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Memories of Music at the Mann Center After 40 Years

TheMann Center for the Performing Arts has resided for over 40 years in its West Fairmount Park home. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more on how this Philadelphia venue for summer music came to be.

Original design of the Mann Center.

Listen to the Mann's longtime General Manager Jerry Grabey (who retired in 2016) talk with Susan Lewis about the early days of the facility and how its programming has evolved.

WRTI has teamed up with The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Mann Center for the Performing Arts to present the 2017 People's Choice Concert. Join us at the Mann on Wednesday, July 26th when the Philadelphia Orchestra plays a program selected by our listeners back in April. Tickets and more information

Radio script:  

MUSIC: Brahms Concerto for Violin and Cello, Robin Hood Dell Orchestra

Businessman Fredric Mann

Susan Lewis: In 1951, Fritz Reiner made a recording with The Robin Hood Dell Orchestra—a group made up largely of musicians from The Philadelphia Orchestra who played at the city's summer concert venue, the Robin Hood Dell. In 1976, the city opened what is now the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, named after Fredric Mann.

Jerry Grabey: What Fred Mann did was convince the city, the park commission, and I imagine, some state funding to finance the construction of this building.

I thought Fred Mann's personality was unbelievable... I really wanted to work with him—Jerry Grabey

SL: The Mann’s longtime General Manager Jerry Grabey says Fred Mann had been city rep., commerce director, and a U.S. ambassador, also knew everyone in the music world.

MUSIC: Beethoven, Symphony No.5, The Philadelphia Orchestra

JG: And his vision was that we would be the summer home of The Philadelphia Orchestra, and we would also be able to produce ballet and opera performances.

SL: The Metropolitan Opera came, as did the Bolshoi Ballet...but also pop and rock artists and Broadway shows.

MUSIC: Cats, The Musical

SL: With some audience sitting under cover, and many others picnicking on the lawn, the Mann is well suited to introduce newcomers to classical  music. Today, The Philadelphia Orchestra performs its traditional repertoire—but also plays movie scores to accompany films like Harry Potter—which drew over 10,000 people.

MUSIC: from Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone

JG: Hopefully it’s a family affair; it exposes younger people to that music. And let’s face it, it's good music they’re playing!

SL: Today the Mann’s mission includes arts and entertainment, education, and serving its community.

Read about the history of the Mann Center here.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.