The Eugene and Margaret Ormandy Fund
Renowned Philadelphia Orchestra Conductor Eugene Ormandy and his wife, Margaret “Gretel” Ormandy chose to support cultural and educational institutions in Philadelphia – their adopted American home city -- through a fund established in 1999.
Eugene Ormandy was born Jeno Blau in Budapest, on Nov. 18, 1899. He arrived in the U.S. on the S.S. Normandie and adopted an altered version of the steamer's name as his own surname (though some accounts say it also was a family middle name.)
Ormandy was a child prodigy who gave his first violin concerts at age seven and was the youngest-ever graduate of the Royal State Academy of Music in Budapest at age 14. He began his American career in 1921 by playing violin before quickly moving to conducting an orchestra that accompanied silent movies in New York City. Performing light classics for the new medium of radio led to a summer concert position under acclaimed New York Philharmonic music director Arturo Toscanini.
Ormandy became conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in 1931.
The Ormandy Influence
His 44-year tenure with the Philadelphia Orchestra began as associate conductor under Leopold Stokowski in 1936. In 1938 he was named Music Director, a position he held until 1980, when he became Conductor Laureate until his death on March 12, 1985.
Ormandy was known for conducting from memory and often without a baton, leading the orchestra to create lush, opulent tones that became known as “the Philadelphia sound.”
He specialized in conducting late Romantic and early 20th century music, but the orchestra made hundreds of recordings under his direction, covering virtually every classical music genre. He led the orchestra on tour nationally and internationally in locations ranging from Finland (where members visited composer Jean Sibelius) to a 1973 visit to China, which had been isolated from Western classical music for decades.
Among his many honors was being the subject of a posthumous commemorative stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 1997.
Margaret “Gretel” Ormandy
For nearly a half-century, the Ormandy influence also included Margaret "Gretel" Ormandy. Like her husband, Gretel was an integral part of the community and society life.
This kind and gracious woman, who lived much of her life in the shadow of her illustrious husband, was a generous benefactor to dozens of area nonprofits.
The Ormandy Fund was established as a result of a bequest from Gretel Ormandy, who passed away on May 31, 1998 at the age of 89. Her will also provided for substantial gifts to the orchestra, the extensive Eugene Ormandy Archives at the University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Born Margaret Frances Hitsch in Vienna on May 9, 1909, Gretel Ormandy emigrated to the U.S. in the 1930s and soon became an American citizen. She served as a pilot during World War II. After her unit disbanded, she enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served two years at the Norfolk, Va., Naval Air Station. She and Eugene were married in Philadelphia on May 15, 1950.
Described as warm, gracious, a smart dresser, and quite beautiful, she typified an unpretentious Philadelphia style. She accompanied her husband on many tours and was beloved by orchestra members. In 1994, confined to a wheelchair from a stroke, she came onstage at the Academy of Music to accept the first Philadelphia Orchestra Award.
Since it was established in 1999, the Eugene and Margaret Ormandy Fund has made more than 118 grants, totaling more than $1.21 million. More than 60 arts and cultural organizations – spanning music, dance, theaters, fine arts, film and museums – have been supported.
Notable funding includes $50,000 to the Arden Theater Company, $43,000 to Taller Puertorriqueño and $40,000 to the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.
The Fund has also provided more than $45,000 in General Operating Support to the Community Learning Center, an organization specializing in adult literacy, math and life skills.
The Eugene and Margaret Ormandy Fund’s largest individual grant to date was nearly $31,000 to Main Line Art Center. The center offers classes, workshops, lectures and trips to over 7,000 students and enthusiastic art viewers each year.
The support paid for technological upgrades to support staff and programmatic needs. Through the funding, the web site was enhanced for easier class registration and two laptop kiosks were installed for self-registration, research and use in creating computer-generated artwork.
Other notable General Operating Support grants include $35,000 to Live Arts and Philly Fringe; $22,000 to the Philadelphia Folklore Project, an independent agency that documents and presents Philadelphia-area folk arts and culture; and over $22,000 to Musicopia, a nonprofit that brings educational music enrichment programs to schools and neighborhoods.
Such grants perpetuate not only the musical heritage but also the social concerns and cultural loves of two remarkable Philadelphians.
The Philadelphia Foundation is proud to have been named the instrument through which their memory will live on.
To support the Eugene and Margaret Ormandy Fund, or any other fund based at The Philadelphia Foundation, please visit our Give Now page.