A Monthly Profile of Orchestra Fans and Family
“The whole experience has been, to me, life-transforming.”
When Ken Hutchins uses those words to describe his relationship with The Philadelphia Orchestra, he means it literally. A Northeast Philadelphia native and Temple grad who put himself through college working at Strawbridge and Clothier, he’s a true local, but he didn’t grow up attending Orchestra concerts. He’s not even what you’d call naturally musically inclined: “I have no capability to play an instrument,” he says. “I don’t play anything except the play button on my phone or CD player!”
Two years ago, Ken didn’t attend a single Philadelphia Orchestra concert. This season he has six subscriptions. That’s about 70 concerts. “That’s up from about 30-ish from last season,” he says. “And it’s up from zero the prior season.”
And that’s not all. He attends most of the Open Rehearsals and, as a member of the Maestro’s Circle, countless special events: backstage meet-and-greets, Saratoga on a patron tour in August, a ride on the Orchestra train to see a performance with Yannick and Lang Lang at Carnegie Hall last spring. He even moved from Juniata Park to Center City—to Symphony House, with a view of the Kimmel Center—to be closer to the action.
Ken’s extraordinary involvement with the Orchestra is bittersweet. It all started after he lost his wife, Eleanor Cicinsky, a week after their fourth wedding anniversary, in May 2015. “My wife suddenly—and completely unexpectedly—passed away,” Ken says. “And going through the grieving process, one of my close friends suggested I take out a subscription and go to the Orchestra and hear some music.”
He started with a nine-concert subscription, not only hearing the music, but also getting to know the musicians—as well as Orchestra staff, Kimmel Center ushers, and fellow donors and subscribers. Some of them feel sorry for him, he says, when they hear his story. But he prefers to shine a positive light:
“I’m here because I’ve got a void to fill … but it’s really opened up a lot of other opportunities that I just never took advantage of,” he says. “I came for the music but stayed for the people.”
“I came to listen to the music. It is so much different to hear the Orchestra live in the hall than listening on CDs or over the radio. And I think that live experience and power is what drove me to attend more concerts than that initial nine-subscription plan that I got. But as I got to know more of the staff of the Orchestra, and I got to know more of the musicians, then it almost is a 50-50. It’s music and it's the people.”
One of the musicians Ken has gotten to know is Principal Harp Elizabeth Hainen. He supports her Lyra Society, which promotes harp education in the Philadelphia School District as part of its mission. And last summer he audited the Elizabeth Hainen Harp Colony at the Curtis Institute of Music, a week of master classes for harpists at various stages of their careers and studies.
“Just to be able to see them being taught and coached by Elizabeth and then watching them really transform themselves from the Sunday night arrival to their final group performance on a Saturday afternoon—it was very interesting to watch that whole process.”
Another highlight: sitting on stage during a rehearsal with the legendary film composer and conductor John Williams last May. (Read a blog post about this here.)
“Having grown up with the music of Frank Sinatra and seeing people in the rehearsals when he was doing recording sessions, and having been to many rehearsals of The Philadelphia Orchestra—but sitting in the seats—I just had this desire. I wanted to sit among the musicians. I wanted to feel how it was to sit on stage.
“To sit behind the violins, next to the keyboards, watch not only [Principal Guest Conductor] Stéphane Denève conduct the first part, but to see him react to John Williams and see John Williams onstage conducting his music, and having then the opportunity to talk with him for a few minutes afterwards, was almost the thrill of a lifetime.”
With his already uber-supportive devotion to The Philadelphia Orchestra, it may be difficult—if not impossible—for Ken to increase his future attendance. But he’s looking forward to his relationships growing.
“I’ve had a few different people say they really appreciate me being at so many concerts and seeing me there. One even said, ‘It’s like you’re family.’ And then she said, ‘No it’s not like, you ARE our family.’
“The Orchestra transcends Philadelphia. This has a worldwide impact. And the music is powerful. You hear it when you’re in the hall. And to preserve it and to continue its mission, you really have to not only attend concerts, but support the Orchestra in whatever way you can.”