Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Broad Street bravos

The Inquirer's Peter Dobrin has an outstanding essay in today's paper that reflects on the Philadelphia Orchestra's connection to the city and the community it serves. Especially notable is his commentary on Associate Conductor Rossen Milanov's role with the orchestra:

It's salient to realize that all this happened before the arrival of Charles Dutoit, who takes the podium in his new role as chief conductor and artistic adviser for the first time on Thursday. Rossen Milanov was the artistic leader last week, as he generally is for activities that used to fall dismissively into the category of "other" for the orchestra, but which now nearly constitute core identity.

Though the job of reviewing the Orchestra's concerts on Friday and Saturday fell to the Inquirer's other, equally able critic, David Patrick Stearns, Dobrin captures what those concerts meant to the Orchestra's presence in the city and viability for the future. A great piece for classical music fans, Philadelphians, and anyone eager to drown out the death-knell some would sound for professional orchestras and for classical music in general.

At the season's kick-off on Friday, held on a rainy afternoon, I was pleased to find a mostly-full orchestra section with plenty more in the balconies. I hope and expect that tonight's concert will be even better attended and that Milanov and the Orchestra will once again whip into a frenzy for Lutoslawski's Concert for Orchestra.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Philadelphia Orchestra season debut

Review appears today in the Bulletin. The program will be reprised tomorrow night at 8 pm.

One note of regret: I was unable to attend the Orchestra's weekend performance at Macy's with the Wanamaker organ, featuring Joseph Jongen's Symphonie concertante and the world premiere of a piece by Howard Shore. Lindsay Warner reviewed the concert for today's Bulletin, and David Patrick Stearns' take appeared in yesterday's Inquirer.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Good news from Broad and Spruce

My preview of the Philadelphia Orchestra's 2008-09 season ran today in the Bulletin, just in time for the year's first subscription concert. I can report, based on this afternoon's matinee, that the players are sounding great, even with Maestro Dutoit out of town to kick off the Chicago Symphony's season. Associate Conductor Rossen Milanov filled in capably and showed warmth, care and considerable athleticism in leading a program of Tchaikovsky, Haydn, and Lutoslawski. My review of today's concert will appear in Monday's Bulletin, and the Orchestra will reprise the program on Tuesday night at 8 pm. Maestro Dutoit will make his first appearance in leading the opening gala next weekend.

Quoted for truth

I discovered the following in doing some Tchaikovsky research before this afternoon's concert. I had to nab it before sharp-eyed Wikipedians fix it.

From the entry on The Five, a group of Russian nationalist composers in the mid-19th century:

In May, 1867 the critic Vladimir Stasov wrote an article, Mr. Balakirev's Slavic Concert, on a concert given for visiting Slav delegations to the "All-Russian Ethnographical Exhibition" in Moscow. The four Russian composers whose works were played at the concert were Glinka, Dargomïzhsky, Balakirev, and Rimsky-Korsakov. [1] The article ended with the following statement:
We fly high, no lie; you know this... BALLIN!! God grant that our Slav guests may never forget today's concert; God grant that they may forever preserve the memory of how much poetry, feeling, talent, and intelligence are possessed by the small but already mighty handful of Russian musicians

Looks like there was a Furious Five long before Grandmaster Flash.

Aggrieved in the Cleve

The news of Cleveland Plain Dealer music critic Donald Rosenberg's reassignment from the orchestra beat had raised many questions, considerable fervor in the blogosphere (the Baltimore Sun's Tim Smith has amassed a good list), and a sizable lump in my throat.

Rosenberg occupied a fairly lofty position in Cleveland as critic of the city's most notable musical institution, one praised all over the world. Did his frequently negative criticisms of Orchestra director Franz Welser-Möst lead to this decision? Did the Orchestra put pressure on the newspaper to make this move? I've read Rosenberg's reviews occasionally over the last few years, and he has always appeared to me to be deeply knowledgeable. His commentary on the unfortunate situation with the Columbus Orchestra was equally thoughtful and incisive.

Whatever pressure might have been brought to bear, I certainly hope that Mr. Rosenberg will seek recourse and that he will continue to put his gifts as a writer and critic to use, either in Cleveland or elsewhere. Best of luck to Zachary Lewis, the Plain Dealer's new orchestra critic; for him, for Mr. Rosenberg, for me (I'm reviewing the Philadelphia Orchestra at its matinee this afternoon), and for all of us who try to put this ineffable stuff into words, it's all we can do to listen close, play it straight, and tell the truth.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Snarc: A Stephen Starr restaurant

This week's edition of Paperboy has landed on Phawker. Not much more to add, though I can say it was compiled in between rounds of copious revision for a freelance assignment that has held my attention for most of the last two weeks. Some odd echoes in the PW cover story of some friends and classmates in college who set up Christian "intentional communities" by block-booking rooms in dorms. Not my style then, and even less so now, but it seems to put author Steven Wells - British by birth, atheist by his own admission - positively off his lunch. Barely concealed disdain for your subject isn't exactly a tenet of journalism, Gonzo or not, but from what I know of Wells, he's PW's go-to rabble-rouser. I wonder if he gets a bonus per angry letter.

Kudos also to CP for a funny, breezy Choice Awards issue, with the one caveat I mention at the end of my column: the C-word mention. Liz Lemon hates that word, and so do I.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Stringing you along

A banner day on Phawker, with the latest edition of Paperboy as well as my review of the latest album by Old Crow Medicine Show.

