We in the classical music world often hear that many people’s first encounter with classical music was with cartoons, often starring the legendary Classical Music Impresario, Bugs Bunny.
These days, people’s first encounter with classical music might be in commercials. We love the Super Bowl, where those million dollars shorts often have a classical soundtrack.
Getting back to the cartoons – probably the most famous cartoon of all time starred Mickey Mouse — it, too, depended on classical music by composers including Dukas (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), Stravinsky (The Rite of Spring), Bach (Toccata and fugue in D Minor) and Debussy (Clair de lune).
Fantasia had one additional star: the Philadelphia Orchestra and its iconic conductor, Leopold Stokowski. Maestro Stokowski conducted the orchestra in seven of the classical works heard during the film.
Before, during and after the time of Fantasia, the Philadelphia Orchestra was considered one of the finest orchestras in the world. It still is, especially under the leadership of its Conductor and Music Director, Yannick Nezet-Seguin.
Each of the world-class orchestras, and any orchestra with high artistic integrity, has its own personality. With few exceptions, no two orchestras sound alike. There are elements that each orchestra owns that sets them apart from the other.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has its sonorous brass section, the Cleveland Orchestra celebrates a wonderful woodwind tradition, and the New York Philharmonic….is the New York Philharmonic.
What sets the Philadelphia Orchestra apart? Its sound.
Of course, its sound sets it apart. It’s the sound that sets all orchestras apart.
But there has always been something striking about the sound of this orchestra – so arresting that the orchestra’s brand and primary marking is something the universe dubbed “The Philadelphia Sound.”
I rarely dwell on superlatives, clichés or hype of any kind, but when it comes to the Philadelphia Sound, we are on hallowed ground.
What is that special sound that no orchestra on earth purveys? I would prefer to punt and say that you’ve got to hear it for yourself. And when you do hear it, you’ll surely know.
I will try and point to the one source of the Philadelphia Sound. It’s the sheen of the strings, the violins especially. More than just lush and full bodied, when you hear the orchestra play Ravel or Rachmaninov, Mozart or Bach, Gershwin or Debussy, you will likely experience what the French call “frisson,” that streak of sensual electricity that dashes up your spine. Not goosebumps (they come later), more like a flutter that makes you go lightheaded.
That’s the Philadelphia Sound, or maybe better called, The Philadelphia Sound Affect.
When I took my favorite concert partner to her first performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, we were being ravished by their performance of the Symphonic Dances by Sergei Rachmaninov. Midway through, I looked over at her and saw that she was crying. I whispered, “What’s wrong – are you okay, what’s going on?”
Tears streaming down her cheeks, she answered, “The Philadelphia Sound.”
You may not cry tonight, or over the next 52 weeks of exclusive concerts by the Philadelphia Orchestra on SiriusXM’s Symphony Hall, but I do believe you will hear, feel and be transported by the entrancing sounds you’ll experience from the entire orchestra.
May the Sound be with you.
SiriusXM Presents the Philadelphia Orchestra debuts 5/15 on Symphony Hall (Ch. 76). It airs Mondays at 7 pm ET, Wednesdays at Midnight ET, and Sundays at 1 pm ET.