In The Beginning
Joseph Conyers, assistant principal bassist for the Philadelphia Orchestra, inherited the love of classical music from his mother, “I grew up in the Baptist church. I was constantly surrounded by music, and my mother at the time was very in love with classical music. Just from listening to classical music on the radio, my mother wanted her children to learn how to play that kind of music.” Joseph said recently in an interview at a Starbucks that sat in the shadow of the Kimmel Center, on the Avenue of the Arts in Philadelphia. It was the last week of the Philadelphia International Fine Arts Festival, and the once quiet café soon became a meeting place for local artists ordering shots of espresso to keep them up during late night sessions. Joseph continued over the laughter and ordering of double mocha lattes, “My older brother started violin lessons when he was nine, and I started piano lessons when I was five. I have twin sister who started the cello when she was five, so we all were very active musically at a young age, and that was the beginning.” One of the mistakes people make when speaking to Joseph is referring to his hometown as Atlanta, but that’s not the case. “Remember I’m from Savannah, not Atlanta. It’s a little further down south. It’s a lot more humid.” He said laughing, and stating that a lot of people make that mistake. “I went to a private school where we had a strings program, quite possibly the only one in the city of Savannah at that time. I didn’t realize how crucial it was at the time, but I practiced every day. I had the instrument in hand everyday, and that is very important. There was a program that allowed students to have lessons paid, so I was able to take lessons under the tutelage of the principal bassist of the Savannah Symphony Orchestra. We, my brother, sister and I, were fully immersed in the musical program, which now I realize was important because that was the base, the foundation, to get me to where I am now.”
It might seem a challenge jumping from playing the piano to bass, but Joseph explains, “I knew I wanted to play something else. For a kid in his preteen years, the piano was a very lonely instrument. I didn’t get a chance to play with others unless it was through chamber music, and as a kid chamber music opportunities don’t come very often. My sister played cello, my brother played violin, so I wanted to play something where I could be with other people. That instrument ended up being bass, and eventually I had the chance to play with my friends and others as well.” Joseph was eleven, and hasn’t looked back. On YouTube, there is a clip of Joseph playing the un-official Irish anthem, Danny Boy. When classical music is mentioned, most people think, Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart – but Danny Boy? According to Wikipedia, Danny Boy is the un-official anthem of American and Canadian Irish, so how did an African American male from the Deep South learn the tune? “I knew that tune from being raised in the Baptist Church.” The Baptist Church? Joseph continues to explain, “The line that I remember to this day, is ‘He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.’ I didn’t know it was from Danny Boy until later on. I knew it to be a church a hymn. Even when I play it now, I hope I don’t offend anyone, but I don’t know the words to the song. I have the words of the hymn in head.”
The Spark That Ignited the Flame
Like most musicians and other artists, their first exposure to their passion started with a spark. Most artist who are at the top of there profession attribute their love for art to a parent who took them to a concert, or an exhibit. It’s the same with Joseph. “When I heard the Savannah Symphony Orchestra play, I was mesmerized by sound of the strings. It was the most magical and unbelievable sound. I was mesmerized by line – melody – and all of its power. I wanted to find a way to make the double bass sing. I wanted to make people hear an instrument that most don’t think of as being able to sing, sing.” And his desire led him down a road to perfect his craft.
On The Road
It’s a long road from a Savannah private school to being the assistant principal bassist for the Philadelphia Orchestra, and it wasn’t a straight one either. After graduating from The Curtis Institute of Music, Joseph spent time as a freelancer, and eventually traveled the country polishing his skills, building a name, and proving he is a top notch bassist. But he didn’t have to travel it alone. As with anything, artistic, support is crucial. “I have great parents. They kept us sheltered in the most wonderful way. Coupled with my education I was instilled with the idea that no matter what I wanted to do, I could do.” No doubt, a lot of young talent looks up to him, but today so many parents, teachers, and professors encourage young talent to chose something solid that will guarantee a steady paycheck pursuing the arts or anything within the humanities seems like taking a gamble. Advice? “I made a community from music. At church, at school I made sure I was around other like-minded people. I was able to do something that I enjoyed. Constantly, I asked the question, do I really want to do this? I found myself asking that question a number of times. By the end of my super senior year (I did five years) I made up my mind that I loved this so much I was willing to be poor for a little while to see what would happen. I was determined not to give up, so the advice I would give to young people is, you must love whatever you want to do first. The passion will get you through rainy days. It will get you through the rejections. It will get you through the no call backs.” That may sound easy coming from someone in Joseph’s position. However he continues, “I’ve never considered myself to be a gifted player. I’ve always had to practice really hard to get to where I am today. I learned what I needed to learn to get to where I wanted to get to.”
