Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Musical Philadelphia
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.


{Vera Wilson}
Vera Wilson

Brotherly love assumes all kinds of unexpected shapes in this city, and one of them is Astral. Vera Wilson recognized a critical gap in the Philadelphia classical music world, and in ten years has quite successfully filled it. Our town attracts the world's outstanding classical music talent to its schools, especially the Curtis Institute. It also supports the great established performers in its concert halls and recording studios. But how does a young virtuoso get from here to there, from a conservatory to the concert stage? Quite often, they don't make it at all, because no one helps them.

Pretty much single-handedly, and single-minded, ten years ago Mrs. Wilson established a non-profit organization to act as a bridge for young people with the talent and ambition to be classical musical soloists. What do such people need? Well, they need an incubator. They need membership in an organization that will provide them audiences, press notices, experience, a little emotional support, and some unobtrusive advice. And while Philadelphia is a world-renowned musical center, it could always use a few more concerts, a larger environment of musical enthusiasts, and a more enhanced reputation as the place to go if you plan to be a star.

Just about all these things are rapidly taking place. In ten years, Astral has put on nearly two hundred major concerts that would not have been put on, and every year puts on over two hundred local performances. Auditoriums that never thought of themselves as anything special are becoming the location of fine performances by performers who are clearly going somewhere. Musical affinity groups have formed around the idea of getting to know some virtuosos, helping some gangling kids, and even forming friendships with other local musical fans. Enthusiasm.

The formula involves a lot of hard work. Famous musicians have to be persuaded to contribute their time to auditioning prospective proteges. Concerts have to be planned, and auditoriums found to house them. Audiences have to be drummed up; pamphlets, advertising, and publicity have to be created. And paid for. Foundations have to be approached, grant applications have to be written, private donations solicited. Somewhere, $600,000 a year has to be raised to promote 26 rising stars. The whole thing would cost ten million a year if it were commercial.

Mrs. Wilson, who is not herself a musician, likes to describe herself as a groupie. It is a little hard to reconcile this elegant cultivated Argentine expatriated with the groupie concept. But maybe not. Perhaps we all have some enthusiastic groupie-ness talent in us.

Originally published: Monday, June 26, 2006; most-recently modified: Monday, May 13, 2019

What a wonderful article!!

I happen to have the wonderfully good fortune to work for (or with) Vera at Astral. I know that everything you say is so true and that you have captured the essence of Vera and her wonderful Astral.

I find it so inspiring to know that there are people like Vera and organizations like Astral in existence right here in Philadelphia.
Posted by: Bonnie Slobodien   |   Oct 3, 2006 5:54 PM