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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the June 18, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Midsummer Night’s Arts

Without leaving the Borough, Princeton stay-at-homes

can view the work of architect Rafael Vinoly. His Icahn Laboratory,

dedicated last month (U.S. 1, April 30) and his Princeton University

Stadium, dedicated in 1999, help define Washington Road. To see


signature Vinoly work, with characteristic curves and high-tech


requires a visit to Philadelphia’s Kimmel Performing Arts Center,

the $265 million complex that opened to the public December, 2001.

The big new complex dominates the region of Broad Street that


now calls its Avenue of the Arts. Two main performance spaces,


under a barrel-vaulted glass ceiling whose peak is 12 stories above

ground level, occupy the two-acre site. Vinoly calls the new,


halls "two jewels inside a glass box."

Seeking to make itself an essential part of Philadelphia’s civic life,

the Kimmel Center commandeers an essential part of the astronomical

year, the summer solstice, for a lavish bit of programming. Expanding

last year’s undertaking, it has scheduled 15 hours of non-stop


to mark the solstice on Saturday, June 21. Events get underway at

3 p.m. with family entertainment, including puppet theater and


and do not end until the sun comes up on Sunday morning, June 22.

Those sufficiently alert at dawn on Sunday are invited to a BYOD


Your Own Drum) ceremony to welcome the sunrise.

All the spaces of the Kimmel Center will be used to celebrate the

longest day of the year. Performances include jazz and classical


Irish dancers, and belly dancing. Among the performers are members

of the center’s resident ensembles, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the

Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, plus the cast of "Mamma


the Chinese Opera Society, John Breslin’s Dixieland Band, and the

Trillium Harp Trio.

The celebration includes an opportunity to experience, once again,

the dynamic Pig Iron Theater, which appeared in Princeton in March,

treating those present to a highly-interactive, thoroughly


performance. Purported to be the cabaret of James Joyce’s emotionally

unstable daughter Lucia Joyce, the gripping evening was a product

of Toni Morrison’s "Atelier Project," developed at Princeton


Informal events are also part of the scene at Kimmel’s celebration

of the solstice. Cabaret and drinks will be available. The Merck Arts

Education Center will present interactive exhibits. And for those

seeking total freedom from structure, the sky-high Dorrance H.


Roof Garden will be open.

While the days stay long, losing only three minutes of light in each

24-hour period, the Philadelphia Orchestra stages "Absolutely

Mozart," a festival running from Thursday, June 26, to Wednesday,

July 2. Having evolved from his violin-playing days, Peter Oundjian

conducts the orchestra. Emanuel Ax solos in piano concertos, and in

chamber music for strings and piano.

Founded in 1900, and led by Wolfgang Sawallisch since 1993, the


Orchestra moved from its former home, the Academy of Music, down the

street, when the Kimmel Center was completed, to take up residence

in Verizon Hall. Occupant of the Academy of Music for close to an

entire century, the orchestra had long sought another, more resonant

home. According to a widespread myth, the extraordinarily lush string

sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra evolved out of the musicians’

efforts to battle the dry acoustics at the Academy of Music. This

fall, Maestro Sawallisch will become conductor laureate when Christoph

Eschenbach takes over as the orchestra’s seventh music director.

The Philadelphia Orchestra is part of a roster of eight

Kimmel resident companies assigned to particular spaces in the


Also in residence at the large Verizon Hall (seats more than 2,500)

is Peter Nero and the Philly Pops. In residence at the intimate


Theater (seats 650) are the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the

Philadanco dance company, American Theater Arts for Youth, and the

Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. In residence at the Academy of

Music, which is also managed by the Kimmel Center, are the Opera


of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Ballet.

From the early years of his administration, former mayor (now


Ed Rendell had the vision to develop Philadelphia as a tourist


capitalizing on its historic and cultural capital to replace its


economic base in manufacturing. Rendell and his wife Marjorie were

both recognized by the Independence Foundation, a major donor to the

Kimmel Center, as "the leaders, the energizers, the coaxers, the

wheedlers, the persuaders, and the inspirers who made the performing

arts center possible."