The Traveling Man
Savannah, Grand Rapids, Atlanta are all considered home, but Philadelphia is another type of home for Joseph. “Savannah is my birth place, but the passion and soul, yes I did say soul, is something I connected with here in the city of Philadelphia. This city is my musical home. I still love Savannah. I go home all the time, but Philadelphia is where I got my adult musical start. Before I went to the Grand Rapids Symphony, I was a freelancer here in Philadelphia. Every time my phone ring, I was hoping it was a contractor calling me for a gig! Then I saw an ad for a principal bass in the Grand Rapids Symphony. I applied, and won the position. I had three wonderful years there, and that became my home. I met Norma, my bass, in Grand Rapids, and it was wonderful. I loved it. So why did I leave? I hadn’t forgotten goals I had set for myself, so when I saw the opening in Atlanta I applied for it, won it, and moved to Atlanta. Although I wasn’t principal, Atlanta was a step up mainly in that it was a job with a 52-week season (GR rapids was 42 weeks).”
Joseph found more time in Atlanta to keep his, “chops up”, and to immerse himself with charity. But things quickly changed. “I was in Atlanta for all but a year, and lo and behold there was an ad in the AFM (The American Federation of Musicians) for the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was for bass. At first it was section bass, but then there was another retirement and the opening for assistant principal was posted. I was like Philadelphia Orchestra, home, and then I began working really hard for the audition, and got the job.”
A Shared Passion
Stanford Thompson, another Curtis grad, has a non-profit, here in Philadelphia that is dedicated to helping kids within the city learn an instrument. Stanford’s Play on Philly! has been the standard and model for music based programs in Philadelphia, and that project alone keeps him busy. How does Joseph work as bassist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and devote time to a non-profit? “It’s difficult. It’s very hard. In 2003 some friends, and I wanted to fill the void the Savannah Symphony Orchestra left when they folded. We wanted to teach younger ones that whatever they do in life, it will take hard work and if they have a passion, but they can be successful.” However, there were hurdles Joseph had to overcome. “There weren’t that many programs like the one we envisioned especially back when I was in school. The ways a musician can engage the community with their art were limited. For me it’s never been just playing with the Philadelphia Orchestra because I know that getting a job like that is very slim. The job I won was the first opening since 1994. So, the question posed is, what are students studying music going to do while waiting for that dream job? We became an organization to help young people engage in their community while preparing for that audition. With our organization, Project 440—which refers to the first pitch you hear at an orchestra concert (tuning “A”)— we wanted to be the first to engage in the community a music based project that could change the lives of young people.”
As Joseph finished the thought, the barista yelled, “This is an announcement. We will be closing in ten minutes.” With that, Joseph nodded his head and gestured across the street. He said, “We can head over to the Kimmel Center and finish up.”
Tempesta di Mare’s Great Books program offered a large audience a high-spirited glimpse of baroque works inspired by literature and written for the theater. This concert was especially engaging because instruments were the stars; they alone set the scenes and related the action that would have otherwise been sung or viewed onstage.
Henry Purcell’s opera based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream included incidental music from the wedding scene at the end of the opera. This suite displayed a dazzling array effects to evoke the festive occasion. The work began with cheerful and elegant dotted rhythms played by the full orchestra. Smaller groups then formed to continue the entertainment; notably a wind trio, a string quartet, a violin duet, and a charming flute and piccolo duet. I especially admired the accents on the theorbo and the ornamented flute passages played so beautifully by Richard Stone and Gwyn Roberts, respectively.
Georg Philipp Telemann’s Burlesque de Quichotte is an outstanding example of his ability to narrate a story. The music, written only for strings and continuo, was based on Cervante’s Don Quixote, but for this performance the Tempesta musicians wrote the wind and percussion parts. These afforded additional color and the opportunity to appreciate their talent. I especially admired Richard Stone on the guitar . In the scene in which Don Quixote longs for love, Telemann imitated his sighs in two-note descending figures in the violins. One of the most convincing scenes was Quixote’s attacks on windmills. This is heard in the strings as they play short, stop and start phrases with rising and falling dynamics. I thought of advancing and retreating fencing steps, and then found myself visualizing Quixote with his sword energetically slashing the air.
