This weekend was another one full of PIFA events, and I attended two on Sunday.

Portrait of Gertrude Stein by Picasso

The first was at the University of the Arts, a musical with text by Gertrude Stein written by William Turner called “A Lyrical Opera Made by Two“. Made by two referred to Stein’s feeling that he life was made by her and her partner. She even said “my wife is my life is my life is my wife.” It took me a while to get used to Stein’s elusive texts, as well as the style and singing of the piece. I thought it would be an opera, but it was more like intelligent musical theatre. While the students gave strong performances, I felt that the piece as a whole came across as relentlessly pleasant. I could tell that Stein used her absurd form to clear the mind – by contemplating the incontemplable. One line in particular summed it up: “it has not been what has been thought” as it was hard to put a finger on .. anything. My boyfriend (he was a good sport this weekend!) mentioned that the balance of the piece was based on the author in the sky, and in that way it was hard to feel a connection with the characters on stage. Still, when it was over, I did feel I had a good idea of Stein’s writing and life, and was happy to have had my horizons broadened.


The second show I attended was the much anticipated ?uestlove’s “Philly-Paris Lockdown” with special guest Keren Ann. I was struck immediately by Keren Ann’s voice, which took over the stage though she sang mezzo-piano. She added incredible attitude and richness to the performance. After having heard her live. I must say her recordings don’t do her justice – they hide the depth of her tone. Pallavi Mahidhara also turned in a strong performance at the classical piano, playing a pastiche of impressionist composers Debussy, Satie and Ravel. Having knowledge of these pieces, however, I thought that the arrangement of the music turned into a wash, and would have better been left to the original composition.  Later the band could have used as a sample of whatever piece she had played for the rest of the musicians (like Lamb’s “Angelica” which samples Debussy’s Claire de Lune).

a video of Lamb’s “Angelica”

?uestlove is obviously a consummate musician. Still, I felt that in this performance his playing was too lofty. I would have enjoyed hearing more of his virtuosity and versatility, including funk beats and jazz. In short, I wish he’d let it rip more often.

All the musicians logged excellent performances, including conductor Andrew Cyr, David Murray on Sax, D. D. Jackson on jazz piano, Anthony Tidd on Bass and Keyboards, Derrick Hodge on Bass, and vocalists Amber Coffman, Haley Dekle, Susanna Waiche, and string players Kristin Lee, Becky Anderson, Joanna Franke, and Hiro Matsuo. Still, I wish the arrangers (Daniel Felsenfeld and Larry Gold) had given us more to sink our teeth into.

There was a bit of showmanship that I appreciated from ?uestlove: At the beginning of the show he greeted the audience and asked us all to howl like wolves — which we all did. It engaged us right off the bat and kept our attention for what was a challenging, experimental piece.

Coming up next? Trapeze lessons …

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