Notes from Philly weblog

Archive for November 2009

Bountiful: Philadelphians with van Zweden, Gutierrez

leave a comment »

Philadelphia Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden, cond.
Horacio Gutierrez, piano
Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center,
Nov. 27,28, 29, 2009

Pianist Horacio Gutierrez made a welcome appearance with the Philadelphia Orchestra over Thanksgiving Weekend. (Had to cancel a couple of seasons back when battling a serious illness, but things appear in order now.) The Cuban American artist played the Mozart Concerto No. 19 in F Major, turning it into a touchstone of balance and finesse. Nothing out of place. Nothing phony. Pure tones expressing things music and yes opera can express. People forget pianists play with their feet as well as fingers. Gutierrez’s pedaling is so light nothing blurs his thoughtful runs.

Philadelphia’s guest conductor was Jaap van Zweden, music director of symphonies in Dallas and the Netherlands. A fine talent: van Zweden whose first instrument is violin. Didn’t start conducting until 14 years ago. He looks younger than someone born in 1960. Actually he looks a boxer. A marvelous left hand, this muscleman- with- heart. Bruckner’s monumental Ninth was the program’s mainstay. It suited leader -and -band. From the right side of the parque there was a good sense of balance to the strings and horns unlike the ins- and- outs of focus the New York Philharmonic suffered recently. The Philadelphia strings know how to manage acoustical challenge. Downstairs, at least on the right side of Verizon, the sound was warmer than the Verizon’s brilliance-or is it acoustical harshness might suggest. The horns led by Jennifer Montone outdid themselves. It was a Ninth that Sawallisch might have applauded. The pizzicato movement was arresting.

The finale, led by concertmaster David Kim, had so many subtleties. Too bad, a few members of the audience never can hold their applause a few seconds. An hour of symphonic effort deserves this. Too bad, Verizon Hall wasn’t more crowded for a very special performance by the Philadelphians with both these artists. Of course it hasn’t been crowded for a long time. The Orchestra’s new executive director arrives soon in the New Year. It won’t be soon enough.


Written by Lesley Valdes

November 30, 2009 at 3:15 am

Posted in 1, Music, Piano

Tagged with , ,


leave a comment »

Photo: Sergio Valdes

Written by Lesley Valdes

November 26, 2009 at 6:51 pm

Posted in Art


leave a comment »

It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves and impossible to find it in anyone else.

Agnes Repplier

Written by Lesley Valdes

November 26, 2009 at 1:54 am

Posted in 1


with 2 comments

When Philip Wu took us to the Chinese banquet, I wore the red dress of fine
wale corduroy plush as the belly of the spaniel you liked to say replaced you.

You took a Polaroid of Philip and me hugging, inarched. With our black shag
caps of hair we were siblings. Happy siblings.

He was your friend first. Every Thanksgiving, he came bearing pleasures:
diamond studs for small Johana, bouquets for me, Godiva for the table.

When dessert was cleared, he’d hop a chair and pour his heart into La Donna e mobile then a Chinese folksong.

He wanted to be known as an opera tenor not for his systems work at the bank.

One holiday he brought the big-haired blonde he wanted to marry and you
called her a gold-digger. The next year he brought a pretty girl from Taiwan nearer his age.
One day he disappeared. We followed every lead and got nowhere.

I lost my red dress.

I don’t remember if it got a rip or stain
or I gave it to Goodwill.
I miss its touch, the way it made me feel.

The darts in the bodice accentuated my good points
and my joyfulness. The skirt, cut on the bias, swirled.
Snaps ran from the Mandarin collar to my calves.
I wore it with snug leather boots.

You left.
You said you’d never marry again.
You did.

Written by Lesley Valdes

November 26, 2009 at 1:49 am

The Light in the Piazza-PTC extends run

leave a comment »

The Light in the Piazza
Music & Lyrics, Adam Guettel
book by Craig Lucas; directed by Joe Colarco
Philadelphia Theatre Company
Suzanne Roberts Theater
Nov. 13-extended-Dec. 13, 2009

Must be tough being born Richard Rodgers’ grandson–Sondheim’s happy fate was simply to have Oscar Hammerstein as neighbor- then mentor. Guettel’s music has a lightness that suits this subject matter. But the transparency can also prove lightweight. Not so Guettel’s lyrics which almost continually provoke, amaze. PTC’s production sports a fine ensemble, with young lovers nicely matched. As Fabrizio, Matthew Scott must have Italian blood. Looks like a stallion; sings like a pup in love. Everything sounds better in Italian and Fabrizio’s part gives him all those vowels to roll over. Whitney Bashor as Clara doesn’t convey a mental handicap until the second act but her acting is quite fine then, her ingenuity exceptional. Small voice but sweet. Too bad these folks must succumb to sound design. Amplification adds a generic edge to the modern musical no matter how sophisticated (and Guettel follows Sondheim’s footsteps here. Sherri L. Edelen plays very well the role of Margaret Johnson, a complicated, frustrated, overprotective mother. She doesn’t sing adroitly but the number “The Dividing Day,” poignantly expresses love’s shifts, its turns, its torments. The song defines Guettel’s s lyric gifts. Joe Guzman is Johnson’s cruelly distant husband.

