It all feels so easy, looks so casual. But it sounds unlike anything. Roomful of Teeth, the vocal octet whose somewhat regular presence here Philadelphians should envy, seemed to be just dropping in at the McCarter Theatre Center for an 80-minute-or-so Sunday program that may have radically changed forever the way some listeners hear voices in concert.
Is it possible to create a "tempesta" in the spartan acoustical environs of the American Philosophical Society on Saturday? Usually, one hears the baroque orchestra Tempesta di Mare in churchier acoustics suitable to the smaller sounds made by their historically responsible performances. And those smaller sounds seemed all the more slender in the "Zimmermann's Coffeehouse" program of popular Bach pieces that are generally heard in more mainstream orchestral performances.
So, what else did they write? That could have been the title of the Philadelphia Orchestra's program Thursday with guest conductor Donald Runnicles. Featuring less-familiar works of Mozart and Brahms, it wasn't the sexiest of concerts, but it was exactly what allows audiences to understand the masterpieces better.
'Well . . . I was expecting Romeo and Juliet," said one theatergoer in a slightly embarrassed murmur at a recent Quintessence Theatre Group intermission. In contrast to Shakespeare's supremely idealistic love story, The Mandrake by Niccolo Machiavelli (yes, that Machiavelli) enveloped the stage with cynicism and lust, as translated by Wallace Shawn during the sex-steeped, pre-AIDS 1970s.
The timing is excellent. After the Fringe Festival stretched our theatrical awareness in disparate ways, the Wilma Theater now unveils a production of Antigone that brings together many modern theater techniques at the service of ancient, elemental storytelling in a pungent, fluid, possibly life-changing mixture. It's not for everybody, but theater representing such an uncompromising stance rarely is.
Though celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, the impossibly venerable Borodin Quartet sounded a tad road-weary Sunday at the Kimmel Center. But the ensemble maintained many of the artistic values that made its franchise an outpost of Russian tradition amid the quickly shifting circumstances of its homeland.
Though the Stotesbury Mansion on Rittenhouse Square would appear to be a century away from the present, currently, it's catering to the immediate future. A few weeks ago, in a ballroom literally transplanted from an 18th-century British estate to 1923 Walnut St., cellist Tom Kraines of the Daedalus Quartet played his own improvisational hybrid of Bach's solo cello suites.
So the Rachmaninoff concerto recordings continue with the Philadelphia Orchestra after all. With the wildfire acclaim for the orchestra's collaboration with pianist Daniil Trifonov in Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini (just released on Deutsche Grammophon), a follow-up this week with the same forces and same composer's Piano Concerto No. 4 seemed planned, with four concerts to record Thursday through Sunday at the Kimmel Center.
Was there an asthmatic in the house? You could assume so at Richardson Auditorium on Sunday when the Princeton Symphony Orchestra gave the East Coast premiere of Anna Clyne's The Seamstress for violin and orchestra, which included several dozen electronically sampled sounds - heavy breathing, for one - bubbling up from the orchestral texture.
Nearly every morning at Knight Park in Collingswood, retired postal worker Doug Dash walked around the mile-and-a-quarter circumference twice, with dedication that could easily be called religious. He's in the bass section of the Papal Mass Choir with 20-plus voices who will sing at the Sunday-afternoon outdoor event with Pope Francis.
The Metropolitan Opera doesn't always get out its big guns for the season's opening. But Monday's gala occasion in New York was a new production of Verdi's Otello - one of those pieces that can truly fill the Met's hero-size auditorium, this time with musical thunderbolts engineered by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Nobody ever said Orchestra 2001 couldn't rock - a modern ensemble has to be able to do anything - but perhaps no previous program has challenged this group (a 10-player version) to prove it so vehemently as the one Sunday under guest conductor Jayce Ogren at the Arts Bank. Four composers were heard at their most raucous, in performances that displayed a controlled abandon seldom heard in new-music concerts.
Yet another charming, youthful conductor has arrived on classical music's doorstep. The 31-year-old Bulgarian Stilian Kirov, fresh from the associate conductorship of the Seattle Symphony, has promptly filled the void left by Symphony in C's departing longtime music director, Rossen Milanov.
David Patrick Stearns is a classical music critic and columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.