Hidden from small

The Secular Side of the Papal Visit

September 23, 2015

It’s going to be quite a weekend for The Philadelphia Orchestra. On Sunday, September 27, they’ll provide the musical accompaniment for a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. A solemn assignment to be sure. But the day before, the Orchestra’s crowd-pleasing chops will be on display on a massive stage, treating a huge crowd, both on the Parkway and watching around the world, to their unmatched musicianship. They’ll be teaming up with beloved tenor Andrea Bocelli, Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, Colombian superstar Juanes, and the Philadelphia Heritage Chorale, led by J. Donald Dumpson.

Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin is thrilled for his Orchestra to share the stage with these musical superstars. “It goes without saying, we will play some of our core repertoire, as well as perform with Andrea Bocelli, Aretha Franklin, and Juanes. This is a great opportunity to be present in front of an audience not normally associated with us. We’ll have also a lot of international visitors to the concert; it’ll be important to show them our place in Philadelphia as one of the symbols of our city.”

President and CEO Allison Vulgamore wholeheartedly agrees. “Bringing the Orchestra into a forum where we can be in front of thousands of people on the Parkway and millions of people worldwide to share the music of The Philadelphia Orchestra in various genres and musical styles is something that we openly embrace and are very enthusiastic about.”


As soon as it heard about the papal visit, the Orchestra swung into action. According to Vice President for Artistic Planning Jeremy Rothman, “We reached out, of course. We wanted to make ourselves available for an incredible occasion like that.”

In the early planning stages, it wasn’t completely clear how the Orchestra would take part. “We weren’t sure at first exactly what we’d be doing, if we’d just be performing at a special concert, or also a Mass,” says Rothman. “As those details became available, we cleared the Orchestra’s calendar for an entire week so we could dedicate ourselves in any way we were called upon.”

The logistics of the event are of course daunting, but Rothman says “the first thing that came to mind is how could the Orchestra best serve an event that’s of such faith and deep meaning to people, and one that’s such an important civic event. We started from a point of ‘what can we do to best serve?’ as opposed to merely thinking about rehearsals, logistics, or repertoire; all of that came later. And we were confident from the outset that everybody would rally together to do what it takes to produce the best possible musical enhancement to whatever was happening.”

Aretha Franklin

Of course, the Orchestra has been on world stages before, and done important events, but, says Rothman, “there’s no other parallel in its past. This has to be one of the most incredible things for the Orchestra to be involved in. So in that respect, everybody has approached this with a sense of both reverence for the event, and a sense of flexibility and open-mindedness. We want to present music that is appropriate for that celebratory evening, and that showcases this great gem, The Philadelphia Orchestra, to the world.” 

The Orchestra’s participation in the Festival of Families concert on September 26 and the Papal Mass on September 27 has been made possible through the generous support of the Maguire Foundation, Harry and Kay Halloran, Chris Donahue/Federated, the Connelly Foundation, Andrew Lesko, Thomas Ajamie, Christian and Adrianna Henkels Fund/Schwab Charitable, Jeremiah and Kathleen O’Grady, Ed Kicak, and Vincent Roberti, in addition to an extraordinary partnership with Senator Robert P. Casey and the advocacy of Senator Pat Toomey and Congressman Brendan Boyle.