Mann Center Celebrates 40-Year Legacy of Jewish Patronage


The occasion was a celebration in honor of the Mann Center’s 40th year as one of the city’s premier outdoor entertainment venues.

There was rain in the forecast for June 21, the second day of summer, but it never arrived. That was good news for Mann Center President and CEO Catherine Cahill who, along with Philadelphia Orchestra President and CEO Allison Vulgamore, welcomed an audience of 2,000-plus and promised them a fireworks show — as long as the weather held.

The occasion was a celebration in honor of the Mann Center’s 40th year as one of the city’s premier outdoor entertainment venues.

Before the fireworks, the Philadelphia Orchestra, just returned from an international tour, treated the audience to a concert of pieces that echoed the programming of the Mann’s opening night as Robin Hood Dell West in 1976. On the bill: Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3; Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor; and Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Eighteen-year-old Curtis Institute of Music pianist Daniel Hsu made his orchestra debut under the baton of conductor-in-residence Cristian Măcelaru.

Before the music began, a short film about the Mann Center — made by Sam Katz’s History Making Productions — was screened for the audience.

In it, Jane Ellis Gitomer, a member of the Mann Center’s Chairman’s Council, spoke of her grandfather, the late Frederic R. Mann, whose passion for music made this all possible. She also penned an elegant little essay that ran in the program book. He lived an extraordinary life, and gave much back to the city that he loved.

Born in Russia in 1903, Frederic Mann was 2 years old when the family moved to the United States. As a child, he had a precocious talent for classical piano, and earned the family living by going out and playing concerts.

When he was 13, the family returned to Moscow for Mann’s Bar Mitzvah.

“They didn’t think it was Jewish enough to have the Bar Mitzvah here,” said Ellis Gitomer, but they came back to the states, to Connecticut, to live.

As a teenager, Mann broke both his elbows in an accident. Though he recovered, he no longer felt it was realistic to pursue a concert career.

So he went to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania instead, and found he was precocious in business as well: He started his own company, which made cardboard boxes, shortly after he graduated, and had tremendous success with it.

The business served as a means to an end — a way to make enough money so he could make a difference in the worlds of music and art, and for the state of Israel, where he helped to found the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, now known as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. That orchestra’s Tel Aviv concert hall, opened in 1957, bears his name: the Fredric R. Mann Auditorium.

Mann mentored and developed young artists, including Zubin Mehta, music director of the Israeli Philharmonic. When Mann died, in 1987, Mehta told The New York Times, “He was my closest friend and mentor and supporter since my first days in the United States. It was through him that I made my debut in America, and we have been very close ever since. He was a unique person in that he was a friend to most of the world’s greats. He never asked us for anything. He gave and gave and gave — if not money, then advice or support.’’

He was equally generous when it came to politics and public service. Throughout his life, he served as city representative, chairman of the Fairmount Park Commission, the country’s first Ambassador to Barbados and U.S. Special Representative to several Caribbean islands. He was also a politically active member of the Democratic Party — “totally engaged and opinionated,” according to Gitomer Ellis.

Despite his success and political influence, Mann’s closest friends weren’t magnates or statesmen, but Jewish musicians like Arthur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz and Mstislav Rostropovich.

“On any given day,” Ellis Gitomer wrote in her essay, “Isaac Stern, Beverly Sills, Itzhak Perlman or Pinchas Zukerman might be dropping by his apartment for a visit, or Van Cliburn or Daniel Barenboim might be calling in to say hello.” The apartment Mann shared with his wife, Silvia, and their five daughters, had two grand pianos so he could play duets when his friends came to visit.

The present-day Mann Center had its roots in 1941, when Mann joined the board of the financially precarious Robin Hood Dell, the city’s summer venue for the Philadelphia Orchestra. In the late 1940s, he assumed control of the organization.

Then, Tim Page wrote in his Times obituary, “[Mann] devised a plan that called for joint support from contributors and from the city of Philadelphia, and which provided for free outdoor performances by the Philadelphia Orchestra. To date, an estimated 6 million free seats for Philadelphia Orchestra concerts have been provided by this system.”

In 1976, Mann spearheaded the building of the concert hall in Fairmount Park that we know today, and that has been nominated multiple times by Pollstar as “Best Major Outdoor Concert Venue” in North America. Of course, it took a little time for Mann to adjust to the necessary shift in programming from orchestra-only concerts to music of other kinds, but he managed.

“In the ’70s, when Electric Factory wanted to bring Barry Manilow, he resisted at first,” Ellis Gitomer said, nothing that Mann knew the formula had to change.

“It was important to develop other concerts there. When times changed, he adjusted.”

He ultimately loved the diverse audiences he’d see at  shows — people relaxing with picnics on the lawn, dressed in shorts. Until the summer before he died of pancreatic cancer, at 83, he’d be there every night.

Contact:; 215-832-0747


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