PCMS’ 25th Birthday Celebration

By Philip Maneval on October 21, 2010

Tony Checchia and I both had piles of brochures in our offices.  I had started working for Tony and the Marlboro School of Music a few years earlier, in 1982.  Tony had been presenting Marlboro tour groups here for some years, since the 1960’s.  But I knew he was eager to create something different, something born right here in town, with a local presence, a local following and a mission to serve the Philadelphia community.   Our brochures were of different chamber music organizations from around the country–in New York, Boston, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Kansas City and so on.  If these cities could do it, why not us?  Why did Philadelphians have to travel up or down the east coast to hear leading musicians?  It was a glaring gap in the cultural fabric of this city and, I would add, a real impediment to our being considered a truly world-class performing arts center.

We looked at the brochures not only with some envy, but a critical eye.  Many series had startlingly high ticket prices, some used gimmicky marketing ploys to sell their concerts, others offered only tried-and-true repertoire.  Tony envisioned a different model.  He had faith that Philadelphia would embrace an organization that consistently presented artists of the highest quality, that kept ticket prices affordable, that offered a friendly atmosphere, and that provided a wide range of works, enabling outstanding artists to bring the music they were most passionate about performing.

In 1986, we received support from our founding board president, Elizabeth Starr Cummin; a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (not a bad investment of public funds, I would say); and commitments from a number of friends who shared our love of great music.  In a stroke of mind-numbing creativity, we named ourselves “The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society” and proceeded to present seven concerts down at the Port of History (now Independence Seaport) Museum on Penn’s Landing.  The Society was independently incorporated–while we share office space and some staff with Marlboro, our mission and finances are completely separate.  Happily, all seven concerts that year sold out.  Our annual budget was $44,000 and tickets, by subscription, cost about $8.75 each.  By year-end, Tony and I were rather amazed that the list we had maintained of other people wanting to attend now numbered about 250.

What to do?  Well, we knew a few musicians–okay, maybe several hundred–whom we wanted to hear.  Besides, no one else in town was presenting the type of ensembles and recitalists we loved.  Thus we expanded.  PCMS (as we soon came to be known) grew its annual season, moving in subsequent years to 10 concerts, then 12, 17, 21 and so forth.  Early on, Jerry Rubenstein–a great music lover and brilliant corporate leader–became Chairman of our Board.  We hired staff, broadened our base, kept in close contact with our friends and met many new friends.  We presented concerts throughout the city, began offering student education programs, and created new series.  What we didn’t do was to deviate from our founding mission–providing great music at low prices.

Fast forward to 2010.  I don’t know where all the time went, but here we are in our 25th Season.  This year includes 66 concerts and 50 education programs.  We have a terrific staff, a devoted Board and thousands of loyal audience members.  We have presented over 950 concerts; created regular string, vocal and woodwind series; commissioned more than 40 new pieces; performed repertoire from all periods (including, by the way, works by some 37 female classical music composers).  We felt that this year should not pass without a celebration.  Therefore, on March 9, 2011, we will present our 25th Birthday Concert at the Perelman Theater, along with a reception at the Doubletree Hotel.  It should be a wonderful evening of music, and a great meeting of old and new friends.  We do hope you can join us–invitations will go out in early December.  Also, as we look back, and look ahead, our Board feels this is a fitting time to honor all that Tony Checchia has done for our city, and to help PCMS prepare for the future, through a special anniversary fundraising drive.  But more about that later…   We look forward to seeing you often at the concerts, and on March 9th!