The operas of Marc-Antoine Charpentier are rarely heard in the United States. Tempesta di Mare chose excerpts from the ballets and interludes written for Le Malade Imaginaire, a satire by Molière. Charpentier followed the humorous narrative, describing the hypochondriac’s fevered dream with short phrases rising and falling in the violins. For the tapestry workers preparing for the ceremony in which the hypochondriac becomes a doctor, Charpentier mocked the occasion with stately, dotted rhythms for the strings, then used a march to imitate the arrival of the pompous candidate.
Jean-Philippe Rameau had very different ideas for his one-act opera based on Ovid’s tale of Pygmalion. The opera opens with a lyrical section suggesting the sculptor’s inspiration; but then remarkably, short repeated notes in the strings and harpsichord clearly imitate the sound of a chisel against the stone. When the statue comes to life, she must learn to move gracefully and be a lady. This was the perfect reason for Rameau to write a series of elegant, lively, and festive dances with beautiful harmonies and rhythms for a rich orchestra that would have been worthy of the court of Versailles where this opera had its premiere. (For those who wish to hear the complete opera, I highly recommend http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AljJDbVPdcw, 46 minutes long.)
This concert was notable its astonishing variety of musical styles that emerged from the courts of England, France, and Germany where theatrical performance was highly valued. Though these works span almost 80 years, they are connected to each other in the way they reveal their composers’ genius for exploration of forms, rhythmic variety, melodic invention, and descriptive portrayal. This was a high-spirited performance of wonderful baroque music by the very talented musicians of Tempesta di Mare.
The chorus began the first part of the mass with an exquisitely shaped phrase on Kyrie eleison that suggested more distinctive singing in this work, a promise realized throughout the performance. The small baroque orchestra was just as admirable and expressive, whether in tutti sections, in different instrumental combinations, and especially in solos. The five soloists must have been chosen with great care; they were excellent musicians with beautiful voices.
The text of the opening section is simple, but the music is very complex. At one point I was reminded of a tapestry; simple wool and linen threads were woven into a complex, expressive scene that told a story or represented an historical event. The chorus and orchestra conveyed the eloquent and serious mood of the Kyrie. I especially liked hearing the ornamented winds against the fugue in the chorus. I welcomed the entrance of the five soloists who relieved the tension momentarily in a beautiful blend of individual lines, accompanied by the sweet sound of the oboe. The violins balanced their consistent sixteenths with the patterned rhythms of the soprano-tenor duet, gently and tastefully sung by Laura Heimes and Philip Anderson. Lower instruments introduced the second entrance of the Kyrie, adding to the solemn mood, as if announcing the more insistent pleading of the chorus.
My favorite part of this performance was the Gloria, perhaps because it illuminated the tapestry in different degrees of light the movements passed. I thought this section was extraordinarily varied and colorful. The confident entrance of the trumpets and timpani announced the contrasting mood of praise. Bach gave the instruments many beautiful solos and duets that took advantage of their tonal qualities and ability to counteract, balance, and oppose the vocal lines.
The weaving of all the lines created some of the most sublime moments of the Gloria. Among these was the enchanting Laudamus te as Clara Rottsolk blended her creamy soprano with the luminosity of Rebecca Harris’ violin – a perfect pair. Bryan deSilva’s beautiful tone matched the poignancy of Geoffrey Burgess’ oboe in Qui sedes. Brian Ming Chu possesses a gorgeous, rich baritone that glided smoothly over the rather rustic natural horn and bassoons, an unusual and very effective combination for the Quoniam. Confidence and exuberance characterized Steven Zohn’s playing on the baroque flute; its exquisite ornamentation complemented the intricate rhythm so clearly articulated by the soprano and tenor duet in the Domine Deus. In the chorus, the individual parts of the Gratias agimus tibi were clear and balanced; the rhythm was precise without losing the sense of forward movement. In the legato section the choral sound soared beautifully over the trumpet entrances.
It would be easy to describe all of the wonderful moments in the Credo and remaining sections of the Mass, but I will focus on a few elements. The versatility of the chorus was evident in the two contrasting moods of Et incarnatus est in which it captured the mood of reverence; and the Et resurrexit in which it expressed joy in a clear and rhythmic pattern. The sound of the Sanctus was glorious as befits this masterpiece of choral writing. Certainly the orchestra made a beautiful background for the tapestry, but this is not to suggest that the musicians were incidental to the performance. Their expressivity was particularly evident in the Sanctus. Certainly the performers’ musical ability was most memorable in the numerous smaller ensembles or solo passages, as those for oboes in Et in Spiritum Sanctum, and for flutes and violins elsewhere. The three final vocal solos by Mr. Chu in the foregoing aria, by Mr. Anderson in the Benedictus, and by Bryan deSilva in the Agnus Dei were perhaps their finest solos of the evening.
