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Sound the trumpets: Black Pearl

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Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra
Jeri Lynne Johnson, music director
with Rodney Mack Philadelphia Big Brass
Baptist Temple, Temple University
May 29, 2010
Airs June 2

Black Pearl, Philadelphia newest chamber orchestra turned the close of its first season into a celebration at the renovated Baptist Temple Saturday night. Maestra Jeri Lynne Johnson, a conductor who has smart ideas about programming, even if they don’t all work (and better ones about community!) mixed and matched her Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra with her principal trumpeter Rodney Mack’s Philadelphia Big Brass. The first half: lyric shorts by Americans Copland, Bloch, Ellis Marsalis and George Walker, came and went, easy and well.

Good strings are expected here, Black Pearl has them. Ms. Johnson is fortunate in her soloists, Mack’s trumpet was arresting in Copland’s movie score, Quiet City, Geoffrey Deemer’s English horn intense; the piece was the highlight of the first half with George Walker’s Pulitzer- winning understated Lyric Suite running a close second.

The second half mixed pops and classics performed by Rodney Mack’s six- year- old ensemble The Philadelphia Big Brass. A Rossini overture, a howling good quintet version of “He Walks with Me,” Elgar’s Nimrod variation and the finale to Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. Rodney Mack is a fabulous entertainer with a fine sound but he spoils things leaning too hard on a phrase, stretching or overstating like the toreador solo that he played to the house. His better gift is to support superlative musicians: Tubist and arranger Matt Brown, leader and trumpeter Wayne du Maine, whose part time gigs include playing the Met Opera and leading the South Pacific on Broadway now; du Maine led the better part of the Big Brass’s second half and when he was playing his tone was Brita pure. Rex Richardson’s trumpet made a blistering impression (Look him up on YouTube;) Jose Sibaja from Miami by way of Costa Rica with the Boston Brass. Johnson led the brass in the finale from Tchaikovsky’s Fourth, which began ragged and turned tornado. It’s good to know the Black Pearl has access to these virtuosos. , marketable enterprise. Certainly it’s time has come.

But the best was the encore “Billie Jean.” Three trumpets Richardson, Sibaja and du Maine trading, no! igniting riffs on MIchael Jackson – in the beauty of Baptist Temple’s green glass windows. This was thrilling.

NB: They also have Board Chair James Undercoffler, the Drexel professor of arts admin and former president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra before he threw up his hands at the deficit and other ills there. Let’s hope Undercoffler sees Black Pearl as more manageable. Word is Ms. Johnson, who trained at Wellesley, and U. of Chicago, has excellent funding, including fine family backing. The maestra once served as assistant conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.


La Traviata a la Twenties

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Verdi’s La Traviata
Opera Company of Philadelphia
Academy of Music
May 7-16, 2010M
Airs May 10

A silver mirror dominates the Robert Driver, Paul Shortt staging of La Traviata being revived at the Academy of Music through Sunday (5/16). The Opera company of Philadelphia’s La Traviata has a twist: this season the Verdi is bumped up to the 1920s. Richard St. Clair’s costumes have more Deco than flapper glamour and the principals making their debut in this cast wear them very well. Leah Patridge is Violetta. Charles Castronovo, her Alfredo. (Baritone Mark Stone makes a superb Girgio Germont).

I prefer the tenor voice, which is warm and expressive to the soprano’s, which is cooler. Both singers act well. Patridge has the ringing top notes; the coloratura isn’t always secure of pitch as it consistently sturdy. Her stamina is remarkable. Violetta may be consumptive but those high notes are torpedos.

The good thing about this staging: La Traviata is concise, no clutter, a problem of Driver’s in the past. The men are directed with sensitivity. Alfredo’s interactions with Violetta early and late are beautiful; so are the interactions between the father and son Germonts. Alfredo’s first toast is handled like a real toast and the character also shows more remorse than we usually witness after the card scene. This is good direction.

Dancers from the Miro Company show their stuff at Flora’s too.

For the death scene, the mirror looks a loft out of Baz Luhrmann – have we’ve wandered into La Boheme ?– but not to quibble – the set works.

Nice change, no coughs from this Violetta, the audience supplied them.

Music Director Corrado Rovaris keeps the pit band flowing without intruding on the singers while allowing the mystique. La Traviata at the Academy of Music until May 16.

Sierra Premiere at Revamped Baptist Temple

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Mendelssohn Club Chorus:
Roberto Sierra’s “Missa Latina”
Alan Harler, conducts,
guest soprano, Heidi Grant Murphy,
Concerto Soloists Chamber Orchestra,
Inauguration of newly renovated Baptist Temple at Temple University
Saturday, April 24, 8:00 pm
$20 and $30
Phone: (215) 735-9922

Rose Window & Stairs at Baptist Temple

Written by Lesley Valdes

April 21, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Brava Joan, Bravo Danco

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40th Anniversary Concert II
April 15-18
Perelman Theater

Who isn’t happy Philadanco’s Joan Myers Brown just won the Philadelphia Award — this city’s Nobel Prize. The founder and artistic director of the Philadelphia Dance Company (PhilaDanco), Brown is the 89th recipient of the award that old patrician Edward Bok created for those who improve this town.
Brown’s Dance School celebrates 50 years in May; her company is in it’s 4th decade. She’s drained her savings, her checking, remortgaged homes, fought off lawyers, and always shone. She’s spoken up and out not just for her dancers but for the arts nationwide. The $25,000 honorarium she will receive (May 10) will be put to good use.
The recent programs the Kimmel Center sponsored to honor Danco’s 40th anniversary brought three works from the 1980s and a Philadelphia premiere from 2008. These dancers, extension, extension, technique, and passion, are so good, you hope every time you see them, that they won’t be lost to a New York company (as so often has happened, i.e. the Ailey Company, among others.)

Talley Beatty’s A Rag, A Bone, A Hank of Hair from 1984. The corps dressed in a riot of Crayola colors, their Hermes sandals as fleet as Mercury to Prince & Earth, Wind & Fire. TP. Joy in every angled extension, and the extensions here are limb defying. Beatty’s use of space and momentum is fine and Danco’s nails it.
All is gravity and tension in The Element in Which it Takes Place, Milton Myers setting of Koyanasquatsi by Phillip Glass and Meredith Monk. Egyptian and first the women then the men of the corps dance, when lifts are achieved, the women are often caught in flight, which is thrilling. The dance is full of arresting moments, only some of the unison motions look cliched. A final tableau with Jermaine Terry lifting Rosita Adamo is spellbinding.

Jeremiah Terry has the grace of a wild panther. The moves so natural from the hip socket from the shoulder. How can a man move so easily, so wildly with such control. The mystery of dance.

Elegies are hard. Too much emotion can creep in. That’s what happens in Gene Hill Sagan’s choreography for Elegy set to Ralph Vaughan Williams, a dance whose fine dancers could not elevate it. The starry night backdrop over- emotes too. The men are ill used in this one lots of flutter. Little substance.

By Way of The Funk. Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s 2008 work to Parliament Funkadelics featured Lamar Baylor (there were other standouts) in dancing deft and down and working. Makes you think this team’s been doing squats and lunges since the Millenium. Every muscle working from the hip, the shoulder. The quads, the gluts. Every funky thing imaginable from these beautiful, artful bodies of supreme control and quiver.

Now, the Philadelphia Dance Company goes on tour: first stop, Reston, VA.

Written by Lesley Valdes

April 19, 2010 at 12:15 am

American Austen

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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

Vintage & Videos

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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

Agnes Repplier (1855-1950)

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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