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The New York Philharmonic

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b. Kalischt [now Kalište], Bohemia, July 7, 1860
d. Vienna, May 18, 1911

Gustav Mahler’s tenure with the New York Philharmonic coincided with a major reorganization of the Orchestra’s corporate structure. Several wealthy contributors were willing to act as Guarantors of the Fund for the Permanent Orchestra of the Philharmonic Society of New York; this endowment would pay sufficient salaries to musicians and conductor for their exclusive devotion for at least 23 consecutive weeks a year. The Guarantors’ committee administered the business of the Orchestra; they more than doubled the number of concerts and engaged Gustav Mahler to lead the Philharmonic to new pinnacles of achievement. They also arranged the ensemble’s first tours outside the city. Although short, these made a huge cultural impact on audiences in cities like Springfield, MA and Providence, RI. Unlike the Boston Symphony which traveled with reduced forces, Mahler refused to compromise and the full complement of 92 players went on tour.

Mahler brought in a new concertmaster, changed some of the wind and brass players, and adjusted the balance between instrumental families. The reshaped ensemble was everything Mahler desired in an orchestra, but other aspects of the relationship proved nettlesome. Henry Krehbiel, music critic for the Tribune (and program annotator for the Philharmonic) often excoriated Mahler both as composer and conductor, especially when he reorchestrated passages in the works of earlier masters such as Beethoven or Schubert. During Mahler’s second season, the Guarantors’ Committee formed a six-member Program Committee to oversee the musical selections for each concert; under the circumstances, a battle of wills was inevitable. Mahler’s mortal illness in the winter of 1911 brought an ultimate and tragic resolution to their disagreements.

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