I thank Matt Glandorf for gathering outstanding musicians and directing them in such a manner as to create one beautiful performance, truly a work of art. I was delighted to have the opportunity to hear the B Minor Mass performed by a baroque orchestra, the relatively small chorus, and excellent soloists. I felt so fortunate to have heard this performance of Choral Arts Philadelphia and I thank all those who made it possible.
Photo: Lois Mauro
The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (PCMS) presented baritone Jonathan Beyer and pianist Spencer Myer at the American Philosophical Society on May 3, 2013. While most of the repertoire was standard to some extent, I particularly enjoyed Mr. Beyer’s curated song set of “popular” ballads that all confronted the theme of loneliness, concluding with Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
Both artists were groomed by Astral Artists before establishing their solo careers with New York managers who have continued finding engagements for them around the world. Since the recital on Friday night, Mr. Beyer is off to sing in Germany and Mr. Myer to play in Texas this week. The life a musician may seem glamorous, but it really does take a lot of personal stamina to withstand the rigors of traveling—and like Mr. Beyer’s song set, it can be lonely.
I look forward to hearing these artists perform again, but who knows when they will be in one location at the same time!
Singing City—An Introduction (Part 1)
On Friday, April 26, I had the privilege of witnessing the Singing City— a group comprised of mixed races, old and young telling story through narrative and song. Their philosophy since 1948 has been, “that the differences between races, religions, and cultures could be bridged by ordinary people coming together in shared activities.” And music has been the shared activity. At the concert, emotions ran high, as the songs reminded all, of the long road this country has traveled to overcome obstacles, and what we as a nation can do when there are no racial, cultural, or religious boundaries.
Freedom was this year’s theme, and the 50th anniversary of the children’s march on Birmingham, and the 65th anniversary of the choir itself were highlighted. As voices echoed beautifully, and in perfect unity we listened to a truly unique narrative of the children’s march, and were reminded that we can come together and make a positive change.
Part two of this article will come within the next few weeks and will feature an in-depth interview with the Singing City’s Conductor, Jeffrey Brillheart.
David Cohen classical & flamenco guitarist performs a 30 minute concert to benefit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.
Wednesday May 8, 2013 8PM EST
Online in Real time Stageit.com
Admission is free -donations collected during performance
This event is held in conjunction with National Ovarian Cancer Day-May 8th.
The concert will take place via Stageit.com an emerging online in realtime concert venue.
Stageit offers viewers a front row seat and backstage experience at the same time. This will be Cohen's second performance using this format.
Cohen will entertain his audience with selection from his CD - DAVID COHEN: GUITAR and has been known to surprise his audiences with selections of traditional music on the Chinese pipa. The event is free with safe and secure donations being accepted during the performance.
Viewers can click on the concert link: David Cohen Stageit.com or go to Stageit.com and type David Cohen in the search bar.
Information on the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance can be found by clicking on the link or by going to www.ovariancancer.org.
Artist website: www.guitarpoint.net
The performance is dedicated in memory to Tanya Cohen whom was lost to ovarian cancer in 2011 along with all the other amazing ladies who we've lost to ovarian cancer and who are fighting for their lives.
TEAL! Tell Every Amazing Lady!
About The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance
The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance is the foremost advocate for women with ovarian cancer in the United States. To advance the interests of women with ovarian cancer, the Alliance advocates at a national level for increases in research funding for the development of an early detection test, improved health care practices and life-saving treatment protocols. The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance educates health care professionals and raises public awareness of the risks and symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Founded in 1995 by classical guitarist David Cohen, the mission of Guitar Point is to expand the knowledge of the possibilities on the guitar to students through teaching classical guitar technique and music along with traditional music from around the world while giving students the information they want to enjoy the guitar at each level of their learning. Guitar Point is also dedicated to expanding the knowledge of the the guitarists of all genres of music and their events in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. David Cohen is an award winning multi-instrumentalist,recording artist, educator, composer of music for the classical & flamenco guitar, a recognized Chines pipa musician and Spanish guitarist in Philadelphia,.
Solomiya Ivakhiv was the violinist with Zsolt Bognár and Robert Durso, pianists at a chamber music concert at the Ethical Alliance on the Sunday afternoon.
