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New York Philharmonic Digital Archives


by Barbara Haws

The New York Philharmonic Archives, which serves as a repository for more than 165 years of Philharmonic history, is one of the oldest and most important orchestral research collections in the world. It traces the entire history of the Philharmonic and its more than 15,000 performances around the world and is an important record of cultural history in New York City.

The Archives has recently made available online the Orchestra’s vast performance history — the largest single performance history in the world — for easy searching and specific queries.

Currently, the Philharmonic Archives is engaged in a major effort to digitally preserve, and make available to the public, the Leonard Bernstein multimedia collection, funded through the Save America’s Treasures program.

In February, due to the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation the Philharmonic’s Digital Archives launched its first phase of what is referred to as the International Era. This time period was selected for a number of reasons. It is the time when the United States becomes a world power and New York City its cultural capital; when the New York Philharmonic emerges as a worldwide symbol of this new cultural position; when Government begins funding the arts; when women join the Orchestra; when the Philharmonic opens Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; when the Orchestra musicians win 52-week contracts; when television becomes main stream and the Long Playing record is invented; and it is the time of Leonard Bernstein’s leadership.

The International Era is the time period with the greatest variety of formats for the Digital Archives, allowing us to test our assumptions about searching across document formats: scores, programs, press clippings, business documents, images, film, audio and video. Even though the audio and video currently available are only samples, they include the radio broadcast of Bernstein’s 1943 conducting debut, the first movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 from 1965 (follow along in his score while you listen) and an excerpt from the Philharmonic’s 1959 tour to Moscow showing Shostakovich greeting Bernstein at the stage. A long-term strategy is being developed to make all of this material available in the not-so- distant future.

By the end of 2012 all of the archival material from 1943 through 1970, from the letters of Presidents to the smallest scrap of paper, will be available in the Digital Archives — an estimated 1.3 million pages.

The New York Philharmonic has one of the largest music score collections in the world, created principally from the orchestra library that began acquiring scores in 1842. Numbering nearly 15,000 items, the collection contains rare first editions as well as the material used and marked by the Orchestra’s Music Directors and guest conductors, including Gustav Mahler, Leonard Bernstein, Erich Leinsdorf, Bruno Walter, and Andre Kostelanetz. Today, 1100 hundred scores marked by Bernstein, Kostelanetz and a couple by Mahler are viewable.

The Archives maintains 84,000 pages of press clippings, some dating as far back as the 1890s; more than 27,000 images (photographs, drawings, posters, lantern slides, and transparencies); and a complete set of the New York Philharmonic programs (1842 to the present).

In the first month over 22,000 unique visitors came to the Digital Archives. After the United States, Japan and Germany provided the largest number of visitors. Bernstein’s Mahler 9 score was viewed 6546 times. Six people from Kootenai, Idaho (pop 441) searched for Bernstein or clarinet sonata or Brahms. One user in Pensacola, Florida spent 2 hours 15 minutes with Bernstein’s score of Holst’s The Planets. A user on Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska looked through 25 pages, and 11 visitors from Guatemala averaged 10:42 minutes on the site. It’s a wonderful start.

In late February, the New York Philharmonic Digital Archives released 550,000 pages of music parts marked by Philharmonic musicians. The lion’s share were those used for Leonard Bernstein’s performances. With most of Mr. Bernstein’s marked conducting scores launched two years ago, the parts now show another side of those performances: not only the instructions of the conductor, but also some of the “tricks” used bymmusicians to get through a difficultpassage, or their own quirky sense of humor, frustration or relief when a long work is finally over.

Dan Wakin in The New York Times wrote, “Sheet music on music stands provide the road map for an orchestra’s performance, but scribbled annotations by the players impose a conductor’s ideas and serve as simple reminders to make an entrance or count correctly... The universal symbol to Watch! — a sketch of eyeglasses— abounds, along with added dynamic markings and reminders at the top left of a page of how many measures’ rest were noted at the bottom of a previous page, a sign of how the human brain needs to be reminded to concentrate over the time it takes to turn a leaf. New York Philharmonic Archives Update Many of the parts are signed by the principal players, with the dates of performances. It is quaint to see small lines marking out the beats of the oboe cadenza that interrupts the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, probably marked by the orchestra’s principal oboist, Harold Gomberg.”

The latest release is the successful culmination of a three year project made possible by a generous grant from the Leon Levy Foundation to digitize 1.3 million pages of archival material from 1943 through 1970 — or what we call The International Era—spanning the time from Bernstein’s Philharmonic conducting debut through the end of his Music Directorship with the Orchestra.

The recent launch took place on the University of Michigan campus sponsored by the School of Music and Information Sciences, and was marked by a live webcast presentation about the project by the Philharmonic’s Archivist and Historian Barbara Haws and Digital Archives Manager Mitchell Brodsky.

Since the launch of the project, there have been more than 210,000 visits from 135 countries. Leonard Bernstein’s score for the Mahler Ninth has been studied a whopping 25,000 times! Since the launch of the parts, the weekly visitors have more than tripled, averaging 5,000.

On the personal side, Robin Brightman, an orchestra leader from Maidstone Kent in the United Kingdom wrote, “Bowings are a tradition, a philosophy — something which is salted down over generations, not something which the leader puts together like a jig saw. And now your archive is open to the public — bowings from Bernstein and company. This is a truly excellent service . . . I cannot tell you how over the moon I am.”

Barbara Haws has been the New York Philharmonic's Archivist and Historian since 1984.

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