Although Russian pianist, composer and conductor Sergei Rachmaninoffbecame an international star, his first symphony was considered a failure when it premiered in 1897, and was not performed again during the composer’s lifetime. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, today it’s regarded much differently.
On Sunday Nov 23, 2014, on WRTI, the Philadelphia Orchestra performs Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 1.
Among those who have shaped Philadelphia’s cultural landscape is someone who not only created his own art, but also influenced the development of the now-renowned Barnes collection in the early 20th century. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more on realist painter and Barnes confidant William Glackens (1870-1938).
Meridee Duddleston looks at the life and career of Philadelphia Orchestra harpist Edna Phillips (1907-2003).
A biography by writer Mary Sue Welsh reveals what it was like to be the first woman to enter the all-male sanctum of The Philadelphia Orchestra in the 1930s. WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston discovered the powerful combination of talent and fear.
On September 14, 1930, the headline of The Philadelphia Public Ledger read: "Solo Harpist to Be First Girl in Philadelphia Orchestra." A young Edna Phillips entered the single-sex fortress of The Philadelphia Orchestra in 1930 - a year after pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff called it "the finest orchestra the world has ever heard." She’d played the harp for only five years when she was hired as the first female member and principal harpist. Her "musicalité" may have been obvious to the pioneering Leopold Stokowski, but was she ready? What was it like to be the only woman among men at a time when gender equality and workplace mores were far different from what they are today?
Author Mary Sue Welsh worked with the observant, warm, and funny Phillips on her story during Phillips’ lifetime, completing it after the first harpist’s death in 2003. True to Phillips’ desire, it’s as much about the challenges and triumphs of her own life, as about how the Orchestra grew and responded to its conductors - particularly Leopold Stokowski.
Listen to excerpts from author Mary Sue Welsh's conversation with Meridee Duddleston.
Carolyn Nicosia studied with Edna Phillips in the early 1950s. [After hearing our feature on Edna Philips, Carolyn contacted Meridee and shared a personal remembrance and an inscribed photo. Thank you, Carolyn Nicosia!]
How I became a student of Edna Phillips:
My mother’s mother (Maria Quintile Riccardi) migrated to the U.S. from a village in Italy that had produced many harpists. Her brothers also came to the U.S. and took up their musical careers. Joseph Quintile was harpist for the St. Louis Symphony and later for film studios in Hollywood. Anthony Quintile was a bass player who played at various venues and also taught bass and solfeggio (he taught me when I was a child of 8 or 9).
My mother’s brothers almost all made their living as musicians, mostly bass players. Rex Riccardi worked with Petrillo to found the Musicians’ Union.
Of my cousins, several of the boys also became musicians, either piano or bass. One, Frank Caster, was a student at Curtis, who became a member of the Washington Symphony and then the San Francisco Symphony. Another became a restorer of violins in addition to playing bass.
When I was a child I started harp lessons at age 6 or 7. My teacher at that time was Joseph Leonardo. It was he who found a small-sized Lyon and Healy harp for me and made arrangements of music so that no key changes were required during playing because my feet could not reach the pedals.
Over the years I was on and off again with practicing. Then, during one of his family visits East, Uncle Joe Quintile told my mother that I should try again to take up the harp seriously, and it was he who contacted Edna Phillips and asked her to take me as a pupil. I was about 14 or 15 years old.
As a student of Edna Phillips:
Edna Phillips came to our house to see my harp and meet my family. She agreed to take me as a student. Since we had little money and even her “professional courtesy” charge per hour was beyond our means, Miss Phillips agreed to take me for a half hour at her house on Sundays.
I traveled by trolley and 2 buses to her home near what was formerly The Textile Institute. It seemed to me to be a very large and impressive house, but she was very kind to me when I went for lessons.
I remember Miss Phillips telling me stories about Carlos Salzedo of Curtis - his method of playing harp and his design of a new harp made by Lyon and Healy. Miss Phillips later had one of the Salzedo harps.
One aspect of the Salzedo method was the way the arms were to be held, to give more strength. Miss Phillips said that she was once playing for a great conductor (probably Stokowski) who felt that the new method wasn’t allowing her tone to be loud enough. So she fooled him, playing exactly the same way in two instances, but in one of them she threw up her hands after the passage, to the great approval of the conductor who said she had given him just what he wanted.
Once I was invited to stay for lunch and I met Mr. Rosenbaum and their two children. It was all new and grand to me. I remember the setting very well.
Another time the weather had become cold so Miss Phillips lent me a sweater to wear on my long journey back home. I had never felt anything so soft! I learned later that it was cashmere.
It wasn’t long before Miss Phillips realized that I wasn’t really a musician. Knowing our limited finances, she suggested to my mother that I transfer to one of the students of harp at Curtis, Nanette Norton. She told me wonderful stories about what they were learning from Salzedo.
However, as I mentioned above, I really didn’t have the talent. It seems that the musical ability in our family has passed from generation to generation only to the males. We females can sing well enough to join choirs or take music lessons on various instruments, but none of us are professional musicians. So I gave up my studies. I kept the harp for many years until finally I sold it.
Great monuments aren’t always great concert halls. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns recently visited the 11th-century Canterbury Cathedral in England, and came to learn a new way of listening.
A Soviet-era piano concerto that put an Armenian composer on the map, being performed by French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, is one of the highlights of this week's Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert. WRTI’s Jim Cotter reports.
Aram Khachaturian wrote his only piano concerto in 1936 in the USSR . It was a hit both at home and abroad, especially in the U.S. So much so that, a 1946 recording by William Kapell with the Boston Symphony Orchestra became so popular that it was often referred to as the "Khachaturian Kapell.”
Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony is, on one level, a musical description of nature. But as WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, the accessible music belies a greater meaning.
Based on a boyhood experience getting caught in a storm hiking in the Alps, the idea for An Alpine Symphony germinated for years in Strauss’s mind. It wasn’t until after Gustav Mahler died, that he determined to finish the work, which he regarded as a tribute to his fellow composer.
Few quaint New Jersey towns have major orchestras, choruses, and chamber music performances - but Princeton does. The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns reports on the vibrant music scene in this center of academic excellence.
The arts can encourage positive cultural identity and promote cross-cultural understanding. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, that’s the premise of the Philadelphia-based organization Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, open to people of all backgrounds and presenting and teaching Arab language, art, and music, which can vary among the 22 countries in the Arab world.
The nationally syndicated public radio program From the Top features gifted young classical musicians from all over the country. They’re always super talented - and often very amusing as they chat with host Christopher O'Riley - which all adds up to great radio. More than 250 public radio stations broadcast the show.
Pianist Lang Lang came straight to Philadelphia from his native China in hope, rather than certainty, that he would be able to continue his musical education here. It worked out, and he was admitted to the Curtis Institute where he bloomed into a major talent.
Many Philadelphia Orchestra musicians are Lang Lang’s former classmates from Curtis. And he’s been playing with them regularly since - in Philadelphia, and on tours around the world.