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What a fun piece this was; glad the Fleisher Collection had a part in it. Janet Anderson wrote it up in the Broad Street Review here; below, my letter filling in a few details about this fascinating slice of history:

Re ”Back to the ‘30s, for one afternoon” by Janet Anderson—
Thanks to Janet Anderson and BSR for throwing a spotlight on the historic occasion of the performance of the Ferde Grofé 1936 ballet music Café Society at the Kimmel. I’d like to explain The Fleisher Collection’s role in this.

Philadelphia Sinfonia conductor Gary White already had the piano reduction from dance historian Sharon Skeel. When they looked to see if performance materials existed, they found them in only one place in the world: at the Free Library’s Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music.

The full score and all the parts— everything needed for an orchestral performance— were sitting on our shelves at 19th and Vine. That we have this at all is an amazing story of the foresight of Edwin Fleisher, the Free Library, and the city and federal governments, all working together to create a WPA Music Project in the years 1935-43.

Hundreds upon hundreds of American and Latin American symphonic works were collected and copied out by hand. Many were performed by established orchestras and by the 33 federal or “civic” orchestras that sprang up around the country. Philadelphia’s— the Pennsylvania W.P.A. Symphony Orchestra— played Café Society in a large orchestral concert version in 1942 at Penn’s Irvine Auditorium. That’s the version we have.

The music in ours, however, strayed from the piano reduction, a common occurrence with music involving stage action, especially when concert versions are made. Fortunately, the composer’s son, thrilled to have this music performed again, granted the conductor complete access to the original sketches at the Library of Congress. Gary White cleared up a lot of the confusing passages and fixed errors. Our old materials were falling apart, so we reprinted a completely new, clean set.

The performance by the youth of the Philadelphia Sinfonia was a rousing success, and we’ll broadcast it on a WRTI “Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection” program in the coming months.

We’ve seen similar stories many times over the years. I’m happy to be in the company of so many dedicated people, past and present. Gary, Sharon, and the Sinfonia deserve all praise for putting this together.

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