This section needs additional citations for verification
. (December 2017)
Founding and first concert, 1842
Ureli Corelli Hill, founding father and first conductor of the New York Philharmonic
The New York Philharmonic was founded in 1842 by the American conductor Ureli Corelli Hill, with the aid of the Irish composer William Vincent Wallace. The orchestra was then called the Philharmonic Society of New York. It was the third Philharmonic on American soil since 1799, and had as its intended purpose, "the advancement of instrumental music." The first concert of the Philharmonic Society took place on December 7, 1842 in the Apollo Rooms on lower Broadway before an audience of 600. The concert opened with Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, led by Hill himself. Two other conductors, German-born Henry Christian Timm and French-born Denis Etienne, led parts of the eclectic, three-hour program, which included chamber music and several operatic selections with a leading singer of the day, as was the custom. The musicians operated as a cooperative society, deciding by a majority vote such issues as who would become a member, which music would be performed and who among them would conduct. At the end of the season, the players would divide any proceeds among themselves.
Beethoven's Ninth and a new home, 1846
Apollo Rooms, from NYC Philharmonic Archives
After only a dozen public performances and barely four years old, the Philharmonic organized a concert to raise funds to build a new music hall. The centerpiece was the American premiere of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, to take place at Castle Garden on the southern tip of Manhattan. About 400 instrumental and vocal performers gathered for this premiere, which was conducted by George Loder. The chorals were translated into what would be the first English performance anywhere in the world. However, with the expensive US$2.00 ticket price and a war rally uptown, the hoped-for audience was kept away and the new hall would have to wait. Although judged by some as an odd work with all those singers kept at bay until the end, the Ninth soon became the work performed most often when a grand gesture was required.
During the Philharmonic's first seven seasons, seven musicians alternated the conducting duties. In addition to Hill, Timm and Étienne, these were William Alpers, George Loder, Louis Wiegers and Alfred Boucher. This changed in 1849 when Theodore Eisfeld was installed as sole conductor for the season. Eisfeld, later along with Carl Bergmann, would be the conductor until 1865. That year, Eisfeld conducted the Orchestra's memorial concert for the recently assassinated Abraham Lincoln, but in a peculiar turn of events which were criticized in the New York press, the Philharmonic omitted the last movement, "Ode to Joy", as being inappropriate for the occasion. That year Eisfeld returned to Europe, and Bergmann continued to conduct the Society until his death in 1876.
The New York Philharmonic Club, a chamber ensemble of Philharmonic musicians, clowning for their public-relations photograph in the 1880s. New York Philharmonic Archives
Leopold Damrosch, Franz Liszt's former concertmaster at Weimar, served as conductor of the Philharmonic for the 1876/77 season. But failing to win support from the Philharmonic's public, he left to create the rival Symphony Society of New York in 1878. Upon his death in 1885, his 23-year-old son Walter took over and continued the competition with the old Philharmonic. It was Walter who would convince Andrew Carnegie that New York needed a first-class concert hall and on May 5, 1891, both Walter and Russian composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky conducted at the inaugural concert of the city's new Music Hall, which in a few years would be renamed for its primary benefactor, Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie Hall would remain the orchestra's home until 1962.
The Philharmonic in 1877 was in desperate financial condition, caused by the paltry income from five concerts in the 1876/77 season that brought in an average of only $168 per concert. Representatives of the Philharmonic wished to attract the German-born, American-trained conductor Theodore Thomas, whose own Theodore Thomas Orchestra had competed directly with the Philharmonic for over a decade and which had brought him fame and great success. At first the Philharmonic's suggestion offended Thomas because he was unwilling to disband his own orchestra. Because of the desperate financial circumstances, the Philharmonic offered Theodore Thomas the conductorship without conditions, and he began conducting the orchestra in the autumn of 1877. With the exception of the 1878/79 season – when he was in Cincinnati and Adolph Neuendorff led the group – Thomas conducted every season for fourteen years, vastly improving the orchestra's financial health while creating a polished and virtuosic ensemble. He left in 1891 to found the Chicago Symphony, taking thirteen Philharmonic musicians with him.
Another celebrated conductor, Anton Seidl, followed Thomas on the Philharmonic podium, serving until 1898. Seidl, who had served as Wagner's assistant, was a renowned conductor of the composer's works; Seidl's romantic interpretations inspired both adulation and controversy. During his tenure, the Philharmonic enjoyed a period of unprecedented success and prosperity and performed its first world premiere written by a world-renowned composer in the United States – Antonín Dvořák's Ninth Symphony "From the New World". Seidl's sudden death in 1898 from food poisoning at the age of 47 was widely mourned. Twelve thousand people applied for tickets to his funeral at the Metropolitan Opera House at 39th Street and Broadway and the streets were jammed for blocks with a "surging mass" of his admirers.
