A truly versatile singer, Curtis alumna Irra Petina was well known for both her operatic and Broadway roles
Russian-American mezzo-soprano and actress Irra Petina (Voice ’35) was born on April 18, 1908 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The daughter of wealthy parents, she and her family were forced to flee to avoid persecution following the 1917 Bolshevik uprising. They made their way to China where, for twelve years, Petina received her first formal vocal training, largely from fellow Russian emigres. When she was 21, Petina traveled to Philadelphia to audition for admission to Curtis. She was accepted as a voice student of Harriet van Emden in 1930.
For nearly 100 years students have attended Curtis for music practice and study.
But when they were not in lessons, rehearsals, a practice room, or a classroom, how did they spend their time? Where did they live? What did they do in their leisure hours? And how did the aspects of student life change over the years? Take a glimpse into the daily lives of Curtis students through the decades, based on photographs and archival materials donated by alumni to the Curtis Archives, as well as oral history recollections from faculty and alumni.
The Curtis Symphony Orchestra serves to train a new generation of musicians. But what of the conductors who lead it?
The conductors who have led the Curtis Symphony Orchestra (CSO) - beginning with Leopold Stokowski in 1924 - have each left their unique stamp, culminating in the truly unique musical ensemble the CSO is today.
The early years (1924-1931)
The Curtis orchestra met for the first time on November 14, 1924 in the Comm
on Room. Just six years later it had performed in the Academy of Music and Carnegie Hall, broadcast concerts on radio, and played for Curtis’s first opera production, Eugene d’Albert’s Tiefland.
The school’s early success was due in large part to the close friendship between its founder, Mary Louise Curtis Bok, and Leopold Stokowski, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Stokowski saw Curtis as the perfect springboard for musicians to enter the Philadelphia Orchestra, taking charge of the orchestra himself to fully achieve his vision. Furthermore, all instrumental faculty were members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and thus known to Stokowski. According to the Curtis Catalogue in 1926, “... the students of The Curtis Institute of Music receive the training which has made the Philadelphia Orchestra the foremost in the World."
From greenhouse to world-class concert venue, “The Hall” has hosted countless students, Curtis faculty members, guest artists, and their audiences.
For over 40 years the Hall was open only to Curtis students and faculty. Audiences were first invited to attend recitals under the directorship of Rudolf Serkin (1968–1976).Today Field Concert Hall remains an inspiration, both for the artists who make music on its stage and for the more than 20,000 people who annually attend performances. Read on to learn more about the evolution of this remarkable performance space.