Philadelphia classical music events, discussion, and directory
The University of Pennsylvania has a Department of Music but it's emphasis is on academics rather than performance. You're more likely to run into a musicologist or composer than an elite performer. As a matter of fact, a review of the roster of the symphony turned up students majoring in neuroscience, biochemistry, economics and numerous other academically challenging programs but not a single music major. Even the very talented piano soloist, Ellen Hahm will graduate this year with a major in Philosophy, Politics & Economics and a minor in Music.
The concert took place in the architectural gem, Irvine Auditorium's Great Hall. Built in the 1920s and home of a famous Curtis organ, its extraordinarily high ceiling and decorated walls were beautiful. I noticed that huge acoustic baffles were installed along the walls and enormous rectangles of fabric were suspended from the ceiling for, what I imagined, was even more acoustic control. The first few notes from the piano revealed the reason for all these controls. In spite of the efforts to make the room less lively, the sound of the piano bounced around the room willy nilly off the remaining hard surfaces in such a manner that I thought something was wrong. I have a attended a large number of concerts and recitals in the Kimmel Center (dry) and the Curtis Institute of Music's field hall (desert dry) so my ears had become accustomed to performance spaces with little to no echo. Lively spaces are great for organ music, vocals, woodwinds, and small ensembles. Piano, as it turns out, just sounds muddy.
After the initial adjustment to this acoustic, I settled in to appreciate the Hahm's performance and the orchestral accompaniment. Liszt composed some of the most challenging piano repertoire ever created and his Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat was no exception. A recent winner of the Hilda Nitzsche Concerto Competition, Hahm was up for the challenge, yet I couldn't help to feel a tinge of sorrow when I read that she will be taking a job as a marketing analyst when she graduates. I do hope that she will find a way to continue performing or, perhaps, find a role where she can combine her music and business talents. Surprisingly an intermission was scheduled after the 20 minute piece and the students in the hall erupted with cheers and showered her with flowers when she left the stage to greet them in the audience.
The well known Brahms Symphony No. 4 in E minor was performed after the break. I was especially impressed with the strong performance from the woodwind section. Apparently brass players are hard to find in ivy league schools as only one lone trumpet player was a student. The rest were guest musicians brought in to fill in the gaps. It was fun to see the joy the students got from participating in a performance that was likely a fun break from their rigorous studies. Keep an eye on their schedule and consider attending a concert. They surely will appreciate a cheer for their efforts.