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New York Philharmonic Archives Highlighted for 175th Anniversary

By Philip Trapp on Mar 31, 2016 11:12 PM EDT

The New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra will celebrate its 175th anniversary next season with a nostalgic 2016-17 itinerary. And in observance of nearly two centuries of music, the Philharmonic is illuminating its extensive digital archive library.

The Philharmonic has kept fastidious records since opening in 1842, and its annals are perhaps the most accurate performance logs in existence. It has documented every musician who has played at each concert, down to the minutes they appeared on stage.

The digitization process began in 2006 with a grant from the Leon Levy Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to the arts and humanities; archivist and historian Barbara Haws has been heading the digitization for more than a decade.

In an interview with FiveThirtyEight's Jody Avirgan, Haws outlined the Philharmonic's culture of structure that has produced more than 100 years' worth of hallowed documents:

"I've worked in other archives, but I've never seen an archive like this one, that has maintained the level of detail that the Philharmonic has, since the very beginning. It has nothing to do with me. It has to do with the way that they set out in 1842, and the traditions they took on then. But those traditions are still carried out [today]."

Haws said the goal is to digitize all available documents -- regardless of perceived significance on first glance -- so that all Philharmonic records will be available.

Next season's schedule marks a turning point for the symphony. Alan Gilbert, conductor since 2009, will step down, and Jaap van Zweden will take over in 2017. Speaking to the New York Times, Gilbert recalled his time with the venerable institution:

"There were years where it wasn't quite clear what the Philharmonic stood for. [...] It's always been a great orchestra, but probably the thing I'm most proud of is the central place in the musical dialogue that I think the New York Philharmonic is unquestionably occupying now."

The New York Philharmonic's archives are available for research at archives.nyphil.org.

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