A Monthly Profile of Orchestra Fans and Family
Fred Honigman has a favorite T-shirt, sent to him by a daughter in California. On the back it says: The only Philly team that never disappoints. And on the front it reads: The Philadelphia Orchestra.
“I think anyone who lives in the Philadelphia area needs to realize that The Philadelphia Orchestra is probably our #1 asset,” says Fred. “And if you’re living in Philadelphia, you really should avail yourself and understand and appreciate this asset.”
His wife, Trudy, agrees. “The Philadelphia Orchestra is the only winning team in Philadelphia. It never disappoints!”
The Honigmans are lifelong Philadelphia residents, and huge fans of the home team. Both graduates of West Philadelphia High School, they credit the Philadelphia public schools with nurturing their love of music and introducing them to the Orchestra. Fred played bass in the school orchestra. Trudy sang in the choir. And they remember getting those free Amphitheatre tickets to see the Fabulous Philadelphians at the Academy of Music. “On Friday afternoons we were excused from school and I would go in on the trolley,” says Trudy. “Sometimes with friends and sometimes by myself.”
Eventually, she started going with Fred. The couple—now married for almost 58 years—had their first date at the Academy of Music; the Grand Old Lady of Locust Street is “very special in our hearts,” says Trudy.
The bought their first Orchestra subscription in 1970, for 12 concerts at the Academy. “That was inadequate,” says Fred, so the next year, they bought two subscriptions, and attended many of the remaining concerts as well. “We have been subscribing to all the Saturday night concerts dating back to the early ’70s up until the present time,” he says. “As you can see, we can’t get enough!”
The Honigmans’s history with the Orchestra encompasses the eras of Ormandy, Muti, Sawallisch, Eschenbach, Dutoit, “and happily today: Yannick!” says Fred.
“We have entered the new golden age for The Philadelphia Orchestra with Yannick,” says Trudy.
“I will attest to that,” he adds.
“Yannick is truly a singular young man,” says Trudy. “We are so grateful to our President and CEO Allison Vulgamore for bringing him to us. She is the one who negotiated that and I think she deserves a great deal of credit.”
As Philadelphia School District graduates, Fred and Trudy are also big supporters of the All-City music program. (Growing up, Trudy sang at the Academy of Music every year as part of the All-City junior and senior high school choir. “It was a thrill for me to then become an audience member after having been on the stage,” she says.) They loved seeing Yannick conduct at the All-Philadelphia High School Music Festival in Verizon Hall last spring, leading an ensemble of over 400 in two great operatic works: Verdi’s “Triumphal March” from Aida and “Va, pensiero” from Nabucco.
“Yannick invited the teachers to play with the students,” says Fred. “The stage of Verizon Hall was flooded with teachers, students, and singers.” The Conductor’s Circle was full of choristers, all of whom smiled when Yannick walked on stage. “Everyone’s eyes lit up,” Fred recalls.
“That was very memorable,” Trudy interjects. “It truly was.”
“That was unbeatable. That was unbeatable,” Fred continues, “because The Philadelphia Orchestra is involved.”
They have great respect and praise for Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Timpani Don Liuzzi (another graduate of the Philadelphia schools), who just retired from a decade of leading the All-City program, and Assistant Principal Bass Joseph Conyers, who took over as director this year.
Liuzzi “has done a magnificent job. His heart is really in it,” says Fred. And Conyers is “a wonderful guy. He’s charismatic. He will continue what Don Liuzzi was able to accomplish.”
Fred and Trudy have four daughters and eight grandchildren of their own … but also two sort of “adopted” sons in the form of two Curtis students they got to know as part of the conservatory’s Host Family Program. About 10 years ago they took an 18-year-old bassoonist named William Short and a 17-year-old cellist, Camden Shaw, under their wings.
“What you do is act as a surrogate grandparent,” says Trudy. “They were delightful young men. We went all through school with them.”
“To end the story—we have stayed in touch with both of them—the bassoonist, our Billy, is the co-principal bassoon of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra,” says Trudy. And Shaw, the cellist, is a member of the Dover Quartet, currently performing around the world. “It is reputed that they will be the next Guarneri,” she says proudly.
Fred says he has enough Orchestra highlights to fill a book, but especially wants to mention one last thing before we wrap up: “Put in a plug that we really get a bang out of the college student program,” he says, referring to the eZseatU program, which gives students unlimited access to concerts for just $25. He and Trudy always notice the students filing in just before the house lights dim.
“We enjoy seeing that,” he says.
“I guess you can tell we feel that Our Orchestra is our second family!” says Trudy.
Lucky for us.