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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
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
<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 www.kimmelcenter.org. 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.
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.
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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