by Michael Caruso
Chestnut Hillers have long known that their section of the city, although relatively small in size and population, offers some of the region’s finest opportunities to enjoy classical music. We now have a new website guide to many of the concerts that are performed in Chestnut Hill. It’s called “The Chestnut Hill Experience Series,” and it’s accessible at www.musiconthehill.us.
The four ensembles that have come together to form “Chestnut Hill Experience” are: Piffaro, the Renaissance Band; Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra; The Crossing; and Five Fridays at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill. Together their concerts offer a survey of 600 years of the classical music repertoire.
The Five Fridays concert series at St. Paul’s Church takes place by candlelight in the nave of the neo-Gothic church. Every recital includes a wine-and-cheese reception plus the chance to meet and greet the performers, many of whom are young musicians working under the guidance of Vera Wilson at Astral Artists. All proceeds benefit Face-to-Face Germantown and the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Northwest Philadelphia.
For nearly 30 years, Piffaro’s mission has been to delight audiences with performances of late Medieval and early Renaissance music on meticulously reconstructed period wind instruments. The band’s local season offers classical music lovers the chance to expand their horizons by venturing into the styles of music and instruments on which they were played that pre-date the traditional repertoire, which usually starts no earlier than the music of Vivaldi, Bach and Handel.
Tempesta di Mare performs music of the baroque era – approximately 1600 to 1750 – on baroque instruments with a repertoire that ranges from intimate chamber music to full-scale orchestral works and includes staged operas. Many of Tempesta’s concerts feature “world premiere” performances of newly rediscovered manuscripts or scores reconstructed by Tempesta’s own musicians.
Founded in 2005 by conductor Donald Nally, The Crossing specializes in contemporary choral music. The choir regularly commissions works by both established and up-and-coming composers from all across the globe.
“Chestnut Hill has become a cultural mecca for performances for some of Philadelphia’s top-tier musicals groups, with regular concerts at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, and the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill,” explained Ulrike Shapiro of Tempesta di Mare. “This new series gives Hillers and those in the surrounding communities a chance to get to know a new group and to experience this extraordinary musical wealth firsthand.”
“It was over breakfast with Ulrike,” said Piffaro’s Shannon Cline, “that we hit upon the notion of tying together 600 years of music in one subscription package for Chestnut Hill. It wasn’t difficult choosing Chestnut Hill as the location for our experiment. Chestnut Hill is such a gem – with its concentration of welcoming and knowledgeable audiences, its wealth of acoustically splendid venues and its array of supportive presenters.”
Music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin returned to the podium of the Philadelphia Orchestra this most recent weekend and led three performances in the Kimmel Center plus a fourth in Carnegie Hall of a program that featured music composed by two Bohemians and one Hungarian. The young maestro’s presence packed Verizon Hall Saturday evening, Feb. 1, and energized the musicians.
The concert opened with the Bohemian Bedrich Smetana’s “The Moldau” from “Ma vlast.” Nezet-Seguin was especially effective shaping the abundant modal folk melodies and enhancing them through pointedly accented dissonances.
Radu Lupu was the disappointing soloist in Bela Bartok’s “Piano Concerto No. 3,” composed in 1945, the last year of the Hungarian master’s life. The work is an elegiac marriage between the pyrotechnical traditions of the piano concerto and the folk melodies and harmonies Bartok and fellow countryman Zoltan Kodaly spent their careers preserving. Lupu’s playing was so weak – both unsteady technically and fragile tonally – that nothing but the score’s melancholy came across.