Monday, November 24, 2008

Ballroom blitz

A review of Ingrid Michaelson's "Ballroom Madness" show at the TLA, just posted on Phawker. I wish I could have provided photos from last night, but bad lighting and the crush of a sold-out crowd prevented me. I did attempt a kind-hearted parody in place of concert pics: I had Lindsay write 'BE OK' across my face, a la Miss Michaelson's recent album cover. She took a photo that also showed that I was wearing a suit and tie, standard attire for the evening, and I'd hoped to have my written-on face alongside the album cover as an illustration. My editor passed on the photos, making it a fun but fruitless exercise.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Black holes and Super balls

A review on Phawker of SOUND/ART/SPACE, a concert by Network for New Music. I'd first heard that the two works on the program, both world premieres, would be performed twice a la Schoenberg's salon concerts. I was curious: did Schoenberg really present his concerts this way, or is that new-music apocrypha? After consulting with an expert source, I learned that this was true, but it ended up not mattering: just one performance of each piece on Friday, and I think the second performance this afternoon will be the same. Highly recommended, though.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hairy situations

The latest edition of Paperboy just hit Phawker. Philadelphia native John Oates is featured prominently, along with his sweet, now-discarded 'stache. I'm not actually jealous; sideburns have always been more my thing.

The other surprising sight this week: Tim Whitaker still on the masthead of PW, even after last week's news. What gives?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Do you hear what I hear?

The Inquirer's Peter Dobrin reports that renovations to the Kimmel Center are being considered. Cultivating greater public access outside of performance times is sure to win cheers; my first suggestion would be setting up a reliable wireless connection, not just for those who'd like to file reviews quicker, but for encouraging any and all to come early to events or to stay late afterward.

Apart from developing the Kimmel into a more public space, the project also seeks to "redress the widely criticized acoustic of Verizon Hall." Though Dobrin points to studies which state that the hall "suffers from a 'low level of reverberance' and a 'relatively low level of impact of the orchestral sound'," I have to say that in my visits, the sound has never seemed as bad as everyone makes it out to be -- a little thin in the low strings, but good presence for the upper strings, woodwinds, and brass. I'm usually on the orchestra level on an aisle, though. I have yet to explore how the sound plays out from the balcony or, more intriguingly, from the seats behind the orchestra that have proved so controversial since the Kimmel's opening in 2001.

News has a kind of mystery

The A-List in this week's issue of Philadelphia Weekly includes my preview of an event at the Central Library. Critic Alex Ross is having a discussion with composer John Adams on Thursday night, and even non-classical fans will find a lot to enjoy in what is sure to be a wide-ranging, energetic talk. Both men attended the same august institution in Cambridge, Mass., spent formative years in Boston and Berkeley, and listen to all varieties of music with passion and interest.

When I spoke with Ross last month, he wasn't sure whether he would be able to take in a concert while in Philly. Friday's matinee of Bruckner and Mozart at Kimmel is tempting, but I hope he might be able to stay for Friday night's concert by Network for New Music.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Though I was unable to attend the Bay-Atlantic Symphony's performance of Joseph Schwantner's "Chasing Light," this year's Ford Made in America commission, NPR has once again come to my aid. Shortly after my article on the Bay-Atlantic appeared in the Courier-Post, NPR's All Things Considered ran a story on the Reno Chamber Orchestra's premiere of "Chasing Light" complete with audio (see left side of the NPR story page) of the piece's first movement. It's an energetic opening, with lots of spinning, sinuous lines and a sense of alternately knotting and unraveling. Wish I could have heard it live, but the RCO's recording certainly comes across as vibrant and vital.

Previously: A Kaleidoscope Blooms

After the fact

In reviewing concerts in Philly, I'm often in the position of seeing a show on Friday night and writing the article the next day. Whether the review is intended for almost-instant publication online or for print on Monday, I regularly have to avert my eyes from other coverage of the same event in the Inquirer. Though I value the thoughts and opinions of that paper's writers, I hate to feel as though I might be swayed by their arguments before making my own.

What a delight, then, to review a concert that had already been presented in New York and not to have a review of that performance hanging over my head. Steve Smith's account ran in the Times today.

We grouped the five pieces slightly differently, and though our opinions differ on Fred Ho's "When the Real Dragons Fly!" (I found it sort of crass, though Fred himself is as relaxed and friendly offstage as he was furiously possessed on it), we both found a lot to like about our respective concerts. Hats off to Jeffrey Milarsky, who led the ACO both at Zankel Hall in NYC and here in Philly. I don't think I gave him sufficient praise in my article, but he tackled all five works with poise and gusto.

Monday, November 17, 2008

When the real critics fly!

Today on Phawker, a Q&A with the NY Times' Ben Ratliff, who is in Philly for an event in support of his newest book, "The Jazz Ear." Tonight, he and pianist Orrin Evans will chat about the craft of jazz, Evans' favorite music, and anything else to which fancy leads them. I'm leaving for the event in a matter of minutes.

Also, a review of the American Composers Orchestra at UPenn's International House, also the site of Ben Ratliff's talk tonight. A good concert with a few very strong pieces. The ACO's Philadelphia season has been, for me, one of the year's most pleasant surprises.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What's so funny?

Latest Paperboy just hit Phawker. Suggested title: "Intimacy Issues Edition," with a scary four-letter acronym in one, and a creepy four-letter word (unless "smut" is actually an acronym) in the other.

One note, that started out with musing and led to bemusement: One local blog says it covers "the funniest city on earth." I've wondered about that: is Philly really funnier than other cities? I haven't heard much about the local comedy scene, and articles about other humorous enterprises (improv comes to mind) have left me unmoved. But I saw a van parked up the street from my apartment that may have turned around my thinking on this.

Plastered on the van's rear window, in bright green stencil: "Having Fun is So Much Fun!" Also on that window are images of a hand grenade and what appears to be a monkey; these are rendered in pink. On the van's right side window, in the same color as the message about fun, is "Show Us Your Boobs." I don't know who the drivers are, or why they're sending these messages. If these folks are from Philly (the tags on the van are from Alberta - seriously - so they may not be), this city may just lay claim to the title that DMac is putting out there. Van photo to come if the rain lets up or if they haven't driven away yet.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A great day

The soundtrack to yesterday was Copland, which I thought appropriate for the civic-minded spirit. Today, it's my long-time favorite, The Dismemberment Plan. A reminder that I've been voting for Change since 2002, when it was the Plan's latest album.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

"A gigantic concerto for detergent and human being"

That stupefyingly brilliant line from theater director/visionary Peter Sellars can be found in Steve Smith's solid and sensitive profile of soprano Dawn Upshaw. Sellars is referring to a collaboration with Upshaw in performing Gyorgy Kurtag's "Kafka Fragments" in which Upshaw performs simple domestic tasks while singing fiendishly difficult music in German. Within the frame of Smith's article, though, the quote hints at a washing machine's spin cycle, reminiscent of the busy schedules that both Sellars and Upshaw maintain; Upshaw does so in spite of her recent treatment and successful recovery (thank goodness) from breast cancer.

The line struck me not because I have loads of laundry waiting to be done, but because of the swirl of activity following my recent move. I write this from the new friendly confines in Philly, where the internet connection is still spotty and from which I can hear the hooves of horses as they draw carriages down cobblestone streets. More news, and more delighted observations of this city, to come.