Events sponsored by Kimmel Center for the upcoming 2003-2004 season

include more than 70 performances grouped into 12 distinct


series, and labeled Kimmel Center Presents. Non-subscription concerts

will be added to the offerings. For most Kimmel Center Presents


a limited number of $10 tickets go on sale the day of the event, at

the box office, beginning at 5:30 p.m. The Philadelphia Orchestra

also has generous community and student rush ticket policies.

In addition to the two main concert halls at the Kimmel

Center, the Innovation Studio, an underground facility, provides space

for experimental programs. Also included in the complex is the Merck

Arts Education Center, a site for visiting school groups, classes,

and workshops, offering a variety of interactive exhibits aimed to

increase children’s understanding and enjoyment of the arts. In


an art gallery of works by members of the Moore College of Art and

Design, a top-drawer gift shop, and a coffeehouse and food concession

are all contained within the center’s glass vault.

The glass and steel umbrella 150 feet above the street shelters a

public space at ground level suitable for strolling and equipped with

a stage used for free concerts. Another public space located way up,

just below the roof, the Dorrance Hamilton Roof Garden boasts views

of the city and offers the greenery of ficus trees and tropical dwarf


Taking the suspension bridge as its construction model, Vinoly’s


has no internal structural beams. Elevators and duct work are on the

outside of the building. If the barrel-vaulted roof were spread flat

it would cover more than three acres. To safeguard the building from

high winds, the vertical curtain walls below the roof are separated

from the roof structurally, and capable of moving up to 32 inches.

To absorb the street and subway vibrations of its urban setting, both

the Verizon and Perelman halls rest on rubber pads with additional

features that create a formidable acoustic barrier.

The arts complex is named after Sidney Kimmel, the largest individual

donor. Born and raised in Philadelphia, and a graduate of Temple


Kimmel is chairman and director of Jones Apparel Group Inc., which

he founded in the mid 1970s. In addition, he is a partner in Cipriani

International, an international restaurant and catering concern, and

part owner of the Miami Heat basketball team. His Sidney Kimmel


established in 1993, has provided more than $120 million to health

care, education, and arts and culture institutions.

The 2,547-seat Verizon hall in the Kimmel Center resembles a cello

with its mahogany interior finish and undulating shapes. Flat surfaces

that produce unwanted echoes have been eliminated, and an acoustic

barrier isolates the hall from ambient noise. Two levels of seats

surround the stage. Benefactor Kimmel has chosen as his "sweet

spot," a first tier box slightly left of center. A sheath of


a tropical wood resistant to fading, screens out ultraviolet rays

at the hall’s exterior. A three-part movable canopy above the stage

is capable of redirecting sound coming from the stage. Lining the

side walls of the auditorium are 100 acoustical chambers whose


doors can be opened to varying extents in order to alter reverberation

in the hall. Technicians are keeping records of the various possible

settings preferred for different uses of the hall, from vocal recitals

to pops to rock.

Initially, the Philadelphia Orchestra decided not to tinker with the

hall’s sophisticated acoustic system until it got used to its basic

sound. Over its first 18-months’ operation, adjustments have been

made, primarily to the canopy heights, as the hall is fine tuned to

the orchestra’s sound.

The 650-seat Perelman Theater contains a rotating stage on which two

sets can be placed simultaneously. Six minutes are required for a

change of scenery. Alternatively, the feature can offer

interchangeable stages for chamber music and for theater and dance.

For further flexibility, the seating can be lowered and stowed to

create a surface flush with stage, opening up the room for bands and

social dances.

Architect Vinoly, 58, was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, to a family

who emigrated from the Canary Islands. When he was five, the family

moved to Buenos Aires. Headed at first for a career as a pianist,

he settled on architecture when he entered college. When the Kimmel

project was under discussion, he let sponsors of the project in on

his skills at piano, violin, and cello.

