Academy of Music
11 February 2023
Inadequate number of concerts offered by the Philharmonic; conductor’s prejudices favoring “music of the future” and the offering of third rate vocalists and instrumentalists.
“This well known society, which claims to be the pioneer and guardian of music in America, broke the silence in which it has long been enveloped and gave us a specimen yesterday of what we may expect from it this season. The audience was extremely limited in number and the programme utterly unsatisfactory. When such a society as the Philharmonic presents for its opening bill only three orchestral works, and these to some degree hackneyed, it falls very short of the high expectations formed of it. The three works are Beethoven’s Eighth symphony, the unfinished symphony (two movements) of Schubert and the irrepressible overture to ‘Tannhauser.’ These constitute the orchestral programme for the first concert, and every musician cannot help being disappointed. There are magnificent materials in the society to make it everything it claims, but a lamentable absence of management, especially in the arrangement of the programmes. The three works above mentioned cannot, of course, be found fault with on the score of intrinsic merit, but they are not what the most ardent admirers of the Philharmonic Society would look for as an opening programme at the present time. It is bad enough for such a society to remain silent nearly three months of the regular amusement season, without giving us for the first sample a stereotyped bill. When Theodore Thomas gave his symphony soirées here his enterprise and go-ahead enthusiasm acted as a spur to the Philharmonic Society, and woke it up from its Rip Van Winkle slumber amid the misty programmes of the past. Now that we are utterly destitute of music, since Nilsson left us, the society should not retrograde. Whoever has been appointed for this season to select appropriate works for the concerts must exercise a little more judgment and care, or else the society will fall back into the Slough of Despond from which its late energetic president, Professor Doremus, raised it. We are too much interested in the advancement of the divine art of music in this city not to express our indignation at such backsliding on the part of the chief representative organization in America.
“Mr. S. B. Mills will play at the first concert, and as appearances are at present it is likely that he will be the only feature at the concert. We do not expect the music committee to catch eagerly at every new-fangled essay in orchestration, but we want them to make up a better bill from the boundless field before them. The small house yesterday alone ought to serve as a timely warning.”
“The Philharmonic season was opened yesterday by the first public rehearsal. The Academy of Music was about two-thirds full, and the audience, if not as numerous as usual on these occasions, was certainly more attentive. Mr. Bergmann conducted; and three works—Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, an unfinished symphony by Schubert, and the familiar ‘Tannhauser’ overture, were rehearsed. The Schubert extract, though but a fragment, and requiring repeated interruptions on the part of the conductor, was noticeable for the exquisite grace of its theme, which is repeated in a variety of orchestral forms. The Eighth Symphony is familiar to all lovers of this class of music, and perhaps contains more elements of general popularity than any of the Beethoven symphonies.”
“The First Rehearsal of the Philharmonic Society is always an event of much interest. The Society is one to which New Yorkers look with pride, and the inhabitants of other cities with envy. In numbers and in the quality of its work it stands confessedly at the head of all the orchestras of the New World, and takes rank not far behind the most famous of those of the old.
“Yesterday afternoon it gave its first rehearsal of the winter season; the first, also, under its new President, Mr. George T. Strong, who replaces Dr. Doremus. The most notable change under the new presidency is in the matter of the distribution of seats. In old times this was conducted on the strictly democratic principle of first come first served. Then Doremus inaugurated the sale of the boxes. Mr. Strong has permitted all the eligible seats in the house to be secured for the winter. The consequence of this plan will be that there will be less confusion than of old, for every one will know exactly where to find his place. The famous, genteel, well dressed crowd that used to gather on cold winter Philharmonic nights about the doors an hour before they opened, and to rush in a polite scrimmage for the best seats, is a thing of the past. The extra $3 secures one’s seat for the winter both at rehearsals and concerts. As the same persons will occupy the same seats, it may fall to a man’s lot to sit perchance all the season in close proximity to what Grandfather Smallweed used to call a ‘brimstone chatterer,’ or perhaps with the same ugly bonnet in the immediate foreground, growing with each repetition more ugly. On the other hand, it is now possible for parties of friends to get together and enjoy that communion of feeling that music so specialy invites. The pieces in rehearsal for the first concert are Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony—one of the brightest and best of the immortal nine; Schubert’s unfinished symphony; a musical torso as fine as the ‘Farnese Hercules;’ and the ‘Tannhauser’ overture, with its alternations of sublime and of solemn thought, and squealing violin harmonies, and piccolo cries, that are as much like the utterances of a young pig under an unexpectedly tight fence as it is in the power of music to make them. Mr. Mills lends his assistance at the next rehearsal.” [Reprinted Dwight’s Journal of Music, 11/19/70, p. 349]
“The 29th season of the New-York Philharmonic Society opened yesterday afternoon with a public rehearsal of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, the two movements of Schubert’s unfinished symphony in B minor, and the overture to ‘Tannhauser.’ Criticism, of course, upon a first rehearsal would be misplaced; we cannot forbear, however, a word of praise, and we see every reason to anticipate for the evening of the concert an admiral orchestral performance. The programme is certainly a fine one. The lovely fragment of Schubert’s can be heard with pleasure, even after Beethoven, and though it is only three years since it was first discovered in Vienna it has already become popular in the United States. It was given at one of the Philharmonic Concerts in the Spring of 1869, and has often been played by Theodore Thomas. Mr. S. B. Mills is to play at the approaching concert, and probably the newly arrived vocalist, Rosa Czillag, will make her American debut. The audience yesterday was large (though the house was not crowded) and the new regulation of reserved seats appeared to give general satisfaction.”
“On Friday the first rehearsal of the New-York Philharmonic Society took place at the Academy of Music. The attendance was fashionable, although hardly as numerous as on the occasion of the opening rehearsal of last season. Much interest was, however, manifested in the performance, and doubtless this will increase as the season progresses. The programme of Friday was a very fine one [see above]. Notwithstanding the many interruptions and repetitions necessarily incident to a rehearsal, these selections were listened to with great pleasure. The beauty and peculiar charm of Beethoven’s work require no present encomium at our hands. To this and the other compositions rendered we shall endeavor to do some justice on hearing them from the Society in their perfected shape. The directors of the Philharmonic have issued a request to which they desire extended publicity to be given. We therefore append it, while fully indorsing its propriety [Request that late-comers not enter the auditorium while a work is in progress].”