The Philadelphia Inquirer

September 21, 2003


Eschenbach era begins on a good note


By The Editor

New Philadelphia Orchestra music director Christoph Eschenbach already is making good on his promise to show the city "more than my back."
He shared his sold-out season premiere with Broad Street passersby last Wednesday via a video screen and speakers outside the Kimmel Center.
He's inviting the public to get to know him through his personal Web site: www.christoph-eschenbach.com, where he expounds on his vision, his biography, and his favorite authors, painters and choreographers (in English, German and French).
He eschews the formal title "maestro" and talks of updating the musicians' white-tie-and-tails. He's already changed the way they bow.
Roll over, Beethoven. The 21st century has arrived in Philadelphia classical music.
Believing that better understanding will lead to deeper appreciation, Eschenbach has vowed to raise the "invisible curtain" between the orchestra and the audience. It's about time. That's the key to building future audiences.
This approach may mean an occasional video screen outside the Kimmel. It may include composers' explanations mid-performance. It may require Eagles-game updates, as Eschenbach did once last year.
Fears that Eschenbach will tamper with the beloved "Philadelphia sound" are unfounded. He understands the wellspring of the orchestra's renown and plans to build on it until "nobody doubts that this is the best orchestra in the world."
But that doesn't mean he won't experiment. He was brought to town to take the orchestra in exciting new directions.
His job was made easier by a $50 million donation last week from philanthropist Leonore Annenberg. Her gift and $26 million in other pledges initiate a desperately needed $125 million endowment campaign. Ticket sales cover only half of orchestra expenses; the rest must be raised through donations. The orchestra has long lagged behind peer orchestras in fund-raising, hampering its ability to do all it could in the community.
Interest from the Annenberg gift alone, for example, will enhance in-school demonstrations, conductors' classes, community concerts, touring, broadcasting, hiring guest artists, and recording.
Wisely, the Annenberg gift requires the orchestra to balance its budget by 2005. The orchestra has been running deficits for years.
Christoph Eschenbach opened the orchestra's 104th season by extending a hand to the community. Philadelphia should welcome him just as graciously.


Copyright 2001 The Philadelphia Inquirer