The program began with the sonatina from Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, by Bach arranged by Kurtág. Zsolt Bognár and Robert Durso set a thoughtful mood for the duet. Each pianist was sensitive to the other. Mr. Bognár had the upper voices, but the melody was mostly in the left hand played over the right hand; nevertheless, the musical line was always clear. Mr. Durso’s also differentiated the two lower voices, weaving them subtly among the dominant phrases above. The result was as balanced performance.
Ms. Ivakhiv chose three works of Brahms for this concert; the first was the Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100 and, after the intermission, Sonata No. 1 in G major, Op. 78 and the Sonatensatz in C minor. As she played the first sonata (Sonata No. 2), I asked myself how she could draw such varied colors from the violin. She moved easily through the rapid changes in mood and always played with assurance. Her playing was stylish. She captured the gypsy-like style in the vivace sections, conveyed the warmth and feeling of the andante parts, and matched the playful, spirited character in the central section. Robert Durso balanced the lyrical and virtuosic piano music with the violin. He matched Ms. Ivakhiv’s colorful playing and was an attentive, very accomplished partner in the Brahms sonatas.
Zsolt Bognár’s rendition of Liszt’s Après une Lecture de Dante was astonishing. The technical difficulty of this work would certainly be daunting for any pianist, but Mr. Bognár did not give any indication of this. Instead, he seemed to follow Liszt’s journey through Dante’s work, conveying both torment before reaching happiness, the latter a lyrical, peaceful passage in great contrast to the rest of this Fantasia.
The Sonata No. 1 seemed more intimate to me. I noticed most of all Ms. Ivakhiv’s passion for this music, her expressiveness, and the warmth of her playing. The clear and lustrous sounds characterized the melodic phrases and brought out the singing, romantic aspects of this work. Again, it was the gypsy sounds of the Sonatensatz that allowed Ms. Ivakhiv to show her intense feeling for Brahms’ music. Ms. Ivakhiv is an accomplished, passionate, and confident musician. She will make her New York debut at the Weill Recital Hall/Carnegie Hall debut in November.
This was an exceptional concert with excellent musicians and beautiful music. It was a lovely spring afternoon outside and in this concert hall.
Congratulations to the 2013 Knight Foundation Arts Challenge! Here is a list of projects of specific interest to the classical music community. Some involve classical music in a direct way, others offer programs that offer unique ways of presenting classical music, some offer general programs that may prove useful in supporting organizations. You might want to review this list and make a note of projects that could apply to your own mission. Since these projects take time to develop you might wish to review the 2012 winners summary because some of those projects will start emerging soon.
There are some exciting projects here, so be sure to check them out and congratulate the winners:
Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia: Institute Cultivates New Skills in Emerging Arts Leaders
In order to encourage effective local arts leaderships and help Philadelphia organizations to be more sustainable and impactful, the Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia will establish an Arts Leadership Institute for new, emerging and prospective leaders of Philadelphia cultural organizations. Participants will gain a deeper understanding of management skills and leadership challenges, cultivate professional connections and improve their leadership confidence and motivation. Training, led by university faculty, corporate professionals and renowned arts leaders, will include personal leadership, organizational assessment, financial management, governance and more.
The Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia strengthens the city’s creative sector, including arts, culture and for-profit creative businesses, by engaging the business, legal and technology communities, providing capacity-building services, and serving as a thought leader. The council, with the support of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, is uniquely positioned to actively connect these sectors.
Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra: Amateur Musicians Deepen Their Connections to Classical Music
Further blurring the lines between creators and consumers of classical music, City Wide Side-by-Side will give exceptional amateur musicians a chance to rehearse and perform alongside the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra. This audition-based opportunity will provide up to 40 adult amateurs the chance to deepen their connection to classical music. The culminating performance, of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, will take place June 21, 2014, in honor of National Music Day. To heighten the program’s impact and reach, the audition and rehearsal process, public performance and behind-the-scenes moments will be made into a mini-documentary that will capture the amateurs and professionals as they work together, side-by-side, to present a world-class concert.
Based in Philadelphia, the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra was founded in 2007 and is the only professional orchestra in the region, and one of few in the country, to champion ethnic diversity in classical music. Founded by award-winning Music Director Jeri Lynne Johnson, one of only a few African-American women conductors on the scene today, the orchestra is dedicated to normalizing diversity in classical music. This mission is achieved by offering innovative community and educational programs, and presenting concerts of the highest artistic standard by musicians who represent all of Philadelphia’s rich cultural diversity.
