A discussion about downtown area in Philadelphia and connections from today with its historical past.
Quakers never cared much for music, but the city has nonetheless musically flourished into international fame. At the same time, quarrels and internal battles have also been world class.
The characteristic American behavior called volunteerism got its start with Benjamin Franklin's Junto, and has been a source of comment by foreign visitors ever since. It's still a very active force.
Tourist Walk in Olde Philadelphia
Colonial Philadelphia can be seen in a hard day's walk, if you stick to the center of town.
Sixth and Walnut over to Broad and Sansom
In 1751, the Pennsylvania Hospital at 8th and Spruce was 'way out in the country. Now it is in the center of a city, but the area still remains dominated by medical institutions.
In 2001, The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts opened to the public, at a cost somewhat to the North of $200 million, and an annual budget in excess of $80 million. Although the generosity of Sidney Kimmel and Raymond Perelman must be gratefully acknowledged, and the ambitious energy of Philadelphia's political and musical worlds must be admired, there is little question that the city strained its resources to the utmost to achieve the new center. The Philadelphia Orchestra must appear on anyone's list of the best symphony orchestras in the world. It's likely going to stay there, too, because the orchestra stands on a wide base of associated Musical schools, chamber music groups, and intensely loyal musical audiences. As they say in baseball, they have a deep bench.
Nevertheless, software piracy has just about eliminated an important source of income from the sale of recordings, seat prices are dauntingly high, other symphonies and other forms of entertainment have greatly improved in recent years. First-class musicians are not paid like sports stars, perhaps, but the top layer begin their careers with salaries in six figures, and top conductors commonly receive a million dollars a year, just like corporate executives. Between the high costs and the practical upper limit to what audiences will pay for a seat, about a third of the budget must be subsidized by some form of donation or fund-raising. It takes a lot of effort to raise thirty million a year.
For reasons not entirely clear, the Kimmel center
|Academy of Music|
is a free-standing corporate entity, whose main tenant (the Orchestra) owns a competitive music hall, the old Academy of Music. In other words, the capacity of Philadelphia's musical locations has been substantially increased. Increased, that is, beyond the metropolitan area's capacity to fill seats for classical music. A season's list of seventy-five productions may not fill the capacity, but the production schedule is limited by the fact that almost every production sustains a loss which must be made up by fund-raising.
Following Julius Caesar's
motto that Fortune Favors the Brave, the leadership of the town has embarked on a daring musical exploit. The remarkable design team constructed the hall along highly innovative lines, based on movable wooden wall panels, controlled by computers. The hall itself becomes an instrument, slowly adapting and learning from each orchestral piece to produce an evolving product that no orchestra could produce without the hall to surround it. No one yet knows how far this idea can be taken, but it is possible to imagine four or five quite different versions of the same piece, each one recognizably distinct and with its own following.
And revolving stages, adaptable hall design, and computerized modeling make it possible to have performing arts, not merely classical symphonies. It remains to be seen whether the designers can achieve perfection in a number of different forms, not merely limiting the design to a specialized version for a single purpose. If that works, capacity can be increased by redefining capacity. Just imagine what a wedding you could hold there.
And just imagine how that worries the owners of the other six theaters in the neighborhood. In fact, just imagine how it worries the Philadelphia Orchestra to learn that there are plans to bring other visiting orchestras to town. Or how it worries other cities to hear that Philadelphia hopes to draw musical audiences from a long distance. There's going to be some creative destruction here, and some high adventure.
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