Michael Tilson Thomas returns to conduct Tchaikovsy’s “Pathétique” Symphony.
A Monthly Series of Donor and Patron Profiles
Don’t ask Claudia Balderston about her first encounter with The Philadelphia Orchestra. The Philadelphians have been in her world for so long, she can’t recall life without them. “I don’t remember!” she insists. “The Orchestra has always been a part of our lives. We’ve been subscription holders forever.”
Her husband, Richard, has the better story, she says. He was a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania when, on a snowy night in the mid-70s, he and some fellow students decided to trek to the Academy of Music in blizzard-like conditions. They figured the weather would guarantee plenty of empty seats in the audience, but that the musicians would still show up. They were right on both counts. “They all went down to the Academy and just had the most grand evening,” says Claudia. “In fact he can still remember what was played. It was Mahler’s Fifth. And he’s had a love for that piece ever since as a result.”
Claudia says her husband’s love of classical music in general is one of the reasons she was attracted to him. “He was a guy with his own collection of classical records,” she says. “I had some, he had some. It was great!” They married, had children, and began going to Family Concerts. Now—two grown kids and 30-plus years of subscribing later—they’re also part of the Maestro’s Circle, helping to ensure the future of an organization that’s been part of their own history for decades. “Not having the Orchestra is really just unthinkable,” Claudia says. “As we got older and more mature we realized the importance of The Philadelphia Orchestra to Philadelphia. … Supporting the arts—especially the Orchestra—has to be a huge priority. And it has to be done with private support.”
“We know some of the musicians,” she adds. “They’re so talented and so modest and they give such joy to people that whatever we can do to support them, of course we’re happy to do it.”
Claudia says music has always been a part of her life. Growing up on Long Island, she played piano for 15 years, and even competed, playing and composing. (“I was good, but I wasn’t good enough to be great. You know how that is.”) She played the cello, too—until the dog ate the bows. (“My sister always said it was because she didn’t like my playing but I don’t think it was that at all,” she jokes.) Her mom, she says, would drag her to the Metropolitan Opera and play Strauss waltzes while dancing around the house.
Richard grew up in Berwyn. The two met at Penn while he was in medical school and she was an undergraduate. Married for 37 years, they raised their son, Philip, and daughter, Jessica, in the Society Hill house where they still live. Taking the kids to see the Philadelphians meant getting dressed up, going to the Academy, having lunch in town, and walking home. “Best quality of life ever,” says Claudia.
More recently, the Balderstons have been enjoying the Orchestra on Friday evenings, and this season they’ve invited another couple to join them. Claudia says it’s the perfect way to decompress after a long and busy week. “There’s something about going to a concert on a Friday night,” she says. “After a performance, I’m always so calm. I always sleep so well.” And even though they might be tired, “every time we go we just wish they would start the program all over when it’s done and play it all through again.”
The Balderstons are big fans of Concertmaster David Kim, and are thrilled about Yannick. “We’re so excited. Really, since Ormandy, I haven’t been this excited about a maestro,” Claudia says. “I love Yannick’s enthusiasm. I think we’re incredibly lucky to have him.”
And though it isn’t a “first time” memory, Claudia does recall one special performance highlight: “I have one memory of Emanuel Ax and Wolfgang Sawallisch, playing a duet on one piano sitting side by side on a bench. And there was such a sense of joy in it. It was transformative.”