Music: Is There a Maestro in the Wings?

What happens after Ormandy hangs up his baton? Don’t ask.

Whatever the reason, the post was immediately offered to a 36-year-old ex-movie matinee fiddler named Eugene Ormandy. Ormandy, who had accidentally fallen into his profession when the matinee conductor fell ill, had most recently held the post of conductor for the Minneapolis Sym,phony. Unlike Stokowski, he quickly fell into step as the darling of the Women’s Committees, scheduled more of the classics, and made his peace with the orchestra players (this was before the era of ironclad union contracts, and Stokie was unpopular because a musician never knew when he would be fired).

To Ormandy’s everlasting credit, he too concentrated on orchestra-building, and was responsible for continuing the excellent audition quality which has kept the Philadelphia Orchestra’s standards so high. But he had neither the brilliance nor the showmanship of a Stokowski. Ormandy is an excellent conductor and musical director, but very few would venture to place him as one of the giants of the podium. And while he is well respected by most musicians, he is not particularly liked.


THE FIRST QUESTION to be asked is, will Ormandy voluntarily step down in the near future? Most observers are unanimous in the answer: no. Maestro is now in excellent health, and he reportedly enjoys the great power and prestige that his position brings him. Not to mention the estimated quarter-of-a-million annual salary, bonus and royalties he pulls in. (The Orchestra board of directors has a policy of offering Ormandy more money than the next highest-paid conductor in America, just for prestige’s sake.) Unless he suffers a radical deterioration in health, Ormandy will remain on the podium until he’s forcibly removed.

Taking into account his age, however, one cannot help asking just who might be around to succeed him if the unthinkable should ever happen. The first person who springs to mind is William Smith, the Orchestra’s sophisticated assistant conductor. Bill Smith, a local boy made good, has held his post as number two for many years, but is not likely ever to fill Ormandy’s shoes. Assistant conductors, like sea captains and vice presidents, are very rarely promoted; it’s a lifetime position unless thev move on to another orchestra (the only exception that springs to mind is Leonard Bernstein).

Board member Henry McIlhenny’s selection committee is likely to pass over Smith for yet another reason: his name. As one board member confidentially confided, "Who ever heard of a conductor with the name Bill Smith? It just doesn’t have any magic or charisma to it, and that’s a terrible disadvantage." Another board member remarked that the Orchestra just doesn’t have that extra special quality — brilliance — under Smith that it does under Ormandy. "Ormandy seems to be able to get an extra lift from the Orchestra, and Smith doesn’t." Other people, of course, think that Smith is every bit as good as Ormandy.