Origins (1981-1996)

The original By-Laws of the New Helvetic Society (“NHS”) clearly stated two main goals: a social one, to “achieve closer contact among Swiss” in the Philadelphia area and a cultural one, to “acquaint Swiss and Americans with the cultural life and achievements in both nations as an aid to good relationship and understanding between their people.” The two goals require different approaches and funding.

In 1981 the “Maurice Rohrbach Fund for Swiss-American Cultural Exchange” was established to create a source of funds for cultural events separate from the social activities of the NHS. The initial capital consisted of some small funds (donations) which had been earmarked for cultural purposes and a donation from the estate of Consul Maurice Rohrbach, who had recently died. A system was created for collecting donations specified for cultural purposes both from individual members of the NHS and the Society’s general fund (proceeds from fundraising events). An endowed fund was established to ensure a source of steady income for such purposes. The first MRF director was Dr. Alfred Zweidler, who served as a director by annual appointment by the NHS Board of Directors from 1981 to 1996.

During the tenure of Dr. Zweidler, by far the biggest events were organized in 1991 in the context of the 700 year Switzerland and 200 year USA celebrations. In June we organized a bus trip to Washington, DC to visit the exhibition “USA-Switzerland; the Sister Republics” at the Library of Congress, followed by a reception at the Swiss Embassy. October 19 was officially declared “Swiss Day” in Philadelphia in honor of a revival of the first opera written in the USA: “Liberty.” This ballad opera based on the story of Wilhelm Tell was written in 1796 by William Dunlap and composer Benjamin Carr (“Yankee Doodle Dandy”), was lost for almost 200 years and recreated by music historian Dr. Gordon Myers and theater expert Jacqueline Kroschell. The Maurice Rohrbach Fund, after a successful fund raising campaign, hired a theater company from New York to produce and perform the only modern day performance of this opera at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia on October 19, 1991. It was recognized officially as a “Bicentennial Event” by the USA and a “700 Year Switzerland” event by Switzerland.

Five different kinds of events were sponsored during this period of time:

  1. Exhibitions for which we organized receptions:
    • “Swiss Photographers” at the Port of History Museum, 1982
    • “Swiss Book Exhibit” at Temple University, 1982
    • “Heinz Isler’s New Architecture” at the Foundation for Architecture, 1983
    • “Pierre Eugène du Simitière” at the Library Company of Philadelphia, 1985
  2. Exchange of Youth Orchestras:
    • Support of the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra’s concert tour in Switzerland, 1991
    • Swiss Youth Orchestra “Frenesi,” several concerts in schools in Philadelphia and its suburbs, public concert at Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, 1993
    • Swiss Youth Orchestra “Frenesi,” school concerts in Philadelphia and its suburbs, public concert at the Winterthur Museum, 1995
  3. Lectures with receptions:
    • Dr. W. Trachsler from the Landesmuseum Zürich: “17/18th Century Swiss Folk Art,” a comparison with folk art in the Amish Country of Pennsylvania at the Philadelphia Art Museum, 1982
    • Hanna Johansen at Swarthmore College, 1990
    • Peter Bichsel at Swarthmore College, 1992
  4. Public Concerts of local soloists or Choral groups, featuring works by Swiss composers:
    • Othmar Schoeck Centennnial: Marion vanderLoo, alto, Main Line Unitarian Church, 1986
    • Abington Choral Club, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Elkins Park, 1989
    • Philomusica Chorale, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Elkins Park, 1990
    • Arthur Honegger Centennial: Honegger’s “Cantate de Noel” performed by Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Paoli, 1992
    • Choral Society of Montgomery County, Grace Presbyterian Church, Jenkintown, 1994
    • Philomusica Chorale at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Elkins Park, 1995
  5. Performances by visiting choral, musical and theatrical groups from Switzerland:
    • Ländlerkapelle Oberalp, JFK Plaza in Philadelphia, 1982
    • Evelyn Dubourg, pianist, Philadelphia Academy of Music, 1982
    • Cabaret Rotstift, Cannstatter Volksfest Verein, 1984
    • Troubadurs Sursilvans, Romansch Minstrel Group, Bryn Mawr College, 1985
    • Jodlerclub Alpeblueme Herisau, the Bourse, Philadelphia, 1988
    • Silvan Mueller Liederabend, German Society, Philadelphia, 1988
    • Lux Brahn, clarinet; Hanni Schmid, piano; F. Zweidler, bass, Othmar Schoeck songs, Ethical Society, Philadelphia, 1992
    • Männerchor Zug, Longwood Gardens, 1994
    • Amati String Quartet, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Elkins Park, 1996

In addition we organized a meeting and picnic with the Pennsylvania Amish & Mennonites at the Hans Herr House in Willow Street, PA, comparing the native language, spoken and in old church hymns, 1984.