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The Philadelphia Orchestra Mourns the Death of Conductor Laureate Wolfgang Sawallisch

February 24, 2013

Beloved conductor served as the Orchestra’s music director from 1993 to 2003

(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, February 24, 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 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.

Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin comments, “The Philadelphia Orchestra family is profoundly saddened by the death of its beloved former music director, Conductor Laureate Wolfgang Sawallisch. During his 10-year tenure as music director he cared deeply for the Orchestra and its musicians, helped preserve and nurture our Philadelphia Sound, and enriched and expanded upon the Orchestra’s century-old tradition of excellence, leaving us an enduring legacy of artistic achievements. Off the podium he was also a dear friend to many in the Orchestra and in the Philadelphia community. He has been missed, and his memory will be treasured.”

Philadelphia Orchestra Chairman Richard B. Worley adds, “Great orchestras are built on a foundation of great music directors, and Wolfgang Sawallisch’s tenure as music director is part of the legacy of our great Orchestra.  Maestro Sawallisch left an indelible mark on our organization, and everyone who knows this Orchestra knows that the ensemble was strengthened under his leadership. We are fortunate to have known him, and we will never forget the way his smile lit up his eyes.” 

“A loss such as this deeply affects our artistic and musical community—not just here in Philadelphia but around the world,” says Philadelphia Orchestra President and CEO Allison Vulgamore.  “Wolfgang Sawallisch was a man of profound artistry and unwavering yet quiet dedication. We will continue to honor his rich legacy as would befit him—by making beautiful and inspired music that touches the hearts and minds of all those who will hear it.”

“Truly Maestro Sawallisch was a once-in-a-lifetime figure in the world of music,” says Philadelphia Orchestra Concertmaster David Kim. “He was the perfect combination of musicianship, craft, and integrity. The Philadelphia Orchestra was his greatest instrument and all of us who had the privilege to perform for him in those transcendent concerts will forever be in his debt.”

A master of the core European repertoire, Mr. Sawallisch also encouraged the exploration of new ways to present music to audiences in Philadelphia and beyond. In April 1997 he led the Philadelphians in the first live internet concert “cybercast” made by a major American orchestra, attracting listeners from more than 40 countries around the world. He presented season-long focuses on the works of Schumann, Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms, and an ongoing overview of the works of Richard Strauss (including a concert presentation of the opera Ariadne auf Naxos). Through a series of commissions, Mr. Sawallisch re-affirmed the Orchestra’s commitment to new music; and his vision for the Orchestra’s 100th Anniversary Season in 1999-2000, made up exclusively of music written since the ensemble’s creation in 1900, resulted in critical and popular acclaim.

During his tenure as music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra, Mr. Sawallisch not only led the ensemble in subscription concerts but also in Family Concerts, at summer residencies at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and he frequently performed with the musicians of the Orchestra in Chamber Concerts.  He also built on the ensemble’s nearly century-long tradition of touring by appearing annually with the Orchestra in a series of concerts at Carnegie Hall and conducting the Orchestra in major concert halls throughout the world on eight international tours (three to Europe, four to Asia, and one to Central and South America).

Mr. Sawallisch was an outspoken advocate for the construction of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s new home at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. He actively participated in planning for the new concert hall’s acoustics and its operations, and he conducted the Orchestra’s first performances in Kimmel’s Verizon Hall in December, 2001.

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.

In May 2003, as a testament to Mr. Sawallisch’s tenure in Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Orchestra released a three-disc set of live recordings with him conducting works by Robert Schumann (including the complete symphonies). The recordings, drawn from performances given during Mr. Sawallisch’s final season as music director, were the first recordings made in Verizon Hall at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, and stand as a tribute to Mr. Sawallisch’s decade-long partnership with the Orchestra. The three-disc set was nominated for Grammy awards in the categories of Best Classical Album and Best Orchestral Performance.

