Notes from Philly weblog

Archive for the ‘Mischief’ Category

American Austen

with 3 comments

American Austen
The Forgotten Writing of Agnes Repplier
Edited by John Lukacs
ISI Books, Wilmington, DE

Hurry over to Atlantic Books on South Street and see if you can pick up the last of these books half price. Miss Repplier, who nailed Philadelphia, The Place and its People, (1898) who knew our history better than anybody from the time of King George III, to well, to her death in 1950 (she was born 1855.) Hard to believe now but for a time, Repplier (pronounce with the final “R”) was on a par with Edith Wharton and Amy Lowell for her witing even though her writing was in a minor mode, her genre was the familiar essay, the succinct piece usually on literature or a familiar topic.

“My niche is small,” she said, “but I made it myself – in Philadelphia.”

The Atlantic Monthly published her for decades. She wrote thousands of essays, I’ve lost count at 8 books, which are out of print but lovely to hold in the hand, not very costly and available through those out=of-print sources online. Essays were her great strength. (Also biographies of Catholic saints which do not appeal to this writer but have not been carefully gone through so it seems unfair to judge here.)
Edmund Gosse, and other leading lights of the day, greatly respected her. So did H.H. Furness, Philadelphia’s great Shakespeare scholar.
She was not a pushy woman but she knew her own worth and her wit in and on this city appears unparalleled. The choices Lukacs has made in American Austen will prove some of these points.

In the meantime, let me add from my memory stock (having gone through the Repplier Letters available at the Rare Book Room at the University of Pennsylvania Library): Repplier was the person who brought a young Henry James to make his first (and I believe only) appearance in Philadelphia. James’s talk did not go particularly well. If, H.H. Furness is to be believed, Miss Repplier’s introduction was livelier.

American Austin should be available online. The website: Check it out you care about literature, wit, style. The first essay is a reprint from Lukacs’s Patricians and Philistines: Philadelphians: 1900-1950., welcome addition to any library shelf of Philadelphiana.
American Austin cover authors you haven’t read or thought about. Hazlett! Fielding, Strachey! not to mention scintillating thoughts on yes, Jane Austin. “How the Quaker City Spent its Money” and “The Promise of the Bell” are but two essays on our fair and not-so city.

Repplier spent her entire life in this city, one address was at Clinton and 9th Streets, I have passed many times, wondering where she had her desk, the one where sat her beloved sphinx like cat. Her best friend from childhood, Elizabeth, who married the painter Pennell, lived down the street on Pine, another block away the Owen Wisters, he of ” The Virginian.” It warms me to think that her recipe collection began with this one:
Oyster stew.

Enough said: I am an enthusiast.
Doubtless I shall be add and subtract to this post.


Written by Lesley Valdes

February 10, 2010 at 6:02 pm


with 2 comments

Sometimes at midnight she’d bake a cake.
A dropped spoon, the oven door,
her boyfriend’s: Linda will this ever be done?
Lissa’s: Should we get up?

Black-eyed Linda with milky skin
Black-eyed Linda, she loved Frank Zappa.

Curiosity got the better of us.
What treasures this time dragged
Four flights up: A pie safe? Oak chairs?
Linda spent weekends on her family’s dairy farm.
She spoke of it softly and with a halt.
She spoke like she walked, with hesitation.
The quietness drove Lissa crazy:

“She does it on purpose.
She makes you lean in close.”

Her people were Quakers. Didn’t put much stock in talk.
She wanted the world to slow down.
Both roommates played the flute.
They were friends first at the music school.
They snagged the top-floor in a brownstone.
It was too big for two —so were their characters.
A pianist might work.

Black-eyed Linda, lover of secrets
Black-eyed Linda, lover of hush.

The first time Linda took me to the farm, I was drawn
to the ham, tomatoes, corn at table.
Inside and out, the place was brown and flat.
The animals did not impress.
The only cow I knew was the one my mother drove through
to get eggnog. Everyone in Miami calls it The Cow.
The creature stands on top.

Black-eyed Linda with milky skin
Black-eyed Linda, she loved Frank Zappa.

After music school, she put away the flute.
Mastered botany. Went to The Sun
to write about the garden. Made fine stories. Made
fine homes. One for the ex-husband and ex-boyfriend
to live together. When Linda got sick they lived with her.

Black-eyed Linda in ill-fitting Wranglers,
Black eyed Linda with milky skin.

Before the brain tumor took her beauty,
Before the brain tumor took her life,
She wrote a children’s book about the farm.
Her cousin did the pictures.
A Morning Milking made The New York Times.

Linda had two weddings.
The first was a surprise.
She found a Mexican wedding dress,
a grassy spot by the art gallery,
two horses and my family to witness;
went home for the big ceremony.

Black-eyed Linda with milky skin
Black-eyed Linda, she loved Frank Zappa.

Odd hours, she would call.
Discoveries and stories and silence
that drove me into chatter _

Black-eyed Linda with milky skin
Black-eyed Linda, she loved Frank Zappa.

She was gone.
I found the cousin.
I didn’t know the man.
I knew his Maryland skies and haystacks.

