Restored chandelier glows at Academy of Music

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Academy of Music president Jody Lewis is dwarfed by the restored chandalier as she speaks during an unveiling ceremony there. (Eric Mencher/Inquirer)

In a ceremony of considerably greater pomp than is unusually afforded a mere lighting fixture, the lights were thrown on in the Academy of Music yesterday to reveal a substantially rebuilt chandelier.

Of course, it's not just any lighting fixture. The Academy's pendulous chandelier, punctuated by a golden ball and spear at the bottom, has been an adored kinetic focal point for generations of Philadelphia Orchestra and Nutcracker audiences.

Now, newly restored from its 13-month sojourn in the south of France, the chandelier might take some getting used to.

Gone are the golden ball and spear, along with other big-boned features added for two decades starting in the 1950s. It now is lit by four rows of emulated candles that cast a warm glow. And it's less pendulous, more diaphanous.

"It's pretty awesome," Gov. Rendell said to Academy board members, donors and admirers gathering yesterday for its debut.

The idea was to make the new chandelier as historically accurate as possible by finding descriptions of what it looked like originally and researching contemporaneous fixtures by the maker, Cornelius & Baker.

The newly old chandelier arrives with a new context. The project's $1.7 million budget included improved lighting generally in the auditorium. And now the chandelier is equipped to draw attention to itself. It will hang lower than it has hung as audiences enter the auditorium for a performance, and will be raised just before curtain time.

This bit of choreography waits a little longer for a new hoisting system to be installed, but the chandelier will be seen by the public for the first time at the Opera Company of Philadelphia's Fidelio opening Oct. 10.

Another debut is planned for the Academy's Anniversary Concert and Ball on Jan. 24: a short light-and-sound show spotlighting the ceiling mural, the medallion of Mozart, gilded statues, and the restored chandelier.

James Taylor will be the guest artist that evening, president Joanna McNeil Lewis announced yesterday. Eventually, the light show will be a regular part of events at the Academy, she said.

The project is part of a $70 million restoration of the 1857 building started a decade and a half ago by the Academy and its owner, the Philadelphia Orchestra. Rendell yesterday applauded the project's donors and noted the building's place as a "civic treasure" beyond its role as a place for the arts.

"I hope there's an Academy of Music as long as there is a Philadelphia," he said.


Contact music critic Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com.

Read his blog at http://go.philly.com/artswatch.