Friday, August 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

POSTED: Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 8:55 AM

Christoph Eschenbach, well-known to Philadelphians from his five-year stint at the orchestra, has extended his stay at the National Symphony Orchestra through 2016-17, artsjournal and others report. Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette offers a concise assessment here. Another maestro has decided to step down. Alan Harler, artistic director of the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia since 1988, will become laureate after the 2014-15 season, the 140-year-old chorus announced.

POSTED: Saturday, March 15, 2014, 10:33 AM

You can imagine the father explaining it to his son in the not-too-distant future: "...You would drop a coin in the slot, and you could make a local call. A local call? That's when..."

Shelled-out remains of a bygone technology can still be found across the city. The pay phones themselves are gone, and I suppose at some point their casings will disappear as well, no longer subjecting youth to their puzzling appearance like so many mini Stonehenge-like enigmas.

But in the meantime, a few, like this one near 9th and Christian Streets, are doubling as canvases. At least they serve a purpose. And you can stand as long as you like without anyone interrupting to ask you to please deposit another 15 cents. "Please deposit another 15 cents?" That's what the operator would say when - oh, never mind.

POSTED: Friday, March 14, 2014, 2:39 PM

Leonard Bogdanoff, 83, a violist with the Philadelphia Orchestra for a half century, died suddenly at home in Elkins Park Friday. Colleagues said Mr. Bogdanoff personified all of the best qualities of the orchestra’s old guard.

“When I think of Leonard I think of the kindness in dealing with all of the other members of the viola section. He was just very fair,” said orchestra substitute violist Pamela Faye, a frequent stand partner. “You can have people who can make or break a section, and he was one of the ones who gave a positive influence, sound-wise, stylistically, all of it. That was really an inspiration to me.”

Retired orchestra member Louis Lanza, who, as a second violinist, sat not far from Mr. Bogdanoff, called him “a very steady player, very accurate, and just a wonderful musician.”

POSTED: Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 4:17 PM

Some in last Friday's audience for Nikolaj Znaider's Beethoven Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra noticed a bit of a stir on stage in the second movement. Here's what happened, according to his agent:

"Nikolaj had his violin fine-tuned just prior to his performances in Philadelphia, and he discovered (at a most inopportune time, and with considerable chagrin!) that his chin rest had not been completely refastened to the instrument. During one of the tutti orchestral passages in the Larghetto, Nikolaj asked David Kim whether he had the right tool to tighten the chinrest (and thereby secure it to the violin). David did not, so Nikolaj soldiered on, seemingly unfazed. By the end of the performance, the chin rest was so loose that Nikolaj was able to take it off and slip it in his pocket during the applause. Remarkably, it did not seem to affect his playing one bit."

POSTED: Monday, March 10, 2014, 1:30 PM
So passionate an advocate for his art form is Jonathan Biss as a writer and teacher, no one should forget his day job: pianist. Biss, whose online course on the Beethoven piano sonatas was reviewed in Sunday's Inquirer, is performing Tuesday night with Elias Quartet for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. Among the works on the program is the Schumann Piano Quintet in E Flat Major.

POSTED: Thursday, March 6, 2014, 12:04 PM
L'Armonica: Lettera del Signor Beniamino Franklin al Padre Giambatista Beccaria, Regio Professore di Fisica nell' Univ. di Torino.

Long ago, when we were more familiar with the sounds of the forest than the earbud and on friendlier terms with the dome of stars above us than the glow of the cellphone, music and nature cohabitated easily. Vestigial evidence of man in nature survived well into the concert hall era: horn calls in Brahms, bubbling streams in Schubert songs, the murmurings of Dvorak and Wagner.

When did our relationship with nature in music change? And how did composers and others react in the 19th century to creeping industrialism? Musicologist Emily Dolan dips into the subject tonight at a 6 p.m. lecture entitled "Instruments and Order: In Search of Nature Music" at the Wagner Free Institute of Science. Armed with recordings and video clips, Dolan will explore musical instruments that were developed - and have since slipped into obscurity - that were meant in some way to imitate nature.

"Music and nature have always been very closely aligned," says Dolan, a University of Pennsylvania associate professor, "but how they are aligned has changed in really interesting ways from period to period. In the 18th century there was a paradoxical shift with all of these instruments sounding to people like the voice of nature."

POSTED: Friday, October 25, 2013, 12:15 PM

In his date with the big fish, the title character in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea muses: “Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel?” Many a conductor has sketched the title character in Debussy’s La Mer mainly as a benign beauty, and there is plenty in the score to support that.

But from the opening moments of the piece Thursday night, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, age 80, turned the Philadelphia Orchestra’s gaze to a more varied and complex interpretation. The sea is not a gentle place; you do not step gingerly into it, Frühbeck argued, even in the first light of dawn. Maybe it takes a grown-up to sense the menace below the surface.

That the conductor did so without violence is remarkable. In an opening presentation, musicians of the orchestra noted that this was Frühbeck’s 150th appearance with the orchestra since his debut in 1969. One player called him “nice.” But nice is a useless trait in conductors.

POSTED: Monday, October 21, 2013, 12:34 PM
Michael Stern leads the Curtis Orchestra Sunday afternoon in Verizon Hall. Photo: David DeBalko

The most dynamic orchestra in the city emerges each year with a few surprises among its ranks. So it was Sunday afternoon, when the Curtis Institute of Music's fall class of instrumentalists found form as a symphony orchestra in dancerly works of Strauss, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky.

Tallying individual talent is great sport - a bassoonist who took the opening to The Rite of Spring as if as if she were born and raised on a high wire – and yet there was something more significant at work. Heavy rehearsals and an Allentown performance the previous night no doubt lent surety. But sometimes these concerts reach only as far as the didactic, and by the time this program conducted (mostly) by Michael Stern arrived in Verizon Hall, two professional characteristics were bubbling away: solos of fully realized personality, and an ensemble identity that seemed to be inventing itself on the spot.

A more vivid orchestral sound has been rarely heard in this hall. It’s not just that it was loud. In the “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Salome, conducting fellow Kensho Watanabe presided smartly over Strauss’ calculating orchestrations, allowing colors to project with gorgeous clarity. Stern, music director of the Kansas City Symphony and a Curtis graduate, might not have fully trusted the instrument at his disposal at the beginning of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, so conservative were his expressive risks. True, trifling balance and ensemble troubles were heard at the start, but they quickly lifted to reveal qualities that could light a fire under some professional orchestras. Double-basses, placed stage right, penetrated in a way that comes only from absolute lock-step unity – so, too, the horns and trumpets.

About this blog

Peter Dobrin is a classical music critic and culture writer for The Inquirer. Since 1989, he has written music reviews, features, news and commentary for the paper, covering such topics as the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the Venice Biennale, expansion of the Curtis Institute of Music, the Philadelphia Orchestra's bankruptcy declaration in 2011, Philadelphia's evolving performing arts center and the general health of arts and culture.

Dobrin was a French horn player. He earned an undergraduate degree in performance from the University of Miami, and received a master's degree in music criticism from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with Elliott Galkin. He has no time to practice today.

Reach Peter at pdobrin@phillynews.com.

Peter Dobrin Inquirer Classical Music Critic
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