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In memory of Wolfgang Sawallisch, 1923-2013

It is with great sadness that The Philadelphia Orchestra mourns the death of Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor laureate of the Orchestra and its music director from 1993 to 2003. Mr. Sawallisch passed away on Friday, February 22, 2013, at his home in Grassau, upper Bavaria, Germany. He was 89 years old. In a special tribute and dedication to him, the Orchestra performed Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll to open its Sunday afternoon concert.

The Orchestra’s sixth music director, Mr. Sawallisch made his debut as guest conductor in 1966 and nearly 40 years later made his final appearance leading The Philadelphia Orchestra on March 1, 2005, in a program of Grieg’s Piano Concerto with guest pianist Yundi Li and Schubert’s Symphony in C major (“Great”). During his decade as music director he fostered the rich tradition of the ensemble’s legendary Philadelphia Sound while strengthening and securing its artistic future, hiring 40 musicians into the Orchestra. Mr. Sawallisch became conductor laureate of The Philadelphia Orchestra in September 2003, directly following the conclusion of his tenure as music director.

Mr. Sawallisch demonstrated an unwavering dedication to his craft, as evidenced by his actions in the winter of 1994 when blizzard conditions doomed a scheduled performance of excerpts from Wagner’s Tannhäuser and Die Walküre at the Academy of Music. With most musicians unable to leave their homes due to the storm, rather than cancel the performance, Sawallisch instead enlisted the help of the three soloists staying in nearby hotels and a small, hastily recruited chorus, and flung open the Academy’s doors to anyone willing to brave the elements. Over 600 Philadelphians witnessed their maestro’s operatic foray on the piano that evening—an unforgettable performance. In another example of dedication to his Orchestra, Mr. Sawallisch was intent on joining his musicians as soon as possible after the tragedy of 9/11. Understanding the power of music to help heal, he caught the first flight to Philadelphia from Germany, leading the Orchestra less than a week later in a televised tribute concert at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, followed by a three-week tour of the United States.

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The Philadelphia Orchestra will honor its former music director and conductor laureate, Wolfgang Sawallisch--who passed away February 22, 2013--on its closing Gil Shaham Plays Brahms subscription concerts for the season, May 23-25, 2013. All three performances, conducted by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, will be dedicated to his memory and feature repertoire that reflects Mr. Sawallisch's indelible artistic imprint on the Orchestra. Scheduled guest artist, violinist Gil Shaham, was a favorite collaborator of the esteemed conductor and will be featured on the concert performing Brahms's Violin Concerto. The remainder of the program will be altered slightly, now opening with the third movement from Schumann's Symphony No. 2 (Adagio espressivo), and continuing with Janacek's Sinfonietta and Dvorak's Slavonic Dance Nos. 1, 10, and 8. The previously scheduled Enescu Romanian Rhapsody will not be performed.

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Gil Shaham Plays Brahms
Thursday, May 23 8 PM
Friday, May 24 2 PM
Saturday, May 25 8 PM

Yannick Nézet-Séguin Conductor
Gil Shaham Violin

Schumann Third movement from Symphony No. 2
Janacek Sinfonietta
Brahms Violin Concerto
Dvorak Slavonic Dance Nos. 1, 10, and 8



Maestro Sawallisch and his wife, Mechthild
(photo credit: Alan Kolc)



In 1994, when a blizzard kept the chorus and most of the Orchestra from reaching the Academy, Sawallisch offered a free performance at which he narrated the excerpts Wagner’s Tannhäuser and Die Walküre, and conducted and accompanied the soloists himself. Pictured left to right are Sawallisch, Orchestra violinist Davyd Booth (page-turner), soprano Deborah Voigt, and tenor Heikki Siukola. (photo credit: Jean Brubaker)

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