I first saw OCMS at a small venue at Bucknell University in 2004, and subsequently caught them numerous times on Prairie Home Companion. The percussive upright bass-sound to which I refer in my review is no exaggeration; you'd swear they had a drumkit backing them up. Playing full-tilt, their sound verges on the punk-rockabilly of The Living End and Tiger Army, but their slower tunes don't sacrifice any intensity. The new CD drops next Tuesday, and I highly recommend it. Also, tonight's show at the Electric Factory in Philly is the first on the band's fall tour. I can't make it (Quizzo beckons), but catch them if they come to your area. It's a hootenanny and a half.

There's not much that didn't make it into Paperboy, but I will say it was a bad week for typos in both publications. PW was bursting with good content this week - kudos on that - but many errors were missed. From the Way Too Common Mistake department, "Ghandi" (see fourth section) is not an acceptable alternative for the Mahatma's last name.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Where be your gibes now?

The sad news of David Foster Wallace's death came as a particular shock to me, as I'm currently about 600 pages into Infinite Jest and have been planning a kind of retrospective-review for several weeks now. I can't add much to the reams of generous, thoughtful tributes that have surfaced in recent days, but I will say this: I came upon his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College only a few months ago, and I've come to value it very highly as a plea for kindness, understanding and awareness not just of self, but of the larger world. When I first read it, I was spending a good deal of time sitting at a desk in an office, walking the aisles of grocery stores, and driving alone in my car, and it was tempting to retreat into my own private obsessions and thoughts. How refreshing it was to read a message that was essentially moral without being high-and-mighty and to be reminded of the largeness of the sea in which we all swim.

My heart goes out to his wife and family, his former students, and to all those at Pomona College and elsewhere who are now deprived of a chance to share in his wisdom.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Causes for celebration

After a drought of several weeks, my girlfriend and I were victorious once again at a Philadelphia Quizzo event. I owe it to remembering the two Best Picture-winning movies that Paul Haggis has written (though I only liked one of them -- try to guess which) and to Lindsay's recollection of a popular new restaurant in Center City.

Also, even though I'm a recent transplant to Philly, the Phillies' victory last night also qualifies as reason to make merry.

Finally, I'm getting involved in choral singing once again and have joined this group. Rehearsals start this Saturday for an all-Eric Whitacre concert at the end of October, and the rest of the season is dominated by J.S. Bach. I can't wait.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Konichiwa Bitches

Today, a less-joke-laden-than-usual issue of Paperboy on Phawker. What can I say? Serious, well-written journalism tends to defuse snark. In particular, the Weekly cover story is weighty and award-worthy, and the fall arts calendar in City Paper brought some great stuff to my attention (Orchestra 2001 doing Elliott Carter for his centenary). Kudos to both establishments.

I did get to indulge my fact-error-crazed side a bit, though. Sean of the Dead? Heh. Interestingly, I found that very DVD under the coffee table at the place I'm house-sitting for the next week. Weird.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

A rhyme that's right on time

Tricky at the Troc, reviewed for Phawker. Not an artist I knew a whole lot about before this week, though I remembered him being in the lineup for Lollapalooza in 1997 back when I was first discovering alternative rock. The opening vamp the band played (after taking the stage to "In the Air Tonight," a strange choice that the crowd loved) was even featured on radio spots for the touring festival in '97. I didn't know the name of it then, and I couldn't figure it out last night and this morning as I wrote my review.

A great show, though, with a lot more presence and volume than I anticipated. In addition to Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy, to whom I referred in my review, Tricky's stage presence and sound also reminded me of a different kind of MC: Lajon Witherspoon, lead singer for the heavy metal band Sevendust, whom I saw on Warped Tour in either '99 or 2000. Not my cup of tea then or now, but Witherspoon definitely owned the stage, much the way Tricky did last night. Highly recommended if he comes to your area, and if you missed him in New York two nights ago, the NYT's Jon Pareles can fill you in on what you missed.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Someday my prints will come

Today on Phawker, an unusually meta edition of Paperboy. Allow me to explain.

The cover story for Philadelphia Weekly is by George Miller, a journalism professor at Temple University and a former staff reporter and photographer for the city's two daily papers. As I read his stories from the trenches and the way in which he has struggled with educating young minds in the ways of an industry in decline, I couldn't help but reflect on my own training, both in the basement of Roberts Hall working on a college weekly and in the hallowed Newhouse complex. Much of the "takeaway" value of his article mirrors the advice I received from instructors in my masters' program, which I've been drawing upon since I graduated and especially since I moved to Philly. I semi-call Miller out for his notebook-dump of quotes from local media authorities, but all in all, it's a very thoughtful and, ultimately, hopeful piece.

The other bit of meta-commentary comes from articles by two staff members of Phawker appearing in this week's edition of the City Paper. Props to Jeff Deeney for his intrepid reporting in Chester and to Citizen Mom, aka Amy Quinn, for bringing some attitude and standing up for the vitality of the Jersey suburbs. Still, I'm writing for a website about a print publication featuring people who write for the same website which started as an alternative to print publications... I think the heat may be getting to me.

Still looking for thoughts on a title for my Phawker position. Given my interest in both pop and classical music and my fondness for New Yorker-style journalism, how does "Middlebrow Correspondent" sound?