Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Leopold Stokowski and His Symphony Orchestra: Personnel Rosters for the RCA Victor Recordings

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Leopold Stokowski and His Symphony Orchestra: Personnel Rosters for the RCA Victor Recordings

Article excerpt

On 21 April 1945, Leopold Stokowski married debutante Gloria Vanderbilt, often described as the most beautiful girl in the world; he was 58, she 21. In 1947 they moved into one of two magnificent penthouses atop 10 Gracie Square in New York City. Across the way lived a famous, popular conductor with an awkward foreign accent who was known for arranging other people's music and was looked down upon by musical snobs, one who made many best-selling recordings with "His Orchestra" and lived with his gorgeous, glamorous wife: Andre Kostelanetz and Lily Pons were a mirror image of the Stokowskis.

While disentangling himself from the Philadelphia Orchestra in the late 1930s, Stokowski led a peripatetic existence: Hollywood, Garbo, Fantasia. Like Sir Thomas Beecham, he founded and conducted new orchestras at every turn: the All-American Youth Orchestra, the New York City Symphony the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra, and eventually the American Symphony Orchestra. He needed a major orchestra of his own, and he seemed to get it when Toscanini left the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1941, but the old maestro returned in 1944. Stokowski's four-year campaign to take over the New York Philharmonic failed, probably because its board of directors felt they would not be able to control him. Victor, America's only major classical-music recording company rested on its laurels in the late 1930s, and the young upstart Columbia Records stole many of Victor's prize orchestras. Columbia signed the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, plus the orchestras of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and--briefly--Chicago. RCA was left with the Boston Symphony and its own NBC Symphony, but both their superstar conductors were nearing retirement, ageing fast. Thus "Leopold Stokowski and His Symphony Orchestra" was created out of smoke and mirrors. Who were those masked men (and women)? Endless discussions have been waged about members of the Philharmonic, the NBC, and local freelance musicians. It is time to set the record straight.

This was not a permanent orchestra, and it did not give regular public concerts (a few special performances using the title were given later in the 1950s). It was contracted for each recording session by Joseph Fabbroni, who also contracted many sessions for the RCA Victor Symphony and similarly named ensembles, as well as assembling the original New York City Opera Orchestra (The New York Times, 12 February 1944). Every musician who played in all but one of these recordings is identified here, and we track their "day job" at the time of each session. At least 22 musicians played in both the NBC Symphony and the New York Philharmonic. One group followed Toscanini from the Philharmonic to NBC in 1937; others started as founding members of the NBC and went over to the Philharmonic in the early 1940s, when Toscanini was in semi-retirement and Artur Rodzinski was rebuilding the Philharmonic. Rodzinski, a Stokowski protege, knew who to recruit, as he--at Toscanini's request--had auditioned and hired the initial personnel of the NBC Symphony. Stokowski too knew all the musicians well: He had been the NBC Symphony's principal conductor during Toscanini's absence, and he conducted 158 performances with the Philharmonic from 1946 to 1950 (the final one, on 9 April 1950, was Mahler's Eighth Symphony, which the author was privileged to attend).

Among former NBC members who played for the Philharmonic at the time of these sessions were Carl Stern, CELLO; John Wummer and Benjamin Gaskins, FLUTE; William Polisi, bassoon; and William Bell, TUBA. Several freelancers played for Stokowski before joining the Philharmonic (Violinists Alfred Breuning and David Nadien, flutist Julius Baker, oboist Robert Lehrfeld, and trumpeter Carmine Fornarotto), others such as Nicolai Berezowsky and Calmen Fleisig after they left the Philharmonic, so they too are counted as freelancers. Special mention must be made of Robert Bloom, who was first OBOE for almost every session of Stokowski's orchestra. …

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