The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Mann Center celebrate a new long-term partnership
One of the best summer getaways in Philadelphia doesn’t involve getting away at all. The Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Fairmount Park is the perfect outdoor setting for enjoying glorious entertainment, from the best pop stars to beloved movies, and of course the Fabulous Philadelphians, all without leaving the city.
The Mann is launching its 2023 season of music under the stars with even more excitement than usual. This summer marks the start of a new, multi-year residency agreement with The Philadelphia Orchestra.
Music and Artistic Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin with The Philadelphia Orchestra at his Mann Center debut in 2019. Photo: Jordan August Photography
“It really is a reaffirmation and celebration of the defining relationship that the Orchestra and the Mann Center have,” says Matías Tarnopolsky, president and CEO of The Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center, Inc. “The Mann was created for The Philadelphia Orchestra, and it seemed the most fitting way to celebrate this extraordinary relationship with this fantastic five-year commitment to each other.”
The Mann Center’s president and CEO, Catherine Cahill, also hails the agreement.
“The Philadelphia Orchestra has been the resident ensemble at the Mann, and its predecessor, since its inception back in 1930. We honor that deep, rich tradition with this new long-term contract.”
Tarnopolsky adds, “One of the things that really inspired us to solidify our agreement for the long term was to take inspiration for the future from the past, when there were multi-week residencies of The Philadelphia Orchestra at the Mann. We really want to rebuild that as a gift to audiences in Philadelphia.”
In celebration of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, The Philadelphia Orchestra and West Philadelphia rapper Chill Moody will perform Darin Atwater’s Black Metropolis in a free concert at the Mann Center on July 19.
The Mann actually began across the Schuylkill River from its current home. In the 1920s, it was felt that The Philadelphia Orchestra needed a summer home, one that would be accessible to music lovers who might not be able to afford seats at the Academy of Music. Similar venues were going up around the country, so why not in Philadelphia? The Robin Hood Dell was built in East Fairmount Park and the Orchestra performed its first concert there in 1930.
Through the years, some of the greatest musicians in the classical world performed there, from Marian Anderson to Van Cliburn, as well as jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington.
But there were problems, number one being the weather. Daytime concerts in the summer could be broiling. Rain could cancel a concert on short notice. And if you’re among those Philadelphians who love to hate the Schuylkill Expressway, here’s another reason: It was built across the river from the Robin Hood Dell in the 1950s, but soon after it opened, the non-stop traffic noise carried easily into the amphitheater, annoying patrons and performers alike.
Enter Fredric Mann. The hugely successful Philadelphia businessman and classical music lover had been a director of the Board of the Robin Hood Dell since 1941 and was the driving force behind the creation of the Robin Hood Dell West, which opened in 1976, in time for the country’s bicentennial. Three years later, the Philadelphia City Council renamed it in his honor. [The old Robin Hood Dell lives on as the Dell Music Center, offering a variety of musical and educational events.]
A Philadelphia Record clipping showing The Philadelphia Orchestra at the inaugural Robin Hood Dell concert on July 9, 1930.
Cahill likes to point out that “when you talk about major summer world-class music venues there are only two in the United States in urban settings: the Mann and the Hollywood Bowl. As Philadelphians we can take great pride in this jewel in the crown of Philadelphia, in historic Fairmount Park.”
The Orchestra kicks off its 2023 summer at the Mann in spectacular fashion on May 18, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Cahill notes, “We’ll be celebrating in that same week for the first time ever a multi-day HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) festival. So we are thrilled that the Morgan State University Choir will be the choral ensemble for the Ninth. All of our vocal soloists for that magnificent work are HBCU graduates as well.”
The Orchestra will also perform in Black Metropolis in a free program on July 19. “We’re very excited that composer Darin Atwater and Chill Moody, a West Philly rapper and the Mann’s first-ever community artist in residence, are collaborating to reimagine one of Darin’s earlier works. It features rappers, DJs, visual artists, a choir, a rhythm section, AND The Philadelphia Orchestra!”
The Orchestra will also present the annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular, complete with fireworks, on June 20. And summer wouldn’t be complete without a slate of family movies, with the brilliant scores of John Williams performed live by the Orchestra: Star Wars: The Force Awakens on June 24 and Jurassic Park on July 22. Says Tarnopolsky: “It’s important that we ensure that the broadest possible audience feels welcome. Whether it’s Mozart and Mahler, or Valerie Coleman or John Williams, what I’m really interested in is ensuring that everyone who comes to a concert at the Mann feels the sense of beauty and joy that comes from experiencing the music-making of the great Philadelphia Orchestra.”
The Philadelphia Orchestra performs the score to Toy Story while the film is shown on giant screens in July 2021, one of the popular Movies @ the Mann events. Photo: Jordan August Photography
The Orchestra’s concerts are only part of the Mann’s offerings this summer, which also include James Taylor, Phish, and an expanded Roots Picnic on June 3 and 4, featuring Diddy, Lauryn Hill, and Philadelphia’s own The Roots. (For a complete listing of the Mann’s summer season visit https://manncenter.org/events).
But Cahill emphasizes, the Mann is about more than entertainment. “It was my dream for well over a decade to have a summer music academy at the Mann, providing world-class training for so many of Philadelphia’s young instrumentalists who don’t necessarily have the ability to attend summer music camps. When we were finally able to take this dream and make it a reality with the All City Orchestra Summer Academy (ACOSA), the very first choice for a partner was The Philadelphia Orchestra, our long-term resident ensemble, combined with the School District of Philadelphia, which has the All City Philadelphia music program during the school year. We offer this life-changing experience free of charge each summer.”
Tarnopolsky adds, “We love to work with the tremendous education and community engagement team at the Mann. We’re thrilled to bring musicians of the Orchestra into the fold and offer our communities the wonderful gift of a vibrant set of education and community programs.”
Looking ahead over the next five years, Cahill cites the advantages of a long-term commitment.
“You’re allowed to plan, to commission works, to dream together, to brainstorm and figure out a pathway forward. We are thrilled to have in Matías and his team the most supportive and wonderful creative partners. This long-term contract really gives us the ability to deliver on that promise.”
And what’s Matías’s fervent hope for the partnership? “That we continue to build on this beautiful relationship between our two organizations.”
Steve Holt, managing partner at re:Write, is a veteran journalist and musician.