As the Philadelphia Orchestra continues to emerge from bankruptcy, they’re attempting to reconnect audiences with their heyday. This weekend’s Stokowski Celebration will return the Orchestra to the Academy of Music and place their most iconic figure center stage.
Leopold Stokowski’s silhouette has been engraved upon the popular imagination since the release of “Fantasia” in 1940 (that tall conductor atop a podium shaking Mickey Mouse’s hand). But before he was Disney-fied, Stokowski was perhaps the world’s leading showman, innovator and promoter of classical music. And, as music director from 1912 to 1940, he cemented the Philadelphia Orchestra’s reputation as one of the world’s most revered cultural institutions. “He put the Orchestra on the map,” says Jeremy Rothman, vice president for artistic planning at the Orchestra. “His charisma and music-making built what became known as the Philadelphia Sound. His vision for recordings, television and film vastly broadened the familiarity that people had with the Orchestra.”
With help from Symphony V.0 — a company that specializes in animation, lighting and projections for live classical music — the Orchestra promises a truly Stokowski-esque spectacle. The performances will feature iconic pieces from the Orchestra’s salad days: Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, Wagner’s overture to “Tannhauser,” Tchaikovsky’s suite from “The Nutcracker” and, of course, Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” set against animation from “Fantasia.”
As far as Rothman’s concerned, Stokowski would approve of the unconventional Disney partnership. “While we may have a perception of a very static and traditional kind of experience in the concert hall, 100 years ago we may have been far more innovative. Sometimes it’s OK to reach and try to be more visionary.”
Yannick on deck this weekend
The Stokowski Celebration marks the official beginning of Yannick Nezet-Seguin’s tenure as music director. The Montreal native is only the eighth music director in the Philadelphia Orchestra’s history. While almost all of the lighting and animation in the Stokowski Celebration will correspond to Nezet-Seguin’s specific musical interpretations, the “Fantasia” segment has been designed by Disney. The orchestra will utilize Disney’s score and technology to sync the music to the film.
If you go
Friday and Saturday
Academy of Music
240 S. Broad St.