Friday, August 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

POSTED: Monday, October 29, 2012, 3:03 PM

The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society's Monday night concert, Musicians from Marlboro, has been canceled. Hurricane Sandy has in fact led the Kimmel Center to call off all concerts for Monday and Tuesday, which also means no Jeremy Denk recital Tuesday. PCMS will reschedule the latter.

As of the moment, the Philadelphia Orchestra's Thursday open rehearsal and that night's performance are still on.

POSTED: Friday, October 26, 2012, 9:11 AM

Ours is a time of severe specialization. Of having access to more information than ever, yet thinking it’s wise to crunch extremely complex ideas or feelings into 140 characters. Of being impatient with third sentences that still aren’t getting to the point.

And so it seems almost intentional that Jacques Barzun waited for this exact moment to die, just to remind us of the virtues of being a cultural polymath. The “distinguished historian, essayist, cultural gadfly and educator who helped establish the modern discipline of cultural history,” as the New York Times put it, died Thursday. He was 104.

Barzun will be remembered for many things, perhaps most sensationally for his hunch that Western civilization was slouching toward self-satisfied ruin. He dug into a panoply of subjects, including race, Romanticism, education, Auden and politics.

POSTED: Sunday, October 21, 2012, 9:00 AM

The Philadelphia Museum of Art's "Shipwreck! Winslow Homer and The Life Line," with 33 works by the artist, has been extended through Dec. 31, 2012.

Inquirer art critic Edward J. Sozanski has something to say about the show here.

POSTED: Sunday, October 21, 2012, 6:40 PM

Soprano Angela Meade was called in to perform Sunday afternoon's Verdi Requiem with the Philadelphia Orchestra when Marina Poplavskaya had to withdraw after suffering from severe allergies.

Our friend Peggy Cooke was there, and reports:

Here's...another plus for the new maestro. He knelt to her after the performance (seen that? I haven't) and then, on the second curtain call arranged for her to go on stage by herself. She was stunned, the audience was knocked out. This guy is rare and wonderful and deserves all the praise and press he can get.

POSTED: Saturday, October 20, 2012, 12:30 PM
Delaware Symphony Orchestra music director David Amado

Contract talks will continue, but management and players of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra have struck a temporary deal that salvages the rest of the 2012-13 season.

The pact carries the orchestra through May 31, and calls for no reductions in the per-service pay scale, pension, mileage, cartage, or per diem, according to a union source. It does not guarantee a set number of services, but does preclude artistic dismissals and demotions this season.

Unable to reach a deal with musicians, the Delaware ensemble had canceled full-orchestra concerts this season and put in place a four-concert series of chamber music programs. (Addition: a musician familiar with talks says the decision to suspend the season came June 1, and was for financial reasons, not because of contract talks.)

POSTED: Tuesday, October 16, 2012, 5:23 PM

School’s been in session just weeks, so a few eyebrows arched at the appearance of Ein Heldenleben on the Curtis Institute of Music’s first orchestra concert of the season. The score, treacherous and sophisticated, should come with skull and crossbones and the words nicht fur Kinder on the cover.

When Carlos Miguel Prieto led the ensemble in the Strauss workout Monday night in Verizon Hall, eyebrows were raised — not in doubt, but with awe. The work features intermittent but extended violin solos, played here by concertmaster Nigel Armstrong. Just getting through the part grants exoneration in the violin world. But Armstrong, 22, a second-year Curtis student, played at a level so highly developed it would have brought honor to any professional orchestra.

It wasn’t about technique, though that’s firmly in place. His was a real interpretation, with shape and purpose, minute manipulation of pitch and time, and fine gradations of bow speed. And then there was the sound. Armstrong — from Sonoma, Calif. — used a Guadagnini willed to the school by pedagogue Veda Reynolds. It was no doubt partly responsible for the throaty low register, responsiveness and penetrating-but-sweet upper notes. But in Armstrong, it had a natural partner able to make it ring.

POSTED: Sunday, October 14, 2012, 8:51 AM

No one does variety hour quite like Peter Nero. In fact, in the old show-business sense of it, nearly no one but Nero practices the form at all anymore. And when Nero moves on at the end of this season from his 34 years as chief of the Philly Pops, the concept may disappear altogether.

Nero himself may not consider what he does to be of the variety-hour variety, but consider what tapped and shuffled across the stage Friday night: the concertmaster from Buffalo playing a tango tune from a recent film; a song-and-dance duo with a tribute to Fred and Ginger; direct from Spain, the dark and handsome classical guitarist you may have already seen on YouTube; a free-wheeling Richard Rodger symphonic tribute. And more.

In case you haven’t already guessed it, the variety weighed in at considerably more than an hour, at 2 ½. Of course, there was Nero himself, presiding over the whole evening from the keyboard with occasional quips about politics and a pianistic facility that straddles what could have been in lesser hands a tasteless overlapping of classical and jazz. He has the gift of making it sound like these two worlds were conceived as two halves waiting to discover each other.

POSTED: Sunday, October 7, 2012, 10:42 AM
Conductor David Newman rehearsing the Philadelphia Orchestra (David M Warren, Inquirer staff)

When orchestra plays live to film, as the Philadelphia Orchestra increasingly does, you might find yourself consciously sorting out the essence of the experience. Are you in a movie house or concert hall? In West Side Story, with the orchestra playing beneath a large-screen showing of the 1961 film, Philadelphians Friday night easily out-rumbled the balletic thugs from the Sharks and Jets. But when the audience applauded at the end of songs, were they showering Natalie Wood with praise, or the orchestra’s alternately luscious and trenchant handing of Leonard Bernstein’s score? Those few who walked out at the end as the orchestra was playing music over credits made it clear where they thought they had spent the evening.

The question of concert versus movie apparently never worried the woman sitting in front of me; poor thing had mistaken Verizon Hall for her living room. Kicking off her shoes and setting stocking feet atop the first-tier railing made for a curious bit of social slouching not likely to be tolerated by any parent at one of the orchestra’s family concerts.

Audiences better get used to more “event” elements entering the concert realm. Management even aims to bring the circus to town, literally, in case the orchestra on stage isn’t enough to bring you in. This West Side Story, though, was an absolutely legitimate artistic project. For one thing, the city can take a special interest in Bernstein, who went to the Curtis Institute of Music, where the culture is now catching up with the composer/conductor’s prescient acts of career-inventing and comingling of classical with popular.

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

Peter Dobrin Inquirer Classical Music Critic
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