Forty years ago today, Eugene Ormandy led The Philadelphia Orchestra in his final performance on Broad Street as the ensemble’s music director. The concert was not in the Academy of Music, the Orchestra’s longtime home at Broad and Locust Streets, however, but a block south, on an outdoor stage at Broad and Spruce Streets.
Eugene Ormandy conducting The Philadelphia Orchestra at the Avenue of the Arts Festival. Photo: Philadelphia Daily News
Ormandy’s remarkable 44-year tenure with The Philadelphia Orchestra began when he was appointed conductor in 1936. For five years he shared the podium with Leopold Stokowski, the legendary innovator who had led the Orchestra since 1912, but who in the late 1930s began gradually phasing out his work in Philadelphia. Following Stokowski’s departure in 1941, Ormandy had sole leadership of the Orchestra until his retirement as music director in 1980, a period in which The Philadelphia Orchestra reigned as one of the world’s most admired and beloved symphony orchestras.
Aerial view of the audience at the May 4, 1980, concert. Photo: Evening Bulletin Photograph Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries
Ormandy’s final regular season concerts as music director were Friday and Saturday May 2 and 3, 1980, at the Academy of Music. But an entirely different audience heard him the next day, when he led the Orchestra in an outdoor concert as part of the third annual Avenue of the Arts Festival, a day-long celebration featuring music, dance, theater, and arts activities presented on several stages along South Broad Street, from City Hall to Pine Street. Ormandy and the Orchestra were at the stage on Broad and Spruce Streets, where they performed Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, Sibelius’s Finlandia, waltzes from Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, and Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” from Die Walküre. Newspaper photos of the event show a large crowd and an energized Ormandy. Following the concert, Philadelphia Mayor William Green and other dignitaries honored Ormandy for his years of service.
Ormandy remained active with The Philadelphia Orchestra throughout that spring and summer, his final months as music director. He conducted concerts on the Orchestra’s US/Mexico tour in May and June and during its summer residencies in July and August at the Mann Center in Philadelphia and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York. He also led the Orchestra frequently in the ensuing years as conductor laureate. However, the last time music lovers saw Eugene Ormandy conduct The Philadelphia Orchestra on Broad Street as music director was this free outdoor concert on May 4, 1980.