Wolfgang Sawallisch was born in Munich and graduated from that city’s Academy of Music. He began his conducting career in 1947 at the Opera Theater of Augsburg, where he served as vocal coach, chorus master, and conductor of ballet, opera, and concert music. In 1953 he became the youngest conductor to lead the Berlin Philharmonic. He next held successive music directorships in Aachen, Wiesbaden, and Cologne and appeared annually at the prestigious Bayreuth Festival. He was music director of the Vienna Symphony from 1960 to 1970 and also served as music director of the Hamburg Philharmonic from 1961 to 1973. He served as artistic director of Geneva’s Orchestre de la Suisse Romande from 1973 to 1980. In 1971 he was appointed music director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, beginning an exceptionally fruitful and long lasting relationship with that company. Working in Munich for more than two decades, he served concurrently as the Opera’s general manager during his last 10 years there before coming to Philadelphia. 

As a guest conductor, Mr. Sawallisch led yearly concerts with the Vienna Symphony and Tokyo’s NHK Orchestra. Other guest appearances included performances with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Orchestre de Paris, the Israel Philharmonic, London’s Philharmonia, and the Czech Philharmonic.  Mr. Sawallisch’s extensive discography includes a wide range of orchestral and opera recordings, both with The Philadelphia Orchestra and with a number of European ensembles. In addition to the three-disc Schumann set released in May 2003, his Philadelphia compact discs include works by Bruckner, Dvořák, Hindemith, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner, as well as a special disc of orchestral transcriptions by Leopold Stokowski and a four-disc cycle of the orchestral works of Richard Strauss.

Mr. Sawallisch was highly regarded as a chamber musician and accompanist. He collaborated and recorded with such vocalists as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Nicolai Gedda, Thomas Hampson, Hermann Prey, Peter Schreier, and Margaret Price, as well as with the Munich Residenz Quartet, cellist Heinrich Schiff, and violinists Sarah Chang and Frank Peter Zimmermann.

Mr. Sawallisch’s artistry was recognized throughout his career with many awards and citations. He was given the Toscanini Gold Baton in recognition of his 35-year association with La Scala in Milan. His received honorary degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Westminster Choir College of Rider University, and Villanova University. He was a recipient of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Distinguished Artist Award, as well as the Avatar Award for Artistic Excellence, created by the Arts and Business Council of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.


The Philadelphia Orchestra

Renowned for its distinctive sound, desired for its keen ability to capture the hearts and imaginations of audiences, and admired for an unrivaled legacy of “firsts” in music-making, The Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the preeminent orchestras in the world. While wholly committed to the exploration of classical music and repertoire, the Orchestra also continues to develop compelling programs that resonate with contemporary audiences. The Philadelphia Orchestra is focused on inspiring the future while transforming its rich tradition of achievement, and seeks to not simply sustain the highest level of artistic quality, but to challenge—and exceed—that level by creating powerful musical experiences for audiences at home and around the world.


Artistic Leadership

Demonstrating a deep and abiding commitment to the highest levels of artistic excellence, The Philadelphia Orchestra has cultivated an extraordinary history of artistic leaders in its 112 seasons, including music directors Fritz Scheel, Carl Pohlig, Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy, Riccardo Muti, Wolfgang Sawallisch, and Christoph Eschenbach, and Charles Dutoit, who served as chief conductor from 2008 to 2012. Under such extraordinary guidance, The Philadelphia Orchestra has served as an unwavering standard of excellence in the world of classical music—and it continues to do so today.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin joined this small yet illustrious group in the 2012-13 season, and serves as the eighth music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra. An integral member of the Orchestra’s leadership team since 2010 when he assumed the title of music director designate, Nézet-Séguin is also the music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic, and artistic director and principal conductor of Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain. He brings a wealth of talent and vision that extends beyond symphonic music and into the vivid world of opera and choral music.


Philadelphia is Home

Philadelphia is home and the Orchestra continues to discover new and inventive ways to nurture its relationship with its loyal patrons who support the main season (September-May) in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. The Kimmel Center, for which the Orchestra serves as the founding resident company, has been the ensemble’s performance hall since 2001. The Philadelphia Orchestra Association continues to own the Academy of Music—a National Historic Landmark and the oldest operating opera house in the nation—as it has since 1957. Each year, the Orchestra returns to the “Grand Old Lady of Locust Street”—where it performed for 101 seasons before moving to the Kimmel Center—for the Academy Anniversary Concert and Ball, one of the City’s most highly anticipated and attended events.

