Stokowski was responsible for the world and U.S. premieres of many new music compositions, including the U.S. premieres of Mahler's 8th symphony, in 1916, Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring", in 1922, and many more works. Stokowski was a champion of new music, and conducted all of Arnold Schoenberg's orchestral works during the composer's lifetime. Stokowski was also a very successful showman, and he had little compunction about altering a composer's original score when it suited him, but he was also a serious musician, who wanted to bring new music to his audience. The concert program for the June series, including Brahms No. 1, are all works that were performed by Stokowski in Philadelphia. However, I think that it would be a greater tribute to the memory of this music pioneer, to continue his efforts to introduce audiences to new music. Perhaps, this will be part of the Stokowski celebration next season (I haven't looked at those details), I hope so.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Gary. That is an interesting note about Stokowski's apparent love of Schoenberg's works. Repeating that today would certainly not be a draw for new audience members like the potential of the association with Fantasia but I, too, hope that the orchestra will embrace living contemporary composers. Sadly, evidence of this is lacking for the 2012/2013. I just reviewed the season and of the 75 works scheduled, only 6 are by living composers. Philadelphia is home to a surprising number of classical composers and one of the most played living composers today - Jennifer Higdon. I have had the pleasure of attending a large number of concerts in the 2011/2012 season where the composer has been present and spoke to the audience. All have been wonderful experiences, whether I fully embraced the work or not.
As for the fluffy Stokowski celebration - I think the orchestra needs this to try to draw new audiences, and the concept certainly has high entertainment value. Thankfully, it also does this without "dumbing down" the musical content. I only have two concerns:
1. This appears to be a very expensive presentation for an orchestra that has still not pulled itself out of bankruptcy. If it is highly successful in drawing new audience members that attend multiple concerts later, however, it will be worth the expense.
2. This "fluffiness" is the beginning of a trend towards orchestra entertainment that starts to creep into the regular season. Thankfully, I don't see signs of this - yet.
I attended the June 23rd concert at the Academy. The night opened with computerized images of Stokowski and Yannick exchanging words in opposite balconies. The discussion ended with Stokowski tossing the baton to Yannick. I thought this was the most effective part of the evening’s special effects.
The concert opened with Stokowski’s orchestration of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. Yannick then led the orchestra in selections from The Nutcracker and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with the movie Fantasia projected above the stage. During the Fantasia selections, Yannick used a laptop to help him keep the music in time with the movie.
The second half of the concert opened with Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story followed by Stravinsky’s The Firebird. The highlight for me was the final piece, Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyreis”. This was my first time hearing this piece live.
The special effects were a big part of the buildup of these concerts. I could have done without the effects; however, the colored lighting of the Academy’s chandelier was quite effective. The PO was, I think, successful in attracting a wider audience as there seemed to be quite a few “first timers” Saturday night. There was a bit more chatter in the audience during the concert than usual but I didn’t find it distracting. I think everyone was just really enjoying the performance.
It will be interesting to see where the PO goes from here with these “special” concerts. I’m sure there will be a cost/benefit analysis completed. Will these concerts result in new subscriptions for next season? How do the orchestra members feel about performing these light programs? I guess time will only tell.