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The Philadelphia Orchestra and Academy of Music donate their vast archives to Penn Libraries

Early charter documents of The Philadelphia Orchestra Association.
Philadelphia Orchestra Association and Academy of Music Archives, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts; University of Pennsylvania Libraries.
Early charter documents of The Philadelphia Orchestra Association.

Yumi Kendall, the cellist in Quartet Iris, spoke briefly but meaningfully at Van Pelt-Dietrich Library on Thursday evening, at an event announcing the Penn Libraries’ acquisition of The Philadelphia Orchestra and Academy of Music archives. “Just before, while we were warming up, I got to go into the collection and see some of the work, and it is so amazing,” she said. “I got goosebumps.”

Kendall’s response was understandable, given the collection in question: more than a thousand linear feet of documents and other materials bearing witness to the sprawling history of both the Academy of Music, which opened in 1857, and The Philadelphia Orchestra, founded in 1900.

“The cultural history of Philadelphia is in many ways defined by stories of The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Academy of Music,” Matías Tarnopolsky, president and CEO of The Philadelphia Orchestra, said in a statement. “That this rich history will now be widely available to anyone interested in learning more about music and culture in Philadelphia and beyond is entirely thanks to this flagship collaboration.”

The archival donation by both institutions amounts to a major acquisition by the Penn Libraries’ Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, which will make the materials accessible to the public after a yearslong cataloguing process. The new archive will be one of Kislak’s largest.

“The Penn Libraries is eager to begin the work of accessioning, processing, preserving, and making this remarkable collection newly available for research and discovery,” Constantia Constantinou, H. Carton Rogers III Vice Provost and Director of the Penn Libraries, said in a press statement. “It is sure to inspire critical inquiry and creative expression by students and faculty at Penn, partner organizations in Philadelphia, and researchers around the world.”

Along with early bylaws and charter documents, the collection includes a kaleidoscopic array of photographs, concert programs, conductor’s files and recordings — as well as correspondence like an enthusiastic 1912 letter from conductor Leopold Stokowski to Dr. Andrew Wheeler, a former secretary of the orchestra board.

“I wish to tell you how happy I am that I shall soon work with such a fine orchestra as the Philadelphia,” writes Stokowski, from aboard the Hamburg-America line. “But I am still happier that I shall be associated with you, for I feel already that we shall see eye to eye in all the vital problems of the orchestra, and that everything will be dealt with in a rational manner, and always with the true and best interests of the orchestra in view.”

Among the other materials made available for public preview is an oversized calendar in Maestro Stokowski’s hand, detailing his concert programming for the 1912-1913 season. (Plenty of Beethoven, Brahms and Bach, with some focused doses of Wagner and Tchaikovsky. Also Berlioz, Strauss, Rimsky-Korsakov, Elgar and more.)

“The Philadelphia Orchestra played a crucial role in the complex unfolding of western art music in the 20th century: it was equally important to such disparate composers as Sergei Rachmaninoff and Edgard Varèse,” Jeffrey Kallberg, Associate Dean for Arts and Letters at Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, says in a statement. “Musicologists will now have the opportunity to explore in depth the inner workings of one of the world’s great musical institutions, and thereby expand on and deepen our understanding of a significant era in music history.”

Some of that understanding is practical: board minutes, manuscripts, ledgers and legal documents. One memo maps out the schedule for a 1925 tour: a Pennsylvania Railroad itinerary with stops in Pittsburgh, Dayton, Chicago, Toledo, Cleveland and Detroit. (A note at the bottom of the memo reads: “We have tried to plan it so as to make it as easy as possible for everybody. Will you kindly advise if you have any suggestions?”)

Memo to Leopold Stokowski outlining proposed itinerary for the Orchestra’s Western tour in February 1926.
Philadelphia Orchestra Association and Academy of Music Archives, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts; University of Pennsylvania Libraries.
Memo to Leopold Stokowski outlining proposed itinerary for the Orchestra’s Western tour in February 1926.

A more official itinerary, from a coast-to-coast tour in the spring of 1937, includes Pullman car assignments for the members of the orchestra, from Aleinikoff to Zenker.

The Kislak Center is already home to the personal papers of Stokowski and his successor, Eugene Ormandy, which lends a feeling of organic reunion to the archive’s arrival. Among the artifacts in those collections are both maestros’ collections of batons, and scores with their conductors’ markings, including Achte Symphonie by Gustav Mahler, published in 1920.

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s archives have been closed to the public for the last 15 years; the organization turns down requests from researchers on a daily basis. And soon after Tarnopolsky assumed the helm in 2018, he realized that the existing accommodations for those materials — crammed into a bilevel room at the Academy of Music — posed both an obstacle to access and a risk of damage by fire or flood.

That spirit of historical conservation — however it may take effect — was at the heart of Yumi Kendall’s remarks before Quartet Iris, an ensemble drawn from the Philadelphia Orchestra ranks, performed their piece on Thursday.

“We chose this selection by Florence Price to honor the importance of archives, because much of her music was almost lost,” she said. “Were it not for the curiosity of new homeowners who happened upon a large collection of unopened boxes in their new attic, which turned out to be much of Florence Price’s composition library, we wouldn’t have the treasure and the gift of her music today. So we chose this last movement from her Second String Quartet to honor this importance.” And with that, the music began.

For more information about The Philadelphia Orchestra, visit its website. And be sure to catch our Philadelphia Orchestra broadcast, every Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m.