An early bloomer, he had designed 116 buildings and completed more

than 50 of them before the age of 35. Shaken by a government search

of his personal library, he left the country and became a visiting

professor of architecture at Harvard University School of Design in

1978. He has had offices in Manhattan since 1982, and now manages

a staff of more than 130 in New York, London, and Buenos Aires. He

is best known as part of the Think group, and one of the architects

responsible for the runner-up design for rebuilding the World Trade


Although the Travel Channel chose Vinoly’s Kimmel Center as one of

its "Modern Seven Wonders of the World," some critics have

found fault with the building. They complain about its bland and

forbidding Broad Street entrance, and its lack of connection to the

surrounding urban community. Visiting the complex I was struck by the


that, viewed from the ground floor entrance, the building was visually

more like a mall than a major cultural attraction, but this is in

keeping with its mission to create an indoor urban space that welcomes

pedestrians all day long.

The two main concert halls are certainly pleasing to look at. In


Hall, the warm wood and the audience seating that surrounds the stage

spin a cozy atmosphere despite the big capacity of the auditorium. In

this setting, with the acoustics still being fine-tuned, the

Philadelphia Orchestra has already noted that audiences have become

quieter than they were in the old home. The hall’s unfinished

monumental pipe organ is quite imposing. When 6,000 more pipes are

installed and the instrument makes its debut in 2006, it will be the

largest concert hall organ in the United States.

Vinoly has made the smaller, slightly austere Perelman auditorium

interesting by choosing colors that vibrate against each other. To

complement the pale wood of the seats, he selected gray-green


The dark green of the auditorium walls plays off against the medium

blue and gray-blue of the stage walls.

Of course, the final test of a concert hall is what one hears, not

what one sees. And to increase the auditory pleasure of concert-goers

the Kimmel Center has had its teams of acousticians bringing their

best efforts to its auditoriums. Meanwhile, skeptical music critics

have listened hard and come to the conclusion that the effectiveness

of a musical performance transcends any aspect of sound that can be

measured. Focusing on the acoustics, warns Bernard Holland of the

New York Times, can make you forget to listen to the music.

Still, acoustic considerations cannot be ignored. Certainly, questions

of acoustics played a part in this month’s decision by the New York

Philharmonic to move from Avery Fischer Hall to Carnegie Hall.


Carnegie Hall escaped the destruction frenzy of "urban


and New York has two major venues for instrumental music. Luckily,

Philadelphia has both the Academy of Music and the Kimmel Center’s

Verizon Hall. The presence of two big concert halls, and the


possibility of relocating, keeps the musical life of a big city from

becoming stagnant.

<B>Summer Solstice Celebration Kimmel Center for

the Performing Arts, 260 South Broad Street on the Avenue of the Arts,

Philadelphia. Box office 215-893-1999 or The

Kimmel Center welcomes the first day of summer with a night of


arts. An all-access pass $15 ($10 in advance) buys 15 straight hours

of entertainment beginning at 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 21, and ending

when the sun comes up Sunday morning, June 22. Saturday, June 21,

from 3 p.m.

Absolutely Mozart, The Philadelphia Orchestra,


Center, Philadelphia, 215-893-1999. Week-long festival features Peter

Oundjian, conductor, with Emanuel Ax, piano soloist, in three programs

of piano concertos, and chamber music for strings and piano. Single

tickets at all levels, $10 to $110. Discounts at

Thursday, June 26, through Wednesday, July 2.

The Kimmel Center is located on Avenue of the Arts, 260 South

Broad Street at Spruce Street. From Princeton take I-95 to I-676 (Vine

Street Expressway) and exit at Broad Street (Central Philadelphia).

Follow Broad Street around City Hall, continuing south. The Kimmel

Center is on your right, on the southwest corner of Broad and Spruce


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