A Monthly Profile of Orchestra Fans and Family
“Fantastic.” That’s how Susan Price describes her recent backstage meeting with Yannick. He signed a stack of recordings for her, and she couldn’t be happier. The retired schoolteacher has an enviable collection of Philadelphia Orchestra CDs lining a shelf at home, many signed by her favorite maestros. “I have, oh, three feet or more of Sawallisch and Yannick is catching up,” she says. “I buy all of Yannick’s recordings.
“He’s a perfect fit for the Orchestra. He is such an amazing person. He’s just always upbeat. Always so energetic,” she says. “He is very focused when he talks to you. I told him how much I love the music that he’s doing and that I’ve been going to the Orchestra all my life.”
All her life, and still counting, with regular attendance that may make her one of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s biggest fans. The 78-year-old Fort Washington resident went to her first Orchestra concert at the Academy of Music, with Eugene Ormandy conducting, at age five. And today? “I go every single week. All of the concerts,” she says. “I sit in the 2nd Tier and the sound is glorious.”
Susan subscribes to both Friday afternoon series and rounds out her schedule with evening performances when her subscriptions skip a program. “It’s a short train ride away and I just have to go every single chance I get. And that’s why I go every week. Because The Philadelphia Orchestra is a gem. A jewel beyond price. And I just am so happy to have been a part of their magnificence for 73 years.”
She’s in the audience for all of Yannick’s Post-Concert Conversations, too. “I love the way he listens to the audience. He listens to our ideas. He even takes suggestions,” she says. “That is just phenomenal. I never miss one. Even if I miss my train!”
Born in Philadelphia, Susan grew up in East Falls and learned to love music through her parents (her mother studied at the conservatory at Oberlin, her dad continually played classical music on 78 and 33-1/3 RPM records); her Quaker school, Germantown Friends; and her father’s mother, who took her to that first concert as a little girl. Her nana wasn’t rich, but she didn’t drive, and had a chauffeur/gardener named John:
“We would get driven to buy new clothes at Bonwit Teller in Ardmore. I remember crawling under the dresses when I was quite young!” Susan says. “He also drove us when we went to the Orchestra. He’d drive us down to the Academy of Music, and drop us off.”
When Susan was in high school, her parents would let her invite friends to dinner, then they’d all attend the Orchestra’s concerts introducing young people to classical music. Later, after she began studying cello, Susan took a schoolgirl’s liking to then-Principal Cello Lorne Munroe. “He was very nice looking,” she says. “So I kind of had a crush on him. And I remember one time after one of these concerts, I went backstage to ask him to sign my program and he was so kind.”
Through her family, Susan also developed a love of opera, Wagner in particular. The mythical Ring stories were her favorite fairy tales growing up. She went into teaching (“When we grew up in the ’50s, a woman could be a nurse, a stewardess, a secretary, or a teacher,” she says) and from 1963 to 1980 she taught elementary school, most of those years at Ridge Park Elementary in Montgomery County. (Former students would remember her as Mrs. Walker.)
She always tried, she says, to incorporate music into lessons: Holst’s The Planets if they were learning about the stars; Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite to inspire colors and shapes while drawing. “I wish we had more music in the schools,” she says. “I tried to do my part.”
With summers off, she began attending the all-Wagner Bayreuth Festival in Germany. “Starting in 1969 I went to Bayreuth for six years in a row, believe it or not, when you could get tickets and there were four marks in a dollar so I could sit down front. And on the way to Bayreuth I would stop in Munich and see several operas.”
That’s where she first encountered Wolfgang Sawallisch, who was head of the Bavarian State Opera at the time. He became one of her favorite Philadelphia Orchestra music directors. “I fell in love with him. I fell in love with his music. And I knew how to pronounce his name,” she says, laughing. “When he came here I was thrilled. This is when I began to become euphoric.”
A euphoria that’s returned, she says, with the arrival of Yannick. “When Yannick came to guest conduct the first time, it happened to me [again]. I don’t know what it is—it’s a chemistry thing, maybe? But I just got euphoric.”
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that he’s an opera conductor as well. At that intimate backstage meeting last spring, Susan also had a chance to ask Yannick what he’d be leading at the Met this season. “And he said, ‘The Flying Dutchman,’ and I nearly went crazy. My favorite composer!”
Wagner is just one of Susan’s many varied interests—which also include photography and motorcycle riding with her husband, Eddie—but the arts in general top the list. “I just enjoy the performing arts. I like theater. I like movies. I like orchestra. I like opera. And I enjoy talking to the artists to get their sensibility and what makes them tick and what makes them so special. “I just am in awe of [the musicians],” she says. “All of them are the most wonderful people. They are so committed, they love what they do.”
Susan and her husband don’t have children, but she describes them as “surrogate grandparents” to the kids across her street. She introduced her young neighbors to bits of Fantasia—The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Rite of Spring (with dinosaurs)—first on video, then got a special thrill taking the oldest child, Tanner Wilmore, to see Yannick conduct highlights from Fantasia during the Stokowski Festival at the Academy of Music in 2012.
“I was taking him to the Orchestra for the first time, and he was five, like when my grandmother took me to the Academy of Music when I was five,” she says. “Even though I don’t have children of my own, I want the legacy to go on.
“The joy and the elation and the excitement I feel from these concerts nourishes my inner being. It enhances my life. It keeps me sane. I’ve never done drugs, I don’t drink. This just gives me more than I need for loving life. This and nature and my dear husband.”