Pennsylvania Girlchoir, member-choir of Commonwealth Youthchoirs: Major Choral Event Empowers Girls Through Music
Creating a new opportunity for choristers from Pennsylvania Girlchoir to collaborate with students from across Philadelphia, Girls Empowered Through Music will bring together more than 350 girls in grades seven to 12 for shared connection and intensive music-making in a festival weekend that culminates in a public performance at a major Philadelphia cultural venue. The project, the choir’s creative answer to activist Eve Ensler’s call to girls to “be their authentic selves,” gives young female singers the affirming experience of learning and performing repertoire written and conducted by women.
Under the direction of Music Director Vincent Metallo, the Pennsylvania Girlchoir maintains a repertoire steeped in the classical tradition and enhanced by music from many cultures and time periods. Established in 2004, Pennsylvania Girlchoir has sung with the region’s most distinguished ensembles and received critical acclaim. Pennsylvania Girlchoir is a member choir of Commonwealth Youthchoirs under the leadership of Executive Director Susan Ashbaker.
Dolce Suono Ensemble: Chamber Ensemble Brings Classical Music to Latino Communities
To weave more music into Philadelphia’s Latino communities, Dolce Suono Ensemble will partner with community organizations to offer high-quality chamber music and education to Spanish-speaking people of all ages. The ensemble will travel to community centers to offer performances, conversations and informal open mic sessions, as well as instrument “petting zoos” where attendees can try instruments with the guidance of musicians. The program will culminate in a workshop and side-by-side performance with all-star guest composer Tania León, the first Latina composer to receive a Grammy nomination. The ensemble also will commission León to write a new work based on a Latin American myth.
Dolce Suono Ensemble has been dazzling audiences and invigorating the music world since its founding by flutist and Artistic Director Mimi Stillman in 2005. The ensemble presents chamber music concerts on its home series in Philadelphia, performs on tour, commissions important new works, makes recordings, and engages in educational outreach with Philadelphia communities. Called an “adventurous ensemble” in The New York Times, the ensemble’s active commissioning program has led to 31 world premieres in eight seasons.
Drexel ExCITe Center: Technology-Enhanced Live Music Provides a Feast for the Sense
The Drexel University ExCITe Center, which focuses on the intersection of art and technology, will launch a series of live music concerts that employ new media technologies, such as projected visuals and mobile apps, to better engage audiences. Working with prominent national and local artists, these performances will span multiple genres — pop/rock, jazz and classical. The aim of this project is to demonstrate that real-time interactive visualizations can improve the concert experience, better inform listeners, and attract new audiences to a wide range of musical forms and styles.
The Expressive & Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center is a strategic initiative of Drexel University to foster highly multidisciplinary research and education activities spanning all academic units. Efforts focus on the intersection of art and technology, as the center believes the arts inspire innovation, but also that artistic work increasingly depends upon a fundamental understanding of technology. The Center opened its new 11,000-square-foot space on Drexel’s campus earlier this year.
Opera Philadelphia: Immersive Opera Experience Begins in the Balkans
To offer a more immersive experience, Opera Philadelphia will launch Opera in the City, where each year the company will match an opera geared at nontraditional, diverse audiences with an equally unorthodox site within the city. The series will launch in fall 2013 with a challenge-funded production of Ana Sokolovic’s Svadba – Wedding, in collaboration with Fringe Arts. Svadba is a Serbian, a cappella opera fusing operatic and folk music and telling the story of Milica, a bride-to-be, and her five friends on the night before her wedding. The 50-minute production will offer the audience an immersive operatic experience followed by an authentic Balkan wedding feast for the entire audience featuring a local Balkan orchestra.
Opera Philadelphia creates outstanding productions of both classic and new operatic works that resonate within the community, assembles the finest international creative artists, and presents programming that educates, deepens, and diversifies the opera audience in Philadelphia and beyond. Performance offerings include large-scale works at the historic Academy of Music, intimate chamber operas as part of the Aurora Series for Chamber Opera at the Perelman Theater, and frequent community performances that focus on creative partnerships and enhanced accessibility.
Play On, Philly!: After-School Music Program Cultivates Children’s Creative Skills
To cultivate students’ creative skills, Play On, Philly! will expand its after-school music education program to teach students to improvise, compose and record music while presenting public performances throughout the Philadelphia region. The program focuses on using music to build students’ academic and social skills by engaging them through musical instruction for three hours each weekday. Challenge funding will enable the program to expand, adding classes in composition, music production and technology, and jazz.
