Spectacle: Mimeographed Music

PUBLICISTS FOR the Philadelphia Orchestra like to refer to the ensemble as the "solid gold Cadillac" of orchestras. Judging by the musical fuel that’s been pumped into the machine over the past ten years the engine is heavy with deposits of lead.

Eugene Ormandy has certainly maintained one of the great musical machines of modern times, but it’s been idling for years on a repetitious repertory of conventional and lifeless programming.

The full sweep of the music chosen for it to play is foreshortened at its two extremes, the pre-Classical and the contemporary. The programs draw almost exclusively from what falls in between, and these are unimaginatively selected and played to death.

The Orchestra these days is giving Some 100 concerts yearly here in Philadelphia plus another 70 at subscription series out of town. At these concerts over the past ten years (including this season), 167 composers have been represented. A goodly number, until you realize how uneven the representation is.

Over 100 composers had their music performed only once or twice, while works by Bach were played 47 times; Mozart, 64 times; Beethoven, 97 times; Brahms, 65 times and Richard Strauss, 47 times.

Mahler, Bruckner, Schoenberg, elemann, C.P.E. Bach, Webern and Berg were among those scheduled only a few times. The electronic music of composers like Stockhausen and Boulez and aleatory, or music of chance, by John Cage and others might not have been written judging by the airing they get in Philadelphia.

This is not to say that any season can — or should — exist without the standard repertory, but these works should be the backbone of any season’s programs, not the tendons, ligaments and muscles, too.

As one dissident Philadelphia musician put it, "There is something shamefully wrong with a nationally and internationally renowned orchestra which limits its repertoire to the safe and sound."

The Philadelphia Orchestra is apparently content to maintain the status quo. It provides little to stimulate the more intelligent music lover. There is rarely anything new for him to talk or think about, to stretch his ears and increase the scope of his musical knowledge.

LOTS OF LUDWIG. The repertory over the past ten seasons, including the current one, looks like it was programmed with a mimeograph machine.

The titan, Beethoven, leads the list as the most often played composer, as he probably would in any orchestra. He is by far the audience’s favorite and conductors, of course, know all nine symphonies by heart. But that doesn’t justify the fact that Philadelphia audiences have heard the "Eroica" nine out of the last ten seasons, the Seventh seven out of ten, and the rest of the symphonies (except the "Choral") at least three of the years. The piano concerto situation is just as bad. The "Emperor" and the Fourth have been played six times each.

Although the Orchestra’s favorite era is the Romantic, in the past decade it hasn’t programmed any of Liszt’s 12 tone poems and his "Faust" Symphony or Schumann’s Violin Concerto, but it has played, a half-dozen times each, Franck’s Symphony in D minor and Berlioz’ "Symphonie Fantastique." Richard Strauss’ "Don Juan" has been repeated seven times and "Till Eulenspeigel" and the suite from "Rosenkavalier" six times each, but Smetana’s "Ma Vlast" has never been performed complete nor has the Dvorak Fourth Symphony.