Philadelphia Orchestra Brings Recording Back into Vogue

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), May 13, 2005 | Go to article overview

Philadelphia Orchestra Brings Recording Back into Vogue


Byline: Bill Gowen

Maybe there's some hope for recordings by American orchestras after all.

The Philadelphia Orchestra has announced a three-year agreement with the Finland-based Ondine label to produce at least three CDs per year. This makes the Philadelphia Orchestra the only one among the traditional "big five" - the others are the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra and New York Philharmonic - to have a commercial recording contract.

This deal returns the Philadelphia Orchestra to the microphones after nearly a decade. Its previous contract, with British-based EMI Classics, expired in 1996.

It's not that other orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony, aren't making recordings. However, many of those are one-shot deals, such as the CSO's collaboration two years ago with pianist Lang Lang for a CD of the Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn concertos for the Deutsche Grammophon label.

Also, American orchestras are starting to follow a European trend of self-produced recordings, pioneered by the London Symphony Orchestra with its "LSO Live" series. The San Francisco Symphony's ongoing Mahler symphony cycle under music director Michael Tilson Thomas is a prominent example.

There are several unique aspects to the Philadelphia Orchestra's recording plan. First, all the orchestra's concerts, both at home in Verizon Hall and on tour, are being recorded for archival purposes.

Of course, some concert performances are better than others; especially noteworthy are those in which a certain "white heat" of the moment is communicated to the audience (as well as the microphones).

Instead of rushing the performances onto CDs, they will be evaluated by a committee of musicians from the orchestra, music director Christoph Eschenbach and management from both the orchestra and Ondine.

In other words, these master tapes must pass through many critical ears before they're available as CDs, on-line or downloaded in the MP3 format.

"We are in the business of telling audiences that every performance is different," Philadelphia Orchestra president Joseph H. …

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