Play On, Philly! is an innovative education and social initiative that provides opportunities for personal development to children through the study of music. Inspired by the social development and music education program of Venezuela, El Sistema, Play On, Philly! seeks to enrich the lives of Philadelphia youth by providing daily musical instruction in communities that have little access to music education.
Reading Terminal Market: Pop-Up Performance Art Enriches Reading Terminal Market
With more than six million shoppers per year, the Reading Terminal Market is one of Philadelphia’s most visited sites, a popular venue for pop-up performances by organizations ranging from the Philadelphia Orchestra and Opera Philadelphia to the Canadian circus troupe 7 Fingers. The market seeks to continue to weave the arts into visitors’ everyday lives by expanding its current programming and developing a more proactive approach to pop-up performances. This will include partnerships with some of the city’s performing arts organizations such as FringeArts and Dance/USA Philadelphia. The market will also expand its existing lunchtime performance series to more fully represent the city’s population and provide additional, free access to performing arts.
One of America’s largest and oldest public markets, the Reading Terminal Market serves as a public trust providing a venue for independent local businesses to showcase the Philadelphia region’s culinary bounty and cultural diversity. Housed since 1893 in a National Historic Landmark building, the market offers an incredible selection of farm fresh produce, meats and poultry, plus the finest seafood, cheeses, baked goods, confections, flowers, kitchenware, cookbooks, jewelry and crafts. The market is managed by a not-for-profit company as a tenant of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, which has owned the terminal since 1990.
Swim Pony Performing Arts: Event Series Combine Arts Forms for Truly Multimedia Experience
What happens when you cross a string quartet with a comic book illustrator? Swim Pony Performing Arts wants to find out. In Cross-Pollination Philadelphia, Swim Pony will seek out artists interested in exploring how their work can be inspired and even transformed by other mediums and curate a series of unique cross-disciplinary events that combine the strengths of two or more art mediums into something new. A poetry reading could be transformed with a movement sequence that happens all around the listeners. A fiction writer might create a story that must be read with an original soundtrack playing in the background. By staging this series of unexpected collaborations, Swim Pony hopes to inspire artists and art audiences to break the mold of how they see their mediums and create opportunities for experiences no one has ever imagined.
Helmed by Artistic Director Adrienne Mackey, Swim Pony was founded in December of 2009 to give a name to the body of genre-defying work she creates with an ensemble of artists who live and work in Philadelphia. In the spring of 2010, the company premiered its critically acclaimed first work, SURVIVE! – a 22,000 square-foot, choose-your-own adventure installation exploring humanity and the universe. In 2012, Swim Pony received the Knight Arts Challenge award for “Outside the (Black) Box” to weave the arts into the community by presenting revamped versions of plays in nontraditional spaces.
he Rotunda: Musicians Explore Sound in Local Architectural Treasure
While The Rotunda, a community venue recently placed on the city’s Register of Historic Places, offers 300 events per year in its performance room, a small but growing number of special projects occur in its 100-year-old Beaux Arts sanctuary. Through this project, organizers seek to turn that space into a musical instrument. Improvisational and experimental musicians will be invited for a three-month residency to create public performances that artfully use the sanctuary’s acoustics. Usually, venues adapt to the needs of the musicians; here, musicians will adapt to the acoustics and layout of this unorthodox site in which sound carries in unexpected ways and whispers can be heard from 100 feet away. Applicants don’t have to be skilled in traditional music – someone who wants to explore the sounds of bottles and cans will be as eligible as a violinist. The eight residents will participate in studio tours where the public can hear works in progress, in addition to three concerts at which they will perform solo and ensemble pieces.
The Rotunda is an arts and culture community venue fueled by the belief that the arts can catalyze social change as they lead to meaningful partnerships between disparate groups. More than 300 events are presented every year, including live music, film, spoken word, theater, art, dance, education, youth programs, and experimental genres. At its core, The Rotunda is a shared space and arts incubator fostering learning, enrichment, and community support while empowering the public to present and promote their work.
WRTI: Radio Series Spotlights Classical and Jazz Artists
The Philadelphia region is rich with world-class jazz and classical musicians, whose talents reach only a fraction of their potential audience. WRTI will share the work of these established and emerging musicians with thousands in the region by recording 33 individual and ensemble performances in the studio and beyond. The audio recordings will be initially broadcast as one-hour specials on WRTI’s tri-state regional radio network. Individual pieces will then be added to WRTI’s music library to be aired during regular classical and jazz programming. In addition, to give audiences greater insight into these talented regional artists and enrich their understanding of the works, short-form (90 second) interview features will be broadcast on radio at regular intervals, with the full artist interviews available online. By connecting Philadelphia’s music makers to music lovers throughout the region, WRTI Music Makers Series will promote and celebrate Philadelphia.
