Who we are
Founded in 1993 by artistic director Karl Middleman, the Philadelphia Classical Symphony is a 20-member professional chamber orchestra committed to promoting new ways to understand and present the history of music to today’s audiences. The story of music is more than notes on a page; it’s a mirror of history itself – a saga of passion, inspiration, intellect, politics, religion, philosophy and patronage. We invite our audiences to join us in making the music matter. Yes, you will hear the music but you will also eat the food, don the garb, dance the dance, talk the talk, walk the walk, and become utterly immersed in the period that gave birth to the notes.
For nearly two decades, PCS has delighted and astounded Philadelphia-area audiences with performances that shock them off center and engage them viscerally and intellectually. This success is not a product of serendipity but of a purposeful strategy designed to dramatically revitalize the traditional concert experience. The PCS is widely recognized as the only musical organization in the United States dedicated to transforming traditional classical music concerts into interactive experiences. It has invented a truly novel syntax that combines scholarship with showmanship. Musical connoisseurs and novices alike discover and appreciate the joy of listening to music afresh through PCS’ novel forms of audience engagement.
Take, for example, these recent programs:
Mozart and the Dance. – Prior to a lively re-imagination of an 18th century Viennese court ball, the audience feasted on wiener schnitzel, German potatoes, Linzertorte and Café Vienna. Following the ball, members of the New York Historical Dance Company stepped instructively with the audience through dances not danced for centuries.
Shostakovich and the Magic of the Silent Screen. – Shostakovich’s career as a pianist-composer for the silent movies is little known but hugely influential. By juxtaposing clips from the composer’s favorite movie directors (Charlie Chaplin and Sergei Eisenstein) with a PCS performance of Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto the audience discovered powerfully compelling connections between classical music and popular culture.
Charles Ives Goes to Church. - PCS boldly challenged Ives’s reputation as a hall-emptier with its performance of this American musical pioneer’s First String Quartet, playing the piece’s core hymn tune on a solo trombone in simulation of the Salvation Army bands Ives heard as a child. Then the audience sang with great organ accompaniment much the way Ives’s audiences did when he was a prominent organist in New Haven.
Part of PCS's freshness also comes from venturing into uncharted territory. PCS has commissioned and performed more than 70 new works in the past decade alone.
Now in its fourth year, Re-Awakenings of American Indian Music is a comprehensive commissioning and music education project dedicated to the American Indian experience, “Re- Awakenings” spotlights the culture of a large, underserved population and promotes greater appreciation of its heritage; underwriting distinguished composers’ American Indian-themed contributions; introducing the public to a unique concert music modality and encouraging new and younger audiences to find new portals for music appreciation.
Having just completed its fifth year, Philadelphia Composer Connections advocates worthy composers and outstanding Philadelphia-based performers by partnering them to create and perform new repertoire specifically written for underused solo instruments and the great performers who champion them here in Philadelphia.
A PCS favorite, Gateways to Global Music has featured folk instrument ensembles from China and Bali in friendly battle-of-the-bands concerts. Wildly enthusiastic audiences at these side-by-side, cross-cultural forays – unheard of in Philadelphia since the halcyon days of Leopold Stokowski – prove again that music is an international language whose communicative thrust goes beyond spoken words directly to the heart.
No wonder the Philadelphia Classical Symphony is consistently hailed by local critics and regional commentators in hyperbolic terms, that it is has received three Best of Philly awards, and enjoyed national awards and international recognition. PCS’s historic achievement results from three forces. The first is the sense of spontaneity generated at each and every PCS event; the second, the PCS commitment to audience engagement, and the third, the particular genius of PCS’s founder and artistic director Karl Middleman, a celebrated conductor, composer, educator and champion of new music.