According to Joseph Horowitz, Seidl's death was followed by "five unsuccessful seasons" under Emil Paur [music director from 1898 to 1902] and Walter Damrosch [who served for only one season, 1902/03]." After this, he says, for several seasons [1903–1906] the orchestra employed guest conductors, including Victor Herbert, Édouard Colonne, Willem Mengelberg, Fritz Steinbach, Richard Strauss, Felix Weingartner, and Henry Wood.
New management, 1909
In 1909, to ensure the financial stability of the Philharmonic, a group of wealthy New Yorkers led by two women, Mary Seney Sheldon and
Minnie Untermyer, formed the Guarantors Committee and changed the Orchestra's organization from a musician-operated cooperative to a corporate management structure. The Guarantors were responsible for bringing Gustav Mahler to the Philharmonic as principal conductor and expanding the season from 18 concerts to 54, which included a tour of New England. The Philharmonic was the only symphonic orchestra where Mahler worked as music director without any opera responsibilities, freeing him to explore the symphonic literature more deeply. In New York, he conducted several works for the first time in his career and introduced audiences to his own compositions. Under Mahler, a controversial figure both as a composer and conductor, the season expanded, musicians' salaries were guaranteed, the scope of operations broadened, and the 20th-century orchestra was created.
In 1911 Mahler died unexpectedly, and the Philharmonic appointed Josef Stránský as his replacement. Many commentators were surprised by the choice of Stránský, whom they did not see as a worthy successor to Mahler. Stránský led all of the orchestra's concerts until 1920, and also made the first recordings with the orchestra in 1917.
Mergers and outreach, 1921
In 1921 the Philharmonic merged with New York's National Symphony Orchestra (no relation to the present Washington, D.C. ensemble). With this merger it also acquired the imposing Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg. For the 1922/23 season Stránský and Mengelberg shared the conducting duties, but Stránský left after the one shared season. For nine years Mengelberg dominated the scene, although other conductors, among them Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Igor Stravinsky, and Arturo Toscanini, led about half of each season's concerts. During this period, the Philharmonic became one of the first American orchestras to boast an outdoor symphony series when it began playing low-priced summer concerts at Lewisohn Stadium in upper Manhattan. In 1920 the orchestra hired Henry Hadley as "associate conductor" given specific responsibility for the "Americanization" of the orchestra: each of Hadley's concerts featured at least one work by an American-born composer.
In 1924, the Young People's Concerts were expanded into a substantial series of children's concerts under the direction of American pianist-composer-conductor Ernest Schelling. This series became the prototype for concerts of its kind around the country and grew by popular demand to 15 concerts per season by the end of the decade.
Mengelberg and Toscanini both led the Philharmonic in recording sessions for the Victor Talking Machine Company and Brunswick Records, initially in a recording studio (for the acoustically-recorded Victors, all under Mengelberg) and eventually in Carnegie Hall as electrical recording was developed. All of the early electrical recordings for Victor were made with a single microphone, usually placed near or above the conductor, a process Victor called "Orthophonic"; the Brunswick electricals used the company's proprietary non-microphone "Light-Ray" selenium-cell system, which was much more prone to sonic distortion than Victor's. Mengelberg's first records for Victor were acousticals made in 1922; Toscanini's recordings with the Philharmonic actually began with a single disc for Brunswick in 1926, recorded in a rehearsal hall at Carnegie Hall. Mengelberg's most successful recording with the Philharmonic was a 1927 performance in Carnegie Hall of Richard Strauss' Ein Heldenleben. Additional Toscanini recordings with the Philharmonic, all for Victor, took place on Carnegie Hall's stage in 1929 and 1936. By the 1936 sessions Victor, now owned by RCA, began to experiment with multiple microphones to achieve more comprehensive reproductions of the orchestra.
The year 1928 marked the New York Philharmonic's last and most important merger: with the New York Symphony Society. The Symphony had been quite innovative in its 50 years prior to the merger. It made its first domestic tour in 1882, introduced educational concerts for young people in 1891, and gave the premieres of works such as Gershwin's Concerto in F and Holst's Egdon Heath. The merger of these two venerable institutions consolidated extraordinary financial and musical resources. Of the new Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York, Clarence Hungerford Mackay, chairman of the Philharmonic Society, will be chairman. President Harry H. Flagler, of the Symphony Society, will be president of the merger.At the first joint board meeting in 1928, the chairman, Clarence Mackay, expressed the opinion that "with the forces of the two Societies now united... the Philharmonic-Symphony Society could build up the greatest orchestra in this country if not in the world."