Kudos to Maureen Torsney Weir as Signora Naccarelli: fun to see her dolled up as an ignored suspecting Signora. Guzman and Torsney Weir can do most anything. Philadelphians who continually surprise and enlighten us.
More soon on radio pehaps other sites. Meanwhile, despite the light of R. Lee Kennedy’s and Michael Fagin’s design, incomparable Firenze must be visited at least once in every life.

Written by Lesley Valdes

November 25, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Posted in 1, Music, Theater

Muti with New York: No Encore

leave a comment »

Riccardo Muti conducts,
The New York Philharmonic,
Verizon Hall, The Kimmel Center,
November 20, 2009

What does it mean when Philly’s favorite maestro finally makes the promised return only to leave without an encore? Riccardo Muti’s fans were at Verizon Hall to hear him with the New York Philharmonic Friday night. Old and young. Wistful Philadelphia Orchestra members, critics, the fair and the sycophants. The program was not the expected sizzzler. After waiting two years to hear him at the Kimmel Center (he called in with flu then shortly after kept his New York Phil assignments) were we wrong to expect some fireworks? Like the Avery Fisher Hall Martucci-Resphighi-Verdi thriller, Jan. 2007. Or the one with the Philadelphians at the Academy – remember The Pines of Rome!

No fireworks this time. Muti dove into Les Preludes, Liszt’s Symphonic Tone Poem, No. 3 as if he’d already gone to Chicago. Taut and steel and wicked-wonderful. Made me think of Barenboim (sorry, Riccardo). Since Liszt is a Barenboim trademarks like the Chicago Symphony, where Muti takes over in September. The Liszt was arresting, best of show: Phil Meyer led the horns. The brass blasted forth nearly as fine as Chicago in Verizon where the sounds at least in the parque came in and out of focus, nearly out of control, something this maestro had to find daunting to unacceptable.
The woodwinds have a wonder in young oboe principal Liang Wang. The mix of age is poignant reminder how symphony traditions matter, grow upon us, help us grow up. Seeing these New Yorkers on ‘our’ stage doesn’t feel right. Nor does this still flawed hall suit these players. It doesn’t suit this maestro either. Even the podium, with its high bar, didn’t flatter Muti’s stature.

The rest of the program dimmed the maestro’s lustre, big time. Bloody peculiar, to steal a phrase from the Brits, was the centerpiece: Elgar’s Concert Overture: In the South (Alassio) from 1904. Elgar and his wife took a holiday to Italy; it rained a lot. Then he found his inspiration (an image of Roman soldiers!) when the sun came out. The music has a Straussian bombast that doesn’t ring true. It shouldn’t. Elgar borrowed the opening tune from his earlier tribute to a dog.Dan Triumphant. When he lets go of the bluster, for lyricism things improve, In the South flows. Still: This is Elgar only Elgar fanatics will love. Something about The Muti’s reading had a hint of the maestro’s passion for Scriabin, too.

Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet, so fine, so beautiful, and disappointing. A terrific moment, the lightning quadruple fortissimo opening into The Montagues & Capulets, then the HUSH. Muti loves such extremes. He can control them. What he did not succeed in controlling was a mood of attention, of wonder. Sorrow, yes for Romeo and Juliet’s parting but little wonder.

If he gave us no encore, no doubt, he thought the concert didn’t live up to his standards. Whether he blamed it on the hall, the house (yes, coughing and some early applause before the final silence at Juliet’s Grave) his or their performance, moot points.
Muti’s given us riveting evenings, many times, many places. This wasn’t one. He knew it.
Maybe next time. With Chicago?

Written by Lesley Valdes

November 23, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Agnes Repplier (1855-1950)

leave a comment »

Miss Repplier on Clinton Street

Agnes is stern.

Change one vowel I could have been a lamb.

Jane would have fit. Irony should have been expected

given Mother’s brain. Eight decades writing with a martyr’s name.

Spindle tall, uncomely, though a spinster’s life has gain.

The books exceed a dozen now. The essays are my pride.

My niche is small but I made it myself. In Philadelphia where

there’s always been a problem telling geese from swans. Penn’s Greene

Towne holds claim: Boston publishes.

God bless The Atlantic Monthly. Who’ll remember my

reviews? Mrs. Wharton, Mr. Gosse long gone. In Edinburgh, Mr. Andrew

Lang enjoyed them. His letters said so. And so much more about himself

in that blue scrawl. He was rude but he did value discernment. Pass the

cigarettes, dear. Mind the cat.

Written by Lesley Valdes

November 21, 2009 at 5:33 pm