A Memorial To Albert L. Borkow, Jr.

My only photograph of Mr. Borkow was damaged in a flood, however this photograph spoke to me with some of the energy of Albert L. Borkow Jr.

A fascinating facet of the history of our city's premier musical organization, The Philadelphia Orchestra, involves the individuals responsible for the recording, distribution and presentation of the Orchestra's syndicated radio program heard on Philadelphia's only commercial classical radio station WFLN-FM. I was proud to be a part of that history.

First to record the orchestra for broadcast was Warren Wilson, who today owns Forge Recording in Phoenixville, Pa., who then was chief engineer for WFLN radio. Maintaining the station as well as recording the Orchesrta's program became too much for him and when he asked for a raise as compensation for the added responsibility, management responded by searching for someone to take over the duties.

The second-generation organization to take on the monumental task of faithfully recording, duplicating and distributing the "radio tapes" was Magnetic Recorder And Reproducer Corporation, based at 15th and Cherry Streets, not far from The Academy Of Music at Broad and Locust.

As a very young lad I hung around backstage at all three of the Orchestra's regular homes: The Academy, The Robin Hood Dell and The Saratoga Performing Arts Center -- a privilege of being the son of an Orchestra member. Possessing an enormous interest in recording, I naturally found my way to Magnetic Recorder's backstage control room and though probably a nuisance at that age, was befriended by owner and engineer Albert L. Borkow, Jr.

Mr. Borkow soon became a grandfather figure to me; while not yet in his employ I was awarded the performance of small duties in the control room. As I entered my early twenties a changing of the guard was necessary at Magnetic and Mr. Borkow offered me a job -- a job recording The Philadelphia Orchestra, but more significantly a job recording the orchestra in which my father played. A job virtually working with my father in the music business as a recording engineer. What a life this truly is.

Years later I launched my own company, Contemporary Analogue Mastreworks. I still recall my first job: it was recording The Philadelphia Concerto Soloists -- the next-in-line ensemble to the Philadelphia Orchestra. I remember that as performance time came and I started the reels rolling I had only one thought: sitting backstage at Saratoga next to Albert L. Borkow, Jr., eagerly watching his every slightest facial expression and finger movement. I thought of Albert L. Borkow, Jr. and I began crying -- here "I" was -- my very first job recording classical music. I wanted Mr. Borkow to be proud of me.

As things turned out, informally hanging out with someone, is not unlike moving in with someone having only previously dated them, and finding out just what they're actually like. Working with him on a day-to-day basis, I found Albert L. Borkow, Jr. to be an irrational senile old bastard, but he'd already made such an impression on my formative years, I had no choice but to forgive him.

Several years later, legal exploration was undertaken to determine who owned the vast archive of tapes then in possession of Magnetic Recorder. Was it the Philadelphia Orchestra Association, the musician-members of the Orchestra, as the union players, or Magnetic Recorder, as the production company?

Today The Philadelphia Orchestra, though rich in it's remarkable history, is not privileged enough to have been spared the financial woes of the symphony orchestra in a modern economy. The Orchestra eventually lost sponsorship for the broadcast, which went off the air. With that, Mr. Borkow retired.

Just prior to that, however, George Blood, an engineer from Chicago, was brought in to record the Orchestra at the Academy. The mystery remains as to why these tapes are being made if there is now no radio broadcast. Why the musicians are not being paid for making them? What is done with them? Who technically owns them? We may never find out.

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