In September 1918, as World War I was winding down in Europe, Leopold Stokowski, then six years into his 29-year tenure as music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra, exchanged an interesting and humorous set of memos with Orchestra Manager Arthur Judson regarding Sergei Prokofiev. The young Russian pianist/composer had recently arrived in New York City and both Stokowski and Judson were interested in performing his music and having him appear as a soloist.
On September 19, 1918, Stokowski wrote to Judson:
“Prokofieff [sic], the Russian pianist and composer, has just arrived in New York. … [He] is a very brilliant pianist, and with Strawinsky [sic], is one of the most revolutionary composers of Russia today. I wish … we could engage him for one of our symphony concerts. … I am going to see Prokofieff soon in New York with regard to his compositions and shall hope to include one or more of them next season.”
On September 24, Judson replied:
“With regard to Prokofieff, I hope that when you see him in New York you will talk over the matter of an appearance with him, especially concerning the price. I think that with your tactful, diplomatic way you could probably get him cheaper than I could.”
On September 27, Stokowski sent this tongue-in-cheek reply:
“We thank you for your kind expressions … regarding my diplomatic talents. I immediately telegraphed Washington offering them to the Government. The President was at first skeptical but after seeing your letter he was convinced. I am to be sent shortly to Europe to stop the war by diplomatic manipulation. Of course I will conduct the concerts of the Philadelphia Orchestra until Washington decides to send me.”
Stokowski and The Philadelphia Orchestra would not perform a Prokofiev piece until 1922—one of the Five Melodies, Op. 35, with soprano Nina Koshetz (for whom the work was written)—and Prokofiev himself would never appear with the Orchestra.