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Led Philadelphia Orchestra 44 Years : Conductor Eugene Ormandy Dies at 85

March 12, 1985|Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Eugene Ormandy, who conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra for 44 years, died today at his home, the orchestra association announced. He was 85.

The cause of death was listed as pneumonia, a complication of a longstanding heart condition. At Ormandy's side when he died was his wife, Margaret.

Ormandy had led a major world orchestra longer than any other conductor when he retired in 1980.

He was born in Budapest on Nov. 18, 1899, and made his debut as a concert violinist at age 7. Three years later, he was performing for the Royal Family of Austria-Hungary.

He came to the United States in 1921, seeking fame and fortune, but found himself without work. While playing in the last seat of the Capital Theater Orchestra in New York, he got a break when Major Edward Bowes, who later was known for his amateur hour, asked him to conduct.

His biggest break came in 1931, when he was asked to fill in for the ailing Arturo Toscanini as guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. In 1936 he was asked to succeed Leopold Stokowski, who had resigned as conductor in Philadelphia following a dispute with the orchestra board.

Ormandy recalled that his father, a dentist, had dreamed of a violin career for his son.

"My father was a most disappointed man when I became a conductor," Ormandy told a reporter. "The fact that I had not become the world's greatest violinist broke his heart."

Ormandy said he hated his autocratic father every time the father struck him for practicing badly, "but only when I was older did I realize I owed him everything."

Under Ormandy, the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded hundreds of albums, three of which topped the $1-million sales mark. He also arranged concert tours all over the world and developed the great musical catalogue for which the orchestra is now famous.

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