New light on how Ormandy got the Philadelphia job

New light on how Ormandy got the Philadelphia job


norman lebrecht

October 07, 2018

Amid divided opinion on the Hungarian conductor, but the critic Joseph Horowitz has come up with a 1934 letter from Stokowski’s ex-wife in the year Stoki gave up the orchestra he had made world famous.

She runs through the merits of various candidates – Reiner, Kleiber, Klemperer, Furtwängler and more – but she opts for Ormandy: ‘I was overwhelmed by the display of qualities that were so like the young Leopold that it was uncanny. I am not speaking of externals of conducting that might be imitative of Stokowski’s methods. I am speaking of purely musical and temperamental qualities, of phrasing, feeling and orchestral balance . . . As a man I do not yet know him very well but I have already had occasion to discover one priceless quality – loyalty.’…

Read on here.



  • Patrick says:

    Fascinating, thanks!

  • Doug says:

    Choice quotes from the great artist Marcel Tabuteau:

    On Ormandy:

    “If I don’t get first oboe in Heaven, then I’m sure I’ll have no trouble [getting] in Satan’s Orchestra since I spent so many years with Eugene Ormandy.”

    “He does not even know the tempo of operas.”

    [Following a tour with Ormandy]: “Stokowski’s tour was like butter made from the finest cream. Ormandy’s was like oleomargarine.”

    “You know Maestro [Ormandy], it has been my experience that the more the men hate the conductor, the better they play for him, and Maestro, your orchestra is sounding very well lately.”

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Very interesting stuff.

    It might be noted however that Ormandy made the reputation that got him the Philadelphia Orchestra job with his 1934-35 recordings with the Minneapolis Symphony, the most interesting and significant of which was surely the Mahler Symphony No. 2 for Victor (that was 11 discs in 78 rpm days!). They also did the Bruckner 7th Symphony, music of Roy Harris, Honegger, Kodaly, Zador, Zamachson, Ravel, Schoenberg (granted, it was Transfigured Night), Griffes, Carpenter and much standard repertoire.

    There would have been every reason for Arhtur Judson, Victor, and Philadelphia’s management and audiences to assume Ormandy would continue to program new or fairly newly written music, together with Mahler, Bruckner and some Schoenberg.

  • Scott MacClelleand says:

    Ormandy/Philadelphia’s Tchaikovsky “Pathetique” and Rachmaninoff First Symphony remain standards that others are measured by.

  • Alan says:

    Absolute nonsense from Horowitz.
    Who is a better judge of musical worth: a music CRITIC or one of the finest pianists and teachers of her generation, and, to boot, the wife of Leopold Stokowski?
    Eugene Ormandy was not a “middling” conductor – he was one of the true greats.
    I have heard him and the PO perform in concert three times, and I was simply overwhelmed.
    And Ormandy’s litany of recordings is unsurpassed. Many of them are top recommendations even today.
    No, he did not conduct opera. So what? Neither did Koussevitzky.
    And as for Tabuteau’s comments? WOW – a first! An orchestral musician who did not like his conductor! Stop the presses!

    • Freddynyc says:

      Yes – his “Christmas Spectacular” albums are certainly the best of the genre……

      • Alan says:

        Actually, yes, they are….
        BTW, Freddynyc, have YOU ever heard Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra live in concert?
        Hmmmm…. I thought not….

      • Vaquero357 says:

        Absolutely! One of his “Christmas spectacular” albums helped get me interested in “classical” music. I liked the sound of a big, full orchestra so much I wanted more!

    • Stefan Ufer says:

      Did any orchestral musician ever say anything nice about a conductor?

  • John Canarina says:

    Ormandy may not have conducted opera, but he did conduct “Die Fledermaus”
    at the Met.

  • john says:

    A message to SONY: When are you publishing a CD Box with Ormandy´s recordings???
    We are waiting for the complete box. Szell´s box is great. We now need Ormandy.

    • Vaquero357 says:

      And it’s SO easy now for Sony to give us a really full Ormandy discography, since they now own both Ormandy’s Columbia AND RCA catalogs. Except for a lot of us that would cause the Compleat Box Dilemma (duplications of many discs we already own).

      • Mark says:

        Aside from the fact that current CD notes are usually much less informative than the original LP notes (and even early CD notes), I can offer the following idea for your dilemma: give all your previous discs to assisted-living facilities and/or your grandchildren. You might find that there are potential music-lovers waiting to discover music.

        Alas, libraries and schools no longer want books or recordings of lasting (non-monetary) value. They seem to “de-accession” the classics and stock the shelves with the most trendy crap, then claim they don’t have the space to keep everything.

        I sometimes believe that the Library at Alexandria was burned down because a manager decided to use the space for something newer.

  • Dave Parke says:

    My dream for box sets in 2019 and beyond: complete Ormandy with the Philadelphia orchestra; all the Arthur Fiedler & Morton Gould RCA non-pop albums.

    Please make it so!

    P.S. read Anshel Brusilow’s book! Listened to his Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade with Ormandy earlier tonight!