It was a sort of coming-out night after 18 months there. A reconnection between the artists of Philadelphia and the culture mavens who missed them. A claim that the Philadelphia arts sector is back.
It was the hopeful message on Saturday at the Kimmel Center, where the doors were opened for a day of Beethoven, hip-hop, opera, poetry readings, and more. About 50 arts groups were represented, and the event, dubbed ‘Arts Launch 2021,’ marked the first fully public event for the city’s largest art presenter since it closed due to the pandemic in March 2020.
Of course, the public health crisis is not over. As arts groups embark on the 2021-2022 season, they are doing so cautiously with a new set of requirements for audiences to be vaccinated and masked and, in some cases, left behind. Still, with their finances in trouble and a newly urgent sense of mission, art leaders saw Saturday as a milestone.
“We are open, as is the openness of the Philadelphia cultural community,” said Ed Cambron, COO of the Kimmel Center.
Many groups have continued to perform for most of the past 18 months, either with significantly reduced audience capacity, or through online presentations, or both.
But a lot depends on the return of live concerts and the income from the tickets that accompany them.
The Kimmel, which both owns its resident companies and presents itself, is set to host a hit musical Hamilton this fall at the Academy of Music. Ticket sales have been strong – the Center Broadway series has more than 12,000 subscribers to date – although plenty of seats remain available.
READ MORE: The giant list of plays and musicals on the Philadelphia Theater Tour this Fall
Saturday’s curtain-raiser brought no stars of Hamilton, but the performances added to a large representation of what’s to come. In a corner of Kimmel Square, the Philly Pops Big Band, conductor David Charles Abell and singer Michael Andrew paid homage to Frank Sinatra, while in the other patrons could spin a wheel to win prizes or tickets to shows like to crush.
Representatives from Kimmel’s resident companies as well as other groups like Network for New Music and First Person Arts were on hand to discuss the upcoming season.
“The kids are excited,” Joan Myers Brown said, referring to members of the group she founded, Philadanco, which performed at the Perelman Theater on Saturday. The troupe has not seen a live audience since the start of the pandemic, she said, “and there’s nothing like live for artists. The public’s response makes the difference.
You also can’t beat the bond made when taking a selfie with the Mouse King. The Nutcracker the villain, posted outside Verizon Hall, was doing a quick punching activity with kids and letting them touch his crown.
He said he missed dancing during the pandemic and looked forward to the company’s annual production in December.
“I can’t believe I have this opportunity,” said the Mouse King, known outside of his costume as dancer Felipe Valentini, new to the Philadelphia Ballet II.
It was the opportunity to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra that brought Tacony’s Dianne Chenault to the Kimmel for the first time – that, plus the fact that she had struggled to order tickets for to crush by telephone.
“I’m really happy they’re doing this,” she said of the artistic sampling on Saturday. About 5,800 visitors to the five-hour event were counted, a Kimmel spokesperson said.
The Philadelphia Orchestra not only performed, but did so in a crowded 2,500-seat Verizon Hall where they were greeted with a standing ovation before even playing a note. This year, the ensemble travels a lot of Beethoven, and the musical director Yannick Nézet-Séguin was present to lead the ensemble in the music of the composer. Symphony No.3 and that of Jessica Hunt Rise.
Previously, a historic landmark had been unveiled in front of the Music Conservatory dedicated to one of Nézet-Séguin’s predecessors: Léopold Stokowski, the orchestra’s third musical director a century ago still considered a pioneer of innovation. technological and adventurous repertoire.
READ MORE: Classical Music to See in Philly This Fall
Returning customers to The Kimmel will find that a lot has changed since March 2020. The Pennsylvania Ballet has changed its name to Philadelphia Ballet. The boards of directors of the Kimmel Center and the Philadelphia Orchestra voted to consolidate under a single parent company, with conductor Matías Tarnopolsky assuming leadership of the new entity. Kimmel’s longtime CEO Anne Ewers is retiring. The near-merger is expected to become official this fall, possibly in November.
The arts center box office has moved to the basement of the complex, and in its former location on Spruce Street, a cafe is slated to open in early 2022. The square has been reopened for public activities after the long shutdown.
But the change that all the leaders in the arts are nervously trying to uncover is a lie with the public, and it is a change that they hope not to find. Have ties with orchestral fans and balletomaniacs weakened? Has the pandemic allowed the public to lose the habit of going to the theater?
“I think we have to be realistic,” Kimmel’s Cambron said. “Some people have probably changed their ways, and others can be voracious” in the way they consume cultural events.
“I hope,” he said, “that it balances out. But who knows? “