Marja Kaisla, Finland’s gift to Chestnut Hill, is a concert pianist who also manages the concert season that presents young musicians in recital at the Oaks Cloister in Germantown.

by Michael Caruso

Chestnut Hill resident Marja Kaisla wears many hats. The Finnish-born musician is a concert pianist, a noted pedagogue, and a lecturer on the use of music as a tool for memory therapy who recently spoke at the Chestnut Hill Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

For the past eight years, she has also managed the concert season that presents young musicians in recital at the Oaks Cloister in Germantown. The series just completed its 85th season.

“It’s one of the largest private homes in Northwest Philadelphia,” Kaisla explained recently over lunch at the Iron Hill Brewery in Chestnut Hill, “and it contains countless works by Violet Oakley. Joseph Houston designed the house in 1900. He was also the architect who designed the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg.

“It’s very much like a miniature Versailles,” Kaisla told me, “and reminds a lot of people of the stately mansions in Newport. Literally, there’s art everywhere.”

Kaisla pointed out that many of the young musicians who perform at Oaks Cloister come to her through Settlement Music School. Former Philadelphia Orchestra violist Sidney Curtiss coaches the advanced chamber music program at Settlement and Kaisla often relies upon his young players to perform at Oaks Cloister. She listed Andre Watts, Anna Moffo, Peter Serkin, Sarah Chang, Hilary Hahn and Eric Owens as among the internationally acclaimed musicians who performed at Oaks Cloister at the start of their careers. Kaisla added she that often attends concerts and recitals to hear the many fine young musicians in Greater Philadelphia.

“We prefer to focus on local talent,” Kaisla said, “because there’s so much of it. The events at Oaks Cloister include a social hour and then the concert. The room in which the recitals are given can seat about 80, so it will always remain a very intimate affair, which I think makes it uniquely rewarding.”

To learn more about the concert series at Oaks Cloister, contact Kaisla at


Yannick Nezet-Seguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra concluded their 2018-18 series of subscription concerts in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall with a trio of performances of Leonard Bernstein’s problematically inspired “Candide” June 20, 20 & 22. I caught the final Saturday evening semi-staged rendition and came away with an ever-greater appreciation of Bernstein’s matchless genius as well as the glaring flaws with this particular manifestation of it.

The principal question that has always dogged “Candide” is this: “What is it?” The principal problem is that there’s no simple answer. Unlike “West Side Story,” which followed its 1956 premiere by only one year and which is definitively a Broadway musical, “Candide” is not a true specimen of that form. Unlike Samuel Barber’s “Vanessa” or Marc Blitzstein’s “Regina,” both of which are definitively operas composed in the 1950s and 1940s respectively, “Candide” is not an opera, either.

To make matters all the more confusing, “Candide” exists in at the very least three distinct versions: one that is something very much like a Broadway musical, another that is very much like a “popular” opera, and yet another that is very much an expanded amalgamation of the other two.

As though that weren’t enough confusion to go around, there’s its complete lack of consistency of tone. Based on the “satire” of the same name by Voltaire, it sports an original book by Hugh Wheeler with music by Bernstein and lyrics by Richard Wilbur. But then consider this: there are additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman and Bernstein, a concert book adapted by Lonny Price, orchestrations by Bernstein & Hershey Kay, and additional orchestrations by John Mauceri.

No wonder, then, that the libretto veers from sophisticated irony worthy of Noel Coward into slapstick comedy typical of the Three Stooges from one musical number to the next. And, as though that weren’t enough to undo even its most devoted admirers, Saturday evening’s performance started at 8 p.m. and didn’t let out until 10:45 p.m.

And yet, like almost every one of Bernstein’s major scores, it contains within its pages some dazzling vocal/instrumental music. In the right hands, it can leave you wishing that Bernstein had had a stronger editor to mold his inspirations into a more coherent shape.

Fortunately for local music lovers, those “right hands” were those of Yannick Nezet-Seguin, the “Fabulous Philadelphians,” and a bevy of gifted and intrepid singing-actors who brought its every word and note – and at times there seemed to be millions of them – to life. Nezet-Seguin maintained a through line of narrative and development by never allowing his level of energy even the slightest diminution in intensity, thereby inspiring his musicians and performers to maintain the same high level of excitement and commitment. Perhaps it was mostly a matter of not giving the audience even a moment to question the shenanigans going on onstage – but it worked.

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