The mission of WRTI public radio is to broadcast the very best classical music and jazz recordings, and produce innovative, entertaining, and informative content that enriches the daily lives of our audience and the cultural life of Philadelphia and the tri-state region.
It's a rare treat for me to attend a concert only a few minutes drive from my house, so I was eager to learn more about the "Music at Monica's" series at the Church of Saint Monica's in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. The church also has an older auditorium with lively acoustics and flexible seating that is available for rent. With plenty of parking and a short walk to the Berwyn train station, this could be an attractive option for musicians and ensembles looking for space outside of Philadelphia.
Artistic Director, Frank K.J. Orman has been running the series for about five years, and based on the lineup from this season, he selects talented and high caliber performers for the concerts. This year included five events with ensembles like The Keystone State Boychoir, members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, The Pyxis Piano Quartet, and others. While the series is based in Saint Monica's, it is a separate organization which requires no financial support from the Parish. The free-will concert on Sunday featured Russian pianist Svetlana Smolina. Residing in New York, she has ties to the Philadelphia region. In fact, she is currently the Samuel Barber Artist-In-Residence at the West Chester University and a faculty member of the Philadelphia International Music Festival.
Smolina selected a mix of mostly romantic era music that contained so many rapid sequences that I'm quite sure I've never heard that many notes played on a piano in one concert before. The wonderfully balanced and lively acoustic of Saint Monica's sanctuary and a brand new Steinway piano helped to highlight her fiery performance. Smolina somehow managed to maintain solid melodic clarity even in through the most finger blurring passages. The engaged audience gave her a rousing standing ovation in the end, and it wasn't one of those, slowly rising "I guess I should stand because everyone else is" ovations. It was a genuine expression of appreciation to a supremely talented musician. This concert marked the end of the 2012 / 2013 season, but based on this experience I'll be keeping an eye out for announcements about next season.
Piffaro, The Renaissance Band, has developed a loyal following over many years by presenting a variety of programs focused on early music performed by talented musicians. The audience returns because they've learned to expect the quality presentation that Piffaro delivers time after time. Now consider the struggle a new ensemble faces to develop an audience of their own. It requires climbing an almost insurmountable mountain, especially in current economic conditions, which is why so many ultimately give up. Piffaro has decided to help some of these fledgling artists and ensembles by occasionally presenting them in one of their own concerts. Such was the case on Saturday when Piffaro presented the vocal quartet "The Laughing Bird".
I've been admiring the work of Laughing Bird for some time now - just search this site and you'll see a number of blogs about them here already - plus I had the pleasure of presenting them in my July showcase. However, they are largely unknown to much of the classical music audience in this region. Performing in front of Piffaro fans would surely help to expand their audience. In addition to spectacular talent, The Laughing Bird likes to present their music in a friendly salon like atmosphere. To do this, they started the reception BEFORE the concert and the audience was treated to wonderful snacks and drinks supplied by Rich Spotts and Jack Galgon. I'd return for the food alone!
The music of the evening was from the Mantuan Court of the Gonzaga Family. Regular Piffaro members, Joan Kimball and Bob Wiemken were joined by a master of the recorder, Gwyn Roberts and plucked strings expert, William Simms. I don't know if "plucked strings" is a correct description, but Simms proved that he was skilled with guitar, lute, and theorbo throughout the evening.
Laughing Bird singers, Leslie Johnson, soprano, Jenifer Smith, mezzo-soprano, Steven Bradshaw, tenor, and Colin Dill, bass, performed solo works with various instrumentation accompaniment. Then they sang "Missa "Spem in alium" a capella, which clearly demonstrated the complexity of the four parts. I was just pondering this, when Bob Wiemken summed it up nicely when he said that it was "witnessing the intricacies of the inner workings of a watch". Similar intricacies were also heard with the beautiful harmonies and ornamentation from Roberts and Kimball's recorder performances.
Leslie Johnson is such a cheerful person that I was almost surprised to see her so exposed and soulful in her delivery of "Lamento d'Arianna". The evening ended with all the musicians together for a joyful rendition of "Exultate Justi". Then it was back to the reception for more friendly conversation and treats.
Disclaimer: This article is an observation from the viewpoint of a "regular member" of the audience, not a critical review.
"Maintenance is a breeze. I am so happy that we chose InstantEncore!"