Eugene Ormandy – interview for the N.E.T. Program Fanfare – February 14, 1972 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Anyone out there who began collecting Classical Music on records as a kid in the late 1950s/early 1960s, most likely remembers seeing walls of Eugene Ormandy 78 rpm sets in any given Thrift Shop in just about every major city in America in the 1950s going for pennies a set. Those bulky, cumbersome and very often partly broken sets of records ran the gamut of Classical Music periods and were, for the most part, the staple in just about every home record collection from the 1920s onward.
How they wound up in thrift shops was easy – lp’s were coming in. And much like when CD’s came on to the marketplace, and spelled the death-knell to lp’s – lp’s were the grim reaper for the ancient 78.
And because Eugene Ormandy was such a popular conductor for Victor Records – when the time came and record collections went through the big transformation, Ormandy discs headed for every Salvation Army Thrift Shop in the country in droves. But that didn’t stop him from recording prodigious amounts of repertoire well into the Digital era and gathering respectable sales as a result. Ormandy was the conductor everybody knew. And even if your record collecting didn’t extend past Arthur Fiedler, you surely had at least one Ormandy-led set of discs in your collection. You probably do, even now.
But Eugene Ormandy also became the Conductor you loved to hate. Critics were mostly dismissive of him, waving new releases off with an “oh, it’s HIM again” attitude and generally giving his staggering recorded output the cold shoulder at every turn. Even among colleagues, it was rumored that he was considered something of a “body-and-fender-man” of the Classical Music world and often dismissed as a “really good interpreter of Johann Strauss Waltzes” and not much else.
That said, Ormandy was a wildly popular conductor in America, if not most of the world during the early years of commercial recording. Rivaling Leopold Stokowski in stature and having the longest running association with an American orchestra (The Philadelphia) of just about anyone, save perhaps Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. His output went from the earliest days of Acoustic recording all the way to the first Digital releases. He was there – he was solid and he was a master technician and was deft at putting major orchestras together out of wreckage.
Fortunately for him, and for the world in general, snob-appeal maintains a tiny, almost microscopic influence on the Classical Music listener/collector. And even since his death in 1985, his legacy continues and reassessments continue to surface. Yes; we were wrong and we admit it.
So as a reminder of the popularity and the wide-ranging influence Eugene Ormandy has had in the music world for those many decades, here is an interview conducted as part of the NET (pre-PBS) series Fanfare from February 14, 1972.
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