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Leon and Elsa Malmud - In the Spotlight

March 03, 2014

A Monthly Series of Donor and Patron Profiles

What’s the glue that holds a great marriage together? For Drs. Leon and Elsa Malmud, it’s The Philadelphia Orchestra. “I always tell Leon that I married him for his tickets to the Orchestra, and that it’s sort of kept us together,” says Elsa, “because we could never work out an arrangement of splitting tickets because we would kill each other! So we have to stay married.” Leon adds, “We have been season subscribers since 1965.” “But that’s only together!” Elsa interjects. “Each of us started attending the Orchestra well before that.”

Elsa started when she was five years old (66 years ago) and her mother bought tickets to the children’s concerts. Leon began attending when he was a student at the University of Pennsylvania. He remembers climbing all those stairs to the Amphitheatre (and sometimes exiting by an outdoor fire escape on Locust St.) for his first season subscription at the Academy of Music. He also remembers sitting in the last row of the Family Circle “which was a killer,” he says, because it was so hot. “I would fall asleep promptly.” 

Like many young couples, the Malmuds moved up in the world—and in the hall. “As we were able to save more money, we gradually moved to the front and then we moved down a little. It’s taken us all this time to get to where our seats our now!” Elsa says. “As we got better seats, we also then tried to get more concerts.”

Now the Malmuds sit in an orchestra box in Verizon Hall where they enjoy not only the benefits of being Maestro’s Circle contributors, but also an astounding number of performances. They subscribe to three series—24 performances—plus special events, including Cirque de la Symphonie and the Opening Night Gala. For some concerts, they get four tickets so their daughters, Susan and Anne, who also have been attending Orchestra concerts since they were little girls, can join them. “We love to do this as a family,” says Elsa. “When I look back on it, coming to the Orchestra, for both of our families, it just seems like a natural thing. That’s the way we get beauty in our lives.”

“The family history actually goes back 90 years, although we don’t attend because it’s tradition,” says Leon. “We attend because we love music.”

Leon’s mother was poor when she emigrated from Russia (now Belarus) in 1924, but thanks to a girlfriend who was engaged to a music critic, she was first in the family to attend Philadelphia Orchestra performances, scoring tickets to see Rachmaninoff and Stokowski. Elsa’s mother started going to concerts in the 1930s; when her father returned from World War II, her parents bought season tickets, attending for the next 50 years and instilling their love of the orchestra in their daughter. “It was part of our lives,” says Leon. “It was not something that we were required to listen to, we just heard it at home.”

Elsa and Leon grew up in the same West Oak Lane neighborhood and started dating when she was a graduate student at Temple (she’s now a clinical psychologist) and he was a senior medical student at Penn (he is a professor of radiology and former dean at Temple). By the time they met, Leon was already a subscriber (“That was very impressive,” says Elsa. “He was the only guy I dated who had a season subscription. And that, for me, sealed the deal!”) although both recall going to concerts in high school when a seat in the Amphitheatre cost just 50 cents. It was common, they say, to see a long line of kids on Locust Street, something they’re happy to still see today. “I love that,” says Elsa. “I think it’s wonderful that young people can come and buy affordable tickets. … That’s how our daughter and her friends come from Temple. They wait in line for tickets.” 

Leon says they also enjoy seeing an inexperienced crowd in Verizon Hall, even—or perhaps especially—when people applaud in the wrong places. “Some other people will scowl at it because it means that they’re not familiar with the music,” he says. “My wife and I look at each other and we are very pleased … because it means that it’s a new audience.”

The Malmuds have another special connection to the Orchestra: Their younger daughter is a horn player and, as a freshman at Temple University’s Boyer College of Music, she studies with Philadelphia Orchestra horn players Daniel Williams and Associate Principal Jeffrey Lang, both of whom are on the faculty. “She’s lucky enough to be able to take lessons from them,” says Elsa. “I never realized how important the brass were until Annie started playing the French horn … and now I’m so conscious of their contribution, their vibrancy, and their brightness.”

Leon says their daughter’s passion is just one reason their ears are more attuned to the brass these days. “Yannick has really rebalanced the orchestra,” he says. “We still have the finest strings probably in the United States but we now hear the other portions of the orchestra, the other instruments, also played more prominently than before—which is obviously what the composers intended.

“Yannick is extraordinary,” he adds. “Absolutely extraordinary. We have heard Ormandy, Stokowski (when he came back as a visitor), followed by Muti, Sawallisch, and Eschenbach, and they are all wonderful, each in their own way, but Yannick is magical. Absolutely magical.”

And so, it seems, is the Orchestra’s power in contributing to a happy marriage. According to Elsa, she and her husband have very different personalities and different tastes in most things—but for 48 years, they’ve agreed on music. “We always discuss the concerts and it’s such a pleasure because, most of the time, we feel the same way. It just adds to your pleasure when you’re with somebody who understands how you feel when you’re listening.  It’s wonderful.”