Orchestras in Philly:
Very often, when I have my cello with me on the subway or the bus, fellow passengers ask me “Do you play with the Philadelphia Orchestra?” After my self-deprecating reply, it usually occurs to me that most people think that the Philadelphia Orchestra is the only orchestra has to offer. True, the Orchestra is a world-class organization that continues to attract concertgoers to the Kimmel Center, and is bracing for the inaugural season of its new music director, Yannick Nezet-Seguin. However, there are actually many unexplored gems the city has to offer that are worth exploring, for those looking for the sonic thrill of the orchestra. There are many amateur and semi-professional community orchestras, new and old, in Philadelphia and its surroundings, that usually offer very reasonable ticket prices. Others request a suggested donation to help fund these up-and-coming orchestras. Here are two orchestras in the Philadelphia area you might want to check out:
Lower Merion Symphony (amateur/semiprofessional group). I had the privilege of performing with this orchestra under the direction of Philadelphia Orchestra bassoonist Mark Gigliotti. It is a solid group anchored by the generous participation of members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who offer their performing expertise and insight. The piece I performed with them was Mahler’s First Symphony, which is no light undertaking. Besides the fact that it was a wonderful performance, I was delighted by the fact that this is a group willing to tackle challenging repertoire and present it to an enthusiastic audience.
The two concerts they are presenting this season (on April 1 and June 3) include music by Handel, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Dvorak. The concerts are free (and a small donation would help keep it that way!), and take place in McShain Auditorium on the Rosemont College campus.
Old York Road Symphony. A community orchestra based in Abington comprised of musicians of all ages and playing levels, this orchestra boasts 79 years of existence. Ticket prices range from $5-25, and have at least two concerts left this season. The orchestra performs at Abington Senior High School.
I should not neglect to mention the Philadelphia Orchestra, as they do offer discounted prices for tickets. Students can, with a valid ID, get tickets for $8, purchased within an hour and a half before each concert. Community rush tickets are available for $10, beginning two and a half hours before each concert. It requires standing in line (bring a book or a lawn chair), but the price makes it worth it.
The Philadelphia Orchestra is a staple in Philadelphia culture, and performances should be attended, but I would recommend supporting one of the above community groups. I’ve found those environments much more laid-back and audience-friendly, and the focus of the performances is on the sheer fun of performing – and listening!