The Maestro, 1930
Arturo Toscanini (standing in the center, sporting a bow tie and cap) with the orchestra aboard the S.S de Grasse
, embarking on their European tour, 1930. New York Philharmonic Archives
Of course, the merger had ramifications for the musicians of both orchestras. Winthrop Sargeant, a violinist with the Symphony Society and later a writer for The New Yorker, recalled the merger as "a sort of surgical operation in which twenty musicians were removed from the Philharmonic and their places taken by a small surviving band of twenty legionnaires from the New York Symphony. This operation was performed by Arturo Toscanini himself. Fifty-seventh Street wallowed in panic and recrimination." Toscanini, who had guest-conducted for several seasons, became the sole conductor and in 1930 led the group on a European tour that brought immediate international fame to the orchestra. Toscanini remained music director until the spring of 1936, then returned several times as a guest conductor until 1945.
That same year nationwide radio broadcasts began. The orchestra was first heard on CBS directly from Carnegie Hall. To broadcast the Sunday afternoon concerts, CBS paid $15,000 for the entire season. The radio broadcasts continued without interruption for 38 years. A legend in his own time, Toscanini would prove to be a tough act to follow as the country headed into war.
The War years, 1940
After an unsuccessful attempt to hire the German conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängler, the English conductor John Barbirolli and the Polish conductor Artur Rodziński were joint replacements for Toscanini in 1936. The following year Barbirolli was given the full conductorship, a post he held until the spring of 1941. In December, 1942, Bruno Walter was offered the music directorship, but declined, citing his age (he was 67 years old). In 1943, Rodziński, who had conducted the orchestra's centennial concert at Carnegie Hall in the preceding year, was appointed Musical Director. He had also conducted the Sunday afternoon radio broadcast when CBS listeners around the country heard the announcer break in on Arthur Rubinstein's performance of Brahms's Second Piano Concerto to update them about the attack on Pearl Harbor. (The initial word of the attack was forwarded by CBS News Correspondent John Charles Daly on his own show before the Philharmonic broadcast.) Soon after the United States entered World War II, Aaron Copland wrote A Lincoln Portrait for the Philharmonic at the request of conductor Andre Kostelanetz as a tribute to and expression of the "magnificent spirit of our country."
Artur Rodziński, Bruno Walter, and Sir Thomas Beecham made a series of recordings with the Philharmonic for Columbia Records during the 1940s. Many of the sessions were held in Liederkranz Hall, on East 58th Street in New York City, a building formerly belonging to a German cultural and musical society, and used as a recording studio by Columbia Records. Sony Records later digitally remastered the Beecham recordings for reissue on CD.
The Telegenic Age, 1950
Leonard Bernstein with members of the Philharmonic rehearsing for a television broadcast, circa 1958. Bert Bial, New York Philharmonic Archives
In February, 1947, Artur Rodziński resigned; Bruno Walter was once again approached, and this time he accepted the position but only if the title was reduced to "Music Adviser"; he resigned in 1949. Leopold Stokowski and Dimitri Mitropoulos were appointed co-principal conductors in 1949, with Mitropoulos becoming Musical Director in 1951. Mitropoulos, known for championing new composers and obscure operas-in-concert, pioneered in other ways; adding live Philharmonic performances between movies at the Roxy Theatre and taking Edward R. Murrow and the See It Now television audience on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Orchestra. Mitropoulos made a series of recordings for Columbia Records, mostly in mono; near the end of his tenure, he recorded excerpts from Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet in stereo. In 1957, Mitropoulos and Leonard Bernstein served together as Principal Conductors until, in the course of the season, Bernstein was appointed Music Director, becoming the first American-born-and-trained conductor to head the Philharmonic.
Leonard Bernstein, who had made his historic, unrehearsed and spectacularly successful debut with the Philharmonic in 1943, was Music Director for 11 seasons, a time of significant change and growth. Two television series were initiated on CBS: the Young People's Concerts and Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. The former program, launched in 1958, made television history, winning every award in the field of educational television. Bernstein continued the orchestra's recordings with Columbia Records until he retired as Music Director in 1969. Although Bernstein made a few recordings for Columbia after 1969, most of his later recordings were for Deutsche Grammophon. Sony has digitally remastered Bernstein's numerous Columbia recordings and released them on CD as a part of its extensive "Bernstein Century" series. Although the Philharmonic performed primarily in Carnegie Hall until 1962, Bernstein preferred to record in the Manhattan Center. His later recordings were made in Philharmonic Hall. In 1960, the centennial of the birth of Gustav Mahler, Bernstein and the Philharmonic began a historic cycle of recordings of eight of Mahler's nine symphonies for Columbia Records. (Symphony No. 8 was recorded by Bernstein with the London Symphony.) In 1962 Bernstein caused controversy with his comments before a performance by Glenn Gould of the First Piano Concerto of Johannes Brahms.
