The Philadelphia Orchestra Mourns the Death of Conductor Laureate Wolfgang Sawallisch
It is with great sadness that The Philadelphia Orchestra mourns the death of Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor laureate of the Orchestra and its music director from 1993 to 2003. Mr. Sawallisch passed away on Friday at his home in Grassau, upper Bavaria, Germany. He was 89 years old. In a special tribute and dedication to him, the Orchestra performed Wagner's Siegfried Idyll to open its Sunday afternoon concert.
The Orchestra's sixth music director, Mr. Sawallisch made his debut as guest conductor in 1966 and nearly 40 years later made his final appearance leading The Philadelphia Orchestra on March 1, 2005, in a program of Grieg's Piano Concerto with guest pianist Yundi Li and Schubert's Symphony in C major ("Great"). During his decade as music director he fostered the rich tradition of the ensemble's legendary Philadelphia Sound while strengthening and securing its artistic future, hiring 40 musicians into the Orchestra. Mr. Sawallisch became conductor laureate of The Philadelphia Orchestra in September 2003, directly following the conclusion of his tenure as music director.
Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin comments, "The Philadelphia Orchestra family is profoundly saddened by the death of its beloved former music director, Conductor Laureate Wolfgang Sawallisch. During his 10-year tenure as music director he cared deeply for the Orchestra and its musicians, helped preserve and nurture our Philadelphia Sound, and enriched and expanded upon the Orchestra's century-old tradition of excellence, leaving us an enduring legacy of artistic achievements. Off the podium he was also a dear friend to many in the Orchestra and in the Philadelphia community. He has been missed, and his memory will be treasured."
Philadelphia Orchestra Chairman Richard B. Worley adds, "Great orchestras are built on a foundation of great music directors, and Wolfgang Sawallisch's tenure as music director is part of the legacy of our great Orchestra. Maestro Sawallisch left an indelible mark on our organization, and everyone who knows this Orchestra knows that the ensemble was strengthened under his leadership. We are fortunate to have known him, and we will never forget the way his smile lit up his eyes."
"A loss such as this deeply affects our artistic and musical community-not just here in Philadelphia but around the world," says Philadelphia Orchestra President and CEO Allison Vulgamore. "Wolfgang Sawallisch was a man of profound artistry and unwavering yet quiet dedication. We will continue to honor his rich legacy as would befit him-by making beautiful and inspired music that touches the hearts and minds of all those who will hear it."
"Truly Maestro Sawallisch was a once-in-a-lifetime figure in the world of music," says Philadelphia Orchestra Concertmaster David Kim. "He was the perfect combination of musicianship, craft, and integrity. The Philadelphia Orchestra was his greatest instrument and all of us who had the privilege to perform for him in those transcendent concerts will forever be in his debt."
A master of the core European repertoire, Mr. Sawallisch also encouraged the exploration of new ways to present music to audiences in Philadelphia and beyond. In April 1997 he led the Philadelphians in the first live internet concert "cybercast" made by a major American orchestra, attracting listeners from more than 40 countries around the world. He presented season-long focuses on the works of Schumann, Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms, and an ongoing overview of the works of Richard Strauss (including a concert presentation of the opera Ariadne auf Naxos). Through a series of commissions, Mr. Sawallisch re-affirmed the Orchestra's commitment to new music; and his vision for the Orchestra's 100th Anniversary Season in 1999-2000, made up exclusively of music written since the ensemble's creation in 1900, resulted in critical and popular acclaim.
During his tenure as music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra, Mr. Sawallisch not only led the ensemble in subscription concerts but also in Family Concerts, at summer residencies at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and he frequently performed with the musicians of the Orchestra in Chamber Concerts. He also built on the ensemble's nearly century-long tradition of touring by appearing annually with the Orchestra in a series of concerts at Carnegie Hall and conducting the Orchestra in major concert halls throughout the world on eight international tours (three to Europe, four to Asia, and one to Central and South America).
