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The Philadelphia Sound

Eugene Ormandy November 18, 1899 – March 12, 1985

What is “The Philadelphia Sound”?

According to The Philadelphia Orchestra’s Music Director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, “It is the most beautiful sound in the world, because it is the sound of the hearts and souls of a fantastic group of women and men, passionately committed to share the most wonderful art form to the widest audience possible. ” ₁

Norman Carol (the orchestra’s concertmaster from 1966 to 1994) once assured a New York Times reporter that, ”It can still be dug up whenever anyone demands it.”

But what exactly is it, you ask?

In a 1960 interview, Eugene Ormandy, a violin virtuoso and the orchestra’s director from 1936 to 1980, remarked that,  “The Philadelphia Sound – it’s me.”

While many would agree, others prefer to elaborate and give at least some of the credit to the string section. The relationship between Ormandy (born November 18, 1899 in Hungary) and the celebrated lush tones of the orchestra’s world renown string section is best described in an Ormandy biography published by Penn State University:

As the Philadelphia Orchestra’s long time conductor, Ormandy was able to develop what is known as the “Philadelphia Sound.”  This concept applies to the orchestra’s string section, which Ormandy coached meticulously.  In the Hungarian tradition of violin playing , Ormandy insisted that his string players use a lot of bow pressure (as opposed to a quick bow with less pressure as in the Russian school), and a broad vibrato.  Also, Ormandy switched from the method of “free bowing,” which Toscanini had in place, in which the strings are bowed in different directions, to the more modern practice of “uniform bowing,” in which all instruments in a section bow in the same direction.  The unique sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra during his tenure there can also be attributed to the fact that after being there for several years, eventually the entire roster of the orchestra had changed and everyone in it had been hand-picked by Ormandy himself.  So, the kinds of players that he wanted were there and this too, led to the formation of the “Philadelphia Sound”.₂

Now you know. :) But if you want to know more, we also found great information in Philadelphia Maestros: Ormandy, Muti, Sawallisch

₁ Music Director Designate, Yannick Nézet-Séguin offered these words to the Philadelphia Orchestra Board as part of a written statement in response to the board’s decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

₂ By Matthew Haydt, 2007 http://www.pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/bios/Ormandy__Eugene.html

1 Comment to “The Philadelphia Sound”

  1. Dennis Maher says:

    I lived in Trenton NJ from ’78 – ’86. The Trenton Symphony had a director who was an assistant conductor from Philadelphia. I don’t remember his name. I was told that this person was responsible for the string section sound. (Maybe he was a section coach?)

    Is there anything to this, and who was he?

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