“I remember –
“I miss her too, the artist said.
“You are so different,
“Linda didn’t talk.

“Let’s get this straight, he said.
“We weren’t cousins.”

Black- eyed Linda

Written by Lesley Valdes

January 4, 2010 at 3:18 am

Vintage & Videos

with one comment

Beaux Arts Video
10th & Spruce
215 313 4360

Beaux Arts Videos at 10th and Spruce Sts. has 15,000 videos for rent or sale. And just in time for the holidays glass cabinets of housewares too. Vintage stuff to sip your holiday spirits, or serve those nibbles. Neat things that Len Begley and his partner Tom Barbaro have been bringing in from other shops that are closing down. Mostly Lancaster County, says Len, who’s wanted to do something like for about three years.
Now that TLA on Fifth Street has closed down you’d think they wouldn’t need the gimmick but I suppose video rentals belongs to the big boys at Redbox, Netflicks and Comcast. Tom says his partner threw out many ideas for Beaux Arts corner shop including a combo Video shop also selling dog food! “This is like ‘Dinner and a Movie'” he says.
Definitely better than selling dog food. Check it out. Nice looking kitchen and table ware, as you’d find in the good thrift shops. And awesome prices. A Russell Wright restaurant service, salmon colored (not a full set) will go fast. Also: salt and pepper shakers (green charmers for a mere $12 bucks. Farber ware mixing bowls like your Mom had to mix the pancake batter. All sorts of interesting nostalgia.
“Everything but the martini glasses we talked about,” Tom says.

Written by Lesley Valdes

December 10, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Nezet-Seguin’s Second Date with Philadelphians

with 4 comments

Philadelphia Orchestra, Nezet-Seguin, cond.
Nicholas Angelich, piano
Verizon Hall,
Dec. 3-5, 2009

Yannick Nezet-Seguin (YAH-nick NEH-zay SAY-gahn) is a mouthful. Maybe we should practice saying it. The 34- year- old conductor from Montreal is on the short list for music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. His second date, as Nezet-Seguin, calls his recent performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra proved high-grade music making no matter a program that on paper looked perplexing, even a bit of a bore. Claude Vivier’s Orion is a strange, compelling (wonderfully structured) overture whose sonorities suggest a concert organ: muted trombones, intense and subdued strings, layers of percussion. Seguin steered a gripping performance, including the lone voice howling something over a Balinese gong (vocals came from tympanist Don Luizzi). The piece from 1979 sounds like Vivier admired Bruckner and George Crumb. Vivier, born in Montreal in 1948, was murdered in Paris in 1983.

At the Saturday performance I heard, Nezet-Seguin accommodated a piano soloist whose idea of the Brahms Concerto in D Minor is so ruminative it might still be going on. His name is Nicholas Angelich and the ideas he pursued were searching and particularly Mozartean – a way to spotlight Mozart’s influence on Brahms. The result also gave time to appreciate the woodwind turns, horn solos. By the final movement some of Angelich’s excellent finger work may have been tiring. Phrases began to plod, my attention lost some hold. This had been, for sure, a very oddly put together program, and the Brahms Concerto is long. There was far more to come after the half. Angelich, born in the U.S. in 1970, is worth hearing again.

Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D minor can be a potboiler. Under Nezet- Seguin, it was shaped to a fare- thee- well. The most expressive and gently shaped opening heard in this house. Torrents, layers of cyclic drama poured out. A shaping and execution so distinctive, it exceed its emotion heavy content.

NB If the young man is to come here more often, the hope is he gets a better fitting suit.

Written by Lesley Valdes

December 6, 2009 at 4:47 pm

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

Mischief (not very neighborly, Mr. Warner)

with one comment

The Kimmel Center’s Tom Warner put his foot in his mouth when he couldn’t pronounce Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov’s name in a Talk Back after the Kronos Quartet’s concert Saturday night (11/7) and didn’t bother to fix things. Why didn’t he just ask her? (If I heard correctly when I asked her earlier it’s: Vray baah loff). Sticking it deeper, Warner continued, “I don’t know what village you come from,…”

“I don’t come from a village don’t let my ethnic dress confuse you!” responded the elegant Vrebalov, who was born in the former Yugoslavia but has been in this country for some time, studying in the States (as well as Europe). She now teaches in New York. She wore a coat length red vest with ethnic embroidery over a grey A-line. Sophisticated apparel. Nothing rural about this gal. But the Kimmel exec sure acted like a sheep. Warner changed the subject immediately to a very old topic: the Kronos’ commission of Reich’s 1988 Different Trains.

Ok, who doesn’t screw up having to think fast on their feet? But the vice president for programming (he took over for Mervon Mehta) missed his chance for insight — not to mention courtesy in relating to Vrebalov’s 2007 Kronos commission. Her piece, which the audience in the Kimmel’s Perelman Theater responded with emotion, is titled: ” Hold me, neighbor, in this storm.”

Not very neighborly, Mr. Warner.

Written by Lesley Valdes

November 8, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Mischief

Sand at Strathmere

leave a comment »


Written by Lesley Valdes

November 3, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Posted in Mischief