Philadelphia Orchestra Performs Free Chamber Concert at Schmidt’s Commons
On Sunday, July 24, the Philadelphia Orchestra hosted a free outdoor chamber concert at Schmidt’s Commons (formerly the Piazza at Schmidt’s). During the two-hour concert, musicians from the orchestra performed in small chamber-sized groups that represented all four major instrument families. Between performances, the musicians stepped out from behind their instruments and spoke to the crowd about the different styles of music they were hearing.
The event was part of the orchestra’s neighborhood concert series, which was revived in 2000 in an attempt to bring music into new communities and break down perceived barriers that might prevent many Philadelphians from connecting with the orchestra on a regular basis.
That spirit of breaking down barriers was on full display as I looked around at those in attendance for the Sunday evening concert. The audience was filled with an eclectic mix of new parents with their dancing toddlers, bearded twenty-somethings sipping beer, and Northern Liberties’ many dog owners and their four-legged friends. It was certainly not a crowd you would expect to see packing into the Kimmel Center each and every night.
Reaching new audiences like this is an important area of focus for the orchestra, according to Jeremy Rothman, Vice President of Artistic Planning for The Philadelphia Orchestra. He expanded on this initiative in a recent interview with Spirit News.
“In April, the Orchestra launched a new initiative called ‘HEAR’ focused on Health, Education, Access and Research. HEAR is a portfolio of integrated initiatives that promotes wellness, champions music education, eliminates barriers to accessing the orchestra, and maximizes impact through research,” he said.
Community-based concerts like the one at Schmidt’s Commons are central to the HEAR initiative, Rothman explained.
“Neighborhood concerts are key to the ‘Access’ part of our work as we provide opportunities to bring communities together and experience the Orchestra as a whole, as smaller ensembles, or as individual musicians. Whether it is Girard College, Penn’s Landing, or the Piazza at Schmidt’s Commons, we are building an offstage presence as strong as its onstage one. This is an orchestra of and for Philadelphia that is flexible and dynamic in how it connects with listeners,” he said.
Of course, leaving the confines of the Kimmel Center presents a number of added challenges for musicians and audiences alike. There were competing sounds during the outdoor performance — barking dogs, revving bus engines, the buzz of a helicopter overhead. Not to mention that Philadelphia has been in the grips of a brutal heatwave. Rothman said that the musicians and the audience seemed to take it all in stride.
“We are fortunate to have some of the world’s best musicians in our orchestra. They are also great people who understand the value of bringing beauty to a new neighborhood. Sometimes the elements aren’t perfect – but that’s what makes each live performance so unique. At one moment a noise might seem distracting. At another it could actually add an element of humor or serendipity where you least expect it,” he said.
Overall, the concert was a huge success in Rothman’s eyes and he would be eager to see the orchestra return to Northern Liberties in the near future, given the chance.
“Over 500 people braved the heat and enjoyed ‘The Northern Liberties Guide to the Orchestra’ with a chamber group from each instrument family performing (brass, woodwinds, percussion, and strings). It was a fabulous atmosphere for a concert. The backdrop of the Schmidt’s sign, surrounded by outdoor restaurants and apartments gave it a really intimate, special feeling. All of us were delighted and hope to return in the future to build on this success as well as continuing to find new neighborhoods to visit,” he said.