The Philadelphia Orchestra held a long moment of silence for Wolfgang Sawallisch at Sunday afternoon's concert. Concertmaster David Kim announced Sawallisch's death, eliciting a low, mournful rumble from the audience. And then the orchestra, led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, played in Sawallisch's memory - not a dirge or an adagio, but Richard Wagner's tremulously tender Siegfried Idyll.
The piece was written by Wagner as a birthday present to his wife Cosima after the birth of son Siegfried. It was chosen, Kim said, for its associations with opera in recognition of Sawallisch's deep roots in the genre; Wagner would incorporate some of its music in The Ring.
Kim told the audience of the night, on tour in Ames, Iowa, when he and Sawallisch looked out into the house before the concert started and were pleased to see a full house. Kim confessed to Sawallisch that the orchestra was saving itself a bit for its upcoming concert in Chicago, home, of course, of one of the orchestra's rival ensembles.
"He looked at me with a withering look and said, 'We give 100 percent everywhere, every time we go on stage.' In a way, that's how Maestro Sawallisch lived his whole life."