I worked one summer for a law firm in Philadelphia and I've been going there all my life to visit family and friends, but it seems as if I don't get there all that often. Philly is a city which does not ballyhoo its pluses. The classic way they refer to their great institutions--The Orchestra, The Art Museum, The University--is one indication of the reluctance they have to boast about any of these. In addition, in the past few decades, it has become a top-notch restaurant town.
Last weekend, we spent part of Saturday there, starting with a visit to the Art Museum, which had assembled its Impressionist collection into one major exhibit. Since the collection is first-rate, it was a wonderful show: plenty of renowned French Impressionists along with some who are not so famous but superb. It was what I sometimes call as "British Museum show," where a museum puts together an exhibit by taking objects from its own collections, or especially, from its storerooms.
Some years ago, I went there to see what was labelled "a small Vermeer" that was lent to the museum for a few months. It was shown in one of the museum's galleries of Dutch paintings and the only indication that this was something special in that small gallery was the number of visitors gathered in front of the Vermeer. When his "The Milkmaid" was lent to the Met museum a few years ago, the Met took a slightly different approach. They exhibited the painting with related ones by contemporaries, and then accompanied it with a chart showing a photo or reproduction of every Vermeer extant in the world--about 32, I believe--and a note indicating where each painting was located.
We dined at a new restaurant called Libertine which was excellent and a few blocks from the Kimmel Center, where the concert was. The menu was imaginative and they even had a pre-theatre special. We shared the four desserts that came with our specials. They too were special and I doubt we would have ordered them had they not been included.
The concert featured Schumann's Piano Concerto and Beethoven's Eroica symphony. Opening the program was the overture from Weber's Der Freischutz. I thought The Orchestra played well, very sharp and clear. I learned the next day from a review in the Inquirer that the encore that the pianist, Jonathan Biss, had played was a well-known (though not to me) short piece by Schumann. Both the critic and the audience loved it. The critic found some fine points in the performance where he felt the musicians should work on.
We lucked out in that a guest conductor cancelled so we heard the Orchestra's music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conduct. The audience clearly loves him, and he seemed very much on target during the concert. To my surprise, I liked the Schumann more than the Beethoven. I guess I really enjoy the 7th and the 9th the most. The Weber was enjoyable, as his overtures always are and have thus been on musical programs always, unlike his operas, which only now are being revived here.
There was so much we didn't get to do. We missed a good exhibit at the Penn Museum, where the archaeological contents are drawn from the many fascinating objects brought back by the many expeditions sponsored by the museum. I'm not sure whether the Phillies were in town but they now have a powerhouse lineup; we wouldn't have had time to go, anyway. There's the Barnes and the Rodin and the National Museum of American Jewish History, too. And seeing basketball in one of the best halls for it: Penn's Palestra.
And then there are my favorite old haunts: Bassett's ice cream in the Reading Terminal Market, one of the cheese-steak emporia in South Philly, Smokey Joes's--the classic Penn bar now way out on 40th St. to which Penn has now extended, Fairmount Park. We passed the places I remember on South Broad--the old Academy of Music, the Bellevue, and the Union League, where I was taken to lunch when I worked at the law firm and when I mostly believed they would throw me out when they found out I was a Democrat.