Beyond its robust concert offerings at the Kimmel Center, the Orchestra also performs for Philadelphia audiences during the summer months at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, as well as in venues across the region, including Penn’s Landing, Longwood Gardens, and the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Many of these performances are part of the ensemble’s free Neighborhood Concert Series as well as its educational and community partnership programs—all of which aim to create greater access and engagement with classical music as an art form.


Commitment to Education

The Philadelphia Orchestra also has an important legacy of presenting educational programs for local audiences—a tradition dating back to 1921 when Leopold Stokowski initiated concerts exclusively for children. Today the Orchestra reaches Philadelphia-area families, teachers, students, and children through a multitude of education and community partnership programs. From Sound All Around (designed for children ages 3-5) to Family Concerts (aimed at children ages 6-12 and their families) to eZseatU (a membership program for full-time college students), The Philadelphia Orchestra seeks to introduce orchestral music to a new generation of listeners through these special programs. Further, the Orchestra aims to engage adult audiences more deeply in its performances through learning programs, including free PreConcert Conversations, which occur before every subscription concert, and Lecture/Luncheons with guest speakers. Philadelphia Orchestra musicians serve a key role in growing young musician talent and love of classical music in their own dedicated roles as teachers, coaches, and mentors.

In an effort to more directly connect with the youth of Philadelphia, the Orchestra has implemented the Billy Joel School Concert Program, which improves access to the Orchestra’s School Concerts for underserved city schoolchildren and serves approximately 80 elementary and middle schools chosen from within the School District of Philadelphia. The Orchestra’s School Partnership Program also offers students incomparable exposure and access to The Philadelphia Orchestra and its musicians inside the classrooms of five selected schools in the Philadelphia region. The program’s teaching artists work side by side with classroom teachers using curriculum and materials created by the Orchestra’s education department. Finally, The Philadelphia Orchestra collaborates with schools interested in having Orchestra musicians work with their students through the Musicians in the Schools program. These school visits take the form of assembly programs, performances or demonstrations, clinics, and master classes or sectionals, and generally involve a solo musician.


A Cultural Ambassador Abroad

Through concerts, tours, residencies, presentations, and recordings, The Philadelphia Orchestra touches the lives of countless music lovers around the globe. Outside of Philadelphia, the Orchestra enjoys a three-week summer residency at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in New York—a venue that was built for the Orchestra—as well as a strong partnership with the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, which brings the world’s finest orchestras to Colorado each summer.

The Philadelphia Orchestra also has a long history of touring, having first performed outside of Philadelphia in the earliest days of its founding. The Philadelphia Orchestra was the first American orchestra to perform in the People’s Republic of China in 1973. In 2012 the Orchestra reconnected with its historical roots in China and more deeply embraced its role as a cultural ambassador by launching a new partnership with the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Beijing, a pilot residency that united the Orchestra with talented young Chinese musicians and composers to further develop their orchestral skills. The residency also served to bring orchestral music, through performances and master classes, not only to China’s major cities but also further into the provinces, and to connect through the hearts of local musicians to their supporting communities, through the sharing of musical talents between its own musicians and Chinese musicians, engaging in music education, and spreading the joy of classical music with citizens in residential neighborhoods and at landmark historic sites.


An Orchestra that Understands the Power of Innovation in its Art Form

The Philadelphia Orchestra has long pushed the boundaries of convention in the classical music realm. Signature to such a reputation are world and/or American premieres of such important works as Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 (“Symphony of a Thousand”), Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. As part of its commitment to bringing classical music to audiences where they are listening, the Orchestra was the first to create an online store for purchasing music. To further expand such distribution, the Orchestra formed a new partnership with Independent Online Distribution Alliance (IODA), making its live recordings available on popular digital music services such as iTunes and Amazon, among others. The Orchestra has also joined with Specticast in pioneering simulcasts of Orchestra concerts into theaters, schools, and performing arts centers. Most recently, The Philadelphia Orchestra announced a partnership with WRTI-FM to broadcast pre-recorded versions of its subscription concerts from February through May 2013. In addition, the Orchestra returns to the recording studio with Deutsche Grammophon and Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin for his first commercial recording with the ensemble: Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Stokowski transcriptions of Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, Fugue in G minor (“Little”), and Toccata and Fugue in D minor.


For more information on The Philadelphia Orchestra, please visit www.philorch.org.