Modern music, 1962
Bernstein, a lifelong advocate of living composers, oversaw the beginning of the Orchestra's largest commissioning project, resulting in the creation of 109 new works for orchestra. In September 1962, the Philharmonic commissioned Aaron Copland to write a new work, Connotations for Orchestra, for the opening concert of the new Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The move to Philharmonic Hall in Lincoln Center brought about an expansion of concerts into the spring and summer. Among the many series that have taken place during the off-season have been the French-American and Stravinsky Festivals (1960s), Pierre Boulez's "Rug Concerts" in the 1970s, and composer, Jacob Druckman's Horizon's Festivals in the 1980s.
In 1971, Pierre Boulez became the first Frenchman to hold the post of Philharmonic Music Director. Boulez's years with the Orchestra were notable for expanded repertoire and innovative concert approaches, such as the "Prospective Encounters" which explored new works along with the composer in alternative venues. During his tenure, the Philharmonic inaugurated the "Live From Lincoln Center" television series in 1976, and the Orchestra continues to appear on the Emmy Award-winning program to the present day. Boulez made a series of quadraphonic recordings for Columbia, including an extensive series of the orchestral music of Maurice Ravel.
Members of the New York Philharmonic string section are heard on the 1971 John Lennon album Imagine, credited as '"The Flux Fiddlers".
Zubin Mehta, then one of the youngest of a new generation of internationally known conductors, became Music Director in 1978. His tenure was the longest in Philharmonic history, lasting until 1991. Throughout his time on the podium, Mehta showed a strong commitment to contemporary music, presenting 52 works for the first time. In 1980 the Philharmonic, always known as a touring orchestra, embarked on a European tour marking the 50th anniversary of Toscanini's trip to Europe.
Kurt Masur, who had been conducting the Philharmonic frequently since his debut in 1981, became Music Director in 1991. Notable aspects of his tenure included a series of free Memorial Day Concerts at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and annual concert tours abroad, including the orchestra's first trip to mainland China. He presided over the 150th Anniversary celebrations during the 1992–1993 season. His tenure concluded in 2002, and he was named Music Director Emeritus of the Philharmonic.
A third century, 2000
In 2000, Lorin Maazel made a guest-conducting appearance with the New York Philharmonic in two weeks of subscription concerts after an absence of over twenty years, which was met with a positive reaction from the orchestra musicians. This engagement led to his appointment in January 2001 as the orchestra's next Music Director. He assumed the post in September 2002, 60 years after making his debut with the Orchestra at the age of twelve at Lewisohn Stadium. In his first subscription week he led the world premiere of John Adams' On the Transmigration of Souls commissioned in memory of those who died on September 11, 2001. Maazel concluded his tenure as the Philharmonic's Music Director at the end of the 2008/09 season.
In 2003, due to ongoing concerns with the acoustics of Avery Fisher Hall, there was a proposal to move the New York Philharmonic back to Carnegie Hall and merge the two organizations, but this proposal did not come to fruition. On May 5, 2010, the New York Philharmonic performed its 15,000th concert, a milestone unmatched by any other symphony orchestra in the world.
On July 18, 2007, the Philharmonic named Alan Gilbert as its next music director, effective with the 2009/10 season, with an initial contract of five years. In October 2012, the orchestra extended Gilbert's contract through the 2016/17 season. In February 2015, the orchestra announced the scheduled conclusion of Gilbert's tenure its music director after the close of the 2016/17 season.
In January 2016, the orchestra announced the appointment of Jaap van Zweden as its next Music Director, effective with the 2018/19 season, with an initial contract of five years. van Zweden is scheduled to serve as Music Director Designate for the 2017/18 season.
The current president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the orchestra is Deborah Borda. Borda had previously held the same posts, as well as the post of managing director, with the orchestra.
Visit to North Korea, 2008
The Philharmonic performed in Pyongyang at the invitation of the North Korean government on February 26, 2008. The event was the first significant cultural visit to the country from the United States since the end of the Korean War. The concert was held at East Pyongyang Grand Theatre, with a program including the national anthems of both North Korea (Aegukka) and the United States (The Star-Spangled Banner), the Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin by Richard Wagner, Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 "From the New World", George Gershwin's An American in Paris, Georges Bizet's Farandole, Leonard Bernstein's Overture to Candide, and the popular Korean folk song Arirang. The Dvořák, Gershwin, and Bernstein works were each originally premiered by the New York Philharmonic.
The visit was anticipated as an opportunity to broaden relations with one of the world's most isolated nations. The U.S. State Department viewed the invitation as a potential softening of anti-U.S. propaganda. In response to initial criticism of performing a concert limited to the privileged elite, the New York Philharmonic arranged for the concert to be broadcast live on North Korean television and radio. It was additionally broadcast live on CNN and CNN International. It was also shown on South Korea's Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation to the entire nation of the Republic of Korea (ROK).