Little Orchestra Society

Alternative names
Dates:
Active 1947
Active 1957

Biographical notes:

Thomas Scherman (1917-1979) was the director of the Little Orchestra Society, which he had just recently founded, earlier in the same year, in New York City. He was the son of Harry Scherman (1887-1969), the founder of the Book of the Month Club, and Harry's wife Bernadine. The Scherman family had a friendly relationship with Alma Mahler; Harry and Bernadine Scherman had first become acquainted with Alma in Vienna.

From the description of Correspondence to Alma Mahler, 1947. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 155863823

Thomas Scherman founded the Little Orchestra Society for the 1947/48 season with the aim of performing contemporary orchestral and operatic works, including many works specially commissioned for the society.

The society consisted of a reduced orchestra that was large enough to reproduce major works, but small enough that it afforded a more chamber-like atmosphere. They regularly attracted famous soloists to augment the orchestra, and they emphasized 'authentic performances' - that is, performances which followed original instrumentation and original playing practices. Most of the Little Orchestra Society concerts took place in the Town Hall concert hall in New York City.

The Little Orchestra Society featured a number of famous performers in solo pieces. Some of these soloists were: Marian Anderson, Claudio Arrau, Erna Berger, Benjamin Britten, Kathleen Ferrier, George London, Sir Peter Pears, Cesare Siepi, Isaac Stern, Joseph Szigeti, Richard Tucker, and Vronsky and Babin.

The Little Orchestra Society premiered a large number of contemporary works, and revived many Baroque pieces. Because of this, the Little Orchestra Society recordings provide an important source for the performance history of these pieces.

From the description of Concert recordings collection [sound recording], 1947-1957. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122408257

Thomas Scherman founded the Little Orchestra Society for the 1947/48 season with the aim of performing contemporary orchestral and operatic works, including many works specially commissioned for the society.

The society consisted of a reduced orchestra that was large enough to reproduce major works, but small enough that it afforded a more chamber-like atmosphere. They regularly attracted famous soloists to augment the orchestra, and they emphasized 'authentic performances' - that is, performances which followed original instrumentation and original playing practices. Most of the Little Orchestra Society concerts took place in the Town Hall concert hall in New York City.

The Little Orchestra Society featured a number of famous performers in solo pieces. Some of these soloists were: Marian Anderson, Claudio Arrau, Erna Berger, Benjamin Britten, Kathleen Ferrier, George London, Sir Peter Pears, Cesare Siepi, Isaac Stern, Joseph Szigeti, Richard Tucker, and Vronsky and Babin.

The Little Orchestra Society premiered a large number of contemporary works, and revived many Baroque pieces. Because of this, the Little Orchestra Society recordings provide an important source for the performance history of these pieces.

From the guide to the Little Orchestra Society concert recordings collection [sound recording], 1947-1957, (The New York Public Library. Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound.)

Alix B. Williamson was born on April 6, 1916 in New York City, where she lived and worked until her death in August 2001. While attending Hunter College in the 1930s she wrote for the school's weekly newspaper The Bulletin, and received prizes for "best editorial" in 1934, and "best contribution to a student publication" in 1935. She was also the president of Hunter's Shakespeare Society and dramatic society, and earned extra money as a reporter for the New York Journal-American. After graduating in 1935, Williamson joined the leading public relations firm of Constance Hope Associates, where she handled the accounts of notable personalities, such as Lotte Lehmann, Lauritz Melchoir, and Lily Pons. Her early career included a large amount of ghostwriting, both under the names of her accounts (e.g., Pons) and fictional creations (e.g., Catharine Hoffman).

Williamson left the Hope office in 1938 after a dispute over her freelancing activities, specifically a column about New York theater in Promenade. She opened her own agency with one client, Moriz Rosenthal, with office space at 55 West 42nd Street. Her early clients included a number of Philadelphia music institutions, such as the Robin Hood Dell concert series, which she publicized with a stunt involving the so-called last descendant of Robin Hood riding down Broad Street on a black horse to sell the season's first tickets to the mayor of the city.

One of Williamson's techniques that she frequently used was to highlight the client's personal hobbies, or skills unrelated to the talent that she was charged with representing. A related approach was using the client's home and family as a setting for photographs, which aimed to make the celebrity more appealing to his or her potential audience.

Her client roster expanded in the 1940s. One significant achievement featured a picture of the Metropolitan Opera soprano Helen Traubel on the front page of the New York Times, donating an armored costume to the war effort. Williamson's relations with the press, however, reached deeper than occasional stunts. She became known for consistently informative press releases, written to a degree that allowed editors to use them word-for-word - as demonstrated by a letter she received from the editor of Musical America, which thanked her for being "unfailingly clear and to the point."

An important period in her career was her position as press representative for Stadium Concerts, Inc., the organization that staged symphony concerts during the summer at Lewisohn Stadium in Manhattan. She held this post from 1950-1964 while continuing to work with other clients, such as Ruth Slenczynska and the New York City Opera Company.

In 1964 Williamson began working with the conductor Stephen Simon and pianist Lili Kraus on a project to record and then perform the complete Mozart piano concerti. The performances were held at Town Hall during the 1966-1967 season. More telling than the success of the series, though, is the relationship Williamson developed with Kraus. She handled a wider range of affairs past publicity, such as Kraus's concerts outside the U.S., and their correspondence shows that Williamson was a source of advice and comfort to Kraus.

Williamson expanded her work into a pseudo-management role when she presented concerts, such as the Kraus-Simon project. These were major events in the New York music world, with full-page ads in the New York Times, and resulted in a brand name status both for her and the client involved. She was responsible for stimulating interest in renaissance music through programs by the Waverly Consort, or Rodrigo de Zayas and Anne Perret's "A Renaissance of Lute Song." In some cases she represented the artist over a course of years surrounding the event, but often the concert series was the extent of her work.

Williamson's personal life was not separated far from her profession. Her husband, Joseph A. Lippman, was the vice-president of Herbert Barrett Management, and she occasionally represented the artists he managed, or the Barrett office itself. They had one daughter, Victoria, and lived in an apartment in mid-town Manhattan near her office on 57th Street. They vacationed in Provincetown, MA in the 1950s, and took regular trips to Europe in the 1960s and 1970s (sometimes combining business with the vacation). Lippman passed away after a long illness in 1978.

Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing through the 1980s, Williamson promoted chamber music and other ensembles. These client relationships often lasted for a significant number of years, such as her work with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, which she took on at its inception in 1968 and represented until 1990. Another considerable client tenure was the Juilliard String Quartet, with whom she worked with from 1971-1994.

In the 1990s her pace slowed imperceptibly, as she still oversaw prominent artists and organizations, but perhaps not as many as she was once capable of. The significant clients of this decade were The Little Orchestra Society under Dino Anagnost, the Arizona Opera under Glynn Ross, Rockwell Blake, and Thomas Buckner. The last clients Williamson worked with were the New York Grand Opera, and the Flushing Town Hall in Queens.

From the guide to the Alix B. Williamson papers, 1918-2001, 1939-1996, (The New York Public Library. Music Division.)



Biographical notes are generated from the bibliographic and archival source records supplied by data contributors.

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Subjects:

  • Music publicity
  • Orchestral music
  • Concerts -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Press agents -- United States -- 20th century
  • Operas

Occupations:

  • Press agents

Places:

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