Machover's "Philadelphia Voices"

2018 April 29

     I enjoyed Machover's new piece "Philadelphia Voices" as played by The Philadelphia Orchestra on 2018 April 6, Friday afternoon. It was pretty good as music and terrific as theater. It was presented as a deep view of Philadelphia and the composer was presented as one who spent great effort getting to know the city. I think not.

     The piece centered around block parties, Benjamin Franklin, the founding fathers of the United States of America, and even cheesesteaks. After I listened to the piece, I had a moment of doubt. How could anybody spend time in Philly without mentioning all the murals that have sprung up? How could anybody spend time there without mentioning Boathouse Row, the East River Drive and Fairmount Park, Rocky and the Art Museum including the Rodin Museum, Penn's Landing, City Hall, hoagies, and soft pretzels? Where were the special character of the Quakers and Philadelphia's reputation for being tough fans in sports and, yes, even in music? Where were the rowers on the Schuylkill River and Penn's Landing?

     The fifth movement was titled "My House Is Full of Black People." Beyond a wave of politically-left-wing racist hate, I have no idea what that was supposed to be about, and especially how that was supposed specifically to be part of Philadelphia.

     There was one detail that caught my ear. I think putting chairs in show-shoveled parking spaces is a Philadelphia thing that I have seen myself and it was mentioned in this piece. I don't think they do that other places, but I haven't personal evidence.

     The other test is whether the piece would fit another city if the landmarks and famous events were changed to that city. If I replaced the Eagles with the Celtics, Benjamin Franklin with Lexington and Concord, and cheesesteaks with Irish pubs, would the same piece speak well of Boston? I think it would.

     In other words, this homage to Philadelphia's special places, people, and city character could have been written as it was written by somebody who had never been closer to Philadelphia than Youngstown, Ohio, or Burlington, Vermont. That's fine, but please don't present this piece as deep insight into Philly's uniqueness.




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