Mr. Sawallisch was an outspoken advocate for the construction of The Philadelphia Orchestra's new home at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. He actively participated in planning for the new concert hall's acoustics and its operations, and he conducted the Orchestra's first performances in Kimmel's Verizon Hall in December, 2001.
Mr. Sawallisch demonstrated an unwavering dedication to his craft, as evidenced by his actions in the winter of 1994 when blizzard conditions doomed a scheduled performance of excerpts from Wagner's Tannhäuser and Die Walküre at the Academy of Music. With most musicians unable to leave their homes due to the storm, rather than cancel the performance, Sawallisch instead enlisted the help of the three soloists staying in nearby hotels and a small, hastily recruited chorus, and flung open the Academy's doors to anyone willing to brave the elements. Over 600 Philadelphians witnessed their maestro's operatic foray on the piano that evening-an unforgettable performance. In another example of dedication to his Orchestra, Mr. Sawallisch was intent on joining his musicians as soon as possible after the tragedy of 9/11. Understanding the power of music to help heal, he caught the first flight to Philadelphia from Germany, leading the Orchestra less than a week later in a televised tribute concert at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, followed by a three-week tour of the United States.
In May 2003, as a testament to Mr. Sawallisch's tenure in Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Orchestra released a three-disc set of live recordings with him conducting works by Robert Schumann (including the complete symphonies). The recordings, drawn from performances given during Mr. Sawallisch's final season as music director, were the first recordings made in Verizon Hall at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, and stand as a tribute to Mr. Sawallisch's decade-long partnership with the Orchestra. The three-disc set was nominated for Grammy awards in the categories of Best Classical Album and Best Orchestral Performance.
Wolfgang Sawallisch was born in Munich and graduated from that city's Academy of Music. He began his conducting career in 1947 at the Opera Theater of Augsburg, where he served as vocal coach, chorus master, and conductor of ballet, opera, and concert music. In 1953 he became the youngest conductor to lead the Berlin Philharmonic. He next held successive music directorships in Aachen, Wiesbaden, and Cologne and appeared annually at the prestigious Bayreuth Festival. He was music director of the Vienna Symphony from 1960 to 1970 and also served as music director of the Hamburg Philharmonic from 1961 to 1973. He served as artistic director of Geneva's Orchestre de la Suisse Romande from 1973 to 1980. In 1971 he was appointed music director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, beginning an exceptionally fruitful and long lasting relationship with that company. Working in Munich for more than two decades, he served concurrently as the Opera's general manager during his last 10 years there before coming to Philadelphia.
As a guest conductor, Mr. Sawallisch led yearly concerts with the Vienna Symphony and Tokyo's NHK Orchestra. Other guest appearances included performances with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Orchestre de Paris, the Israel Philharmonic, London's Philharmonia, and the Czech Philharmonic. Mr. Sawallisch's extensive discography includes a wide range of orchestral and opera recordings, both with The Philadelphia Orchestra and with a number of European ensembles. In addition to the three-disc Schumann set released in May 2003, his Philadelphia compact discs include works by Bruckner, Dvo?ák, Hindemith, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner, as well as a special disc of orchestral transcriptions by Leopold Stokowski and a four-disc cycle of the orchestral works of Richard Strauss.
Mr. Sawallisch was highly regarded as a chamber musician and accompanist. He collaborated and recorded with such vocalists as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Nicolai Gedda, Thomas Hampson, Hermann Prey, Peter Schreier, and Margaret Price, as well as with the Munich Residenz Quartet, cellist Heinrich Schiff, and violinists Sarah Chang and Frank Peter Zimmermann.
Mr. Sawallisch's artistry was recognized throughout his career with many awards and citations. He was given the Toscanini Gold Baton in recognition of his 35-year association with La Scala in Milan. His received honorary degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Westminster Choir College of Rider University, and Villanova University. He was a recipient of the Pennsylvania Governor's Distinguished Artist Award, as well as the Avatar Award for Artistic Excellence, created by the Arts and Business Council of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.