Two Notable Things from First Friday in Philadelphia, 10/3/08

Paul and I went into the city for First Friday and, as usual, it was noisy, crowded with teens and preteens trying to be 30 year olds; guys who epitomize “douchebag” dressed well with lady-friends (douchebagettes?); guys of the same sort but dressed badly and without lady-friends; kids and adults trying to be artsy but revealing how little education can possibly achieve, demonstrating that “bum” is a term which can acquire new depths based on the person it is applied to.

Part of the problem with First Friday is the diversity. Some things featured are more appropriate, some things not. For example, there was a band covering Led Zeppelin outside one of the galleries. They were pretty good, but didn’t match up with some of the finer art displayed within galleries, or the folksier/hippier crowd in spots. First Friday could really use more jazz music, now that I think about it.

And I do miss the alcohol. The kids populating the place have taken the wine/cheese/microbrew element away, and that’s no fun.

Anyway, we encountered two things that I thought worth sharing, so here goes:

1. Christ Church’s “First Friday Concert Series:” We only saw the end of the first half of the program but all of the second. For a free concert (donations are requested) this was of incredible quality. The organist, John Binsfeld, whom I assume we saw, is a first-rate musician – not only is the organ a great instrument there, with a rich bass tone and decent swell capability (it can move fairly smoothly from soft to loud), but he was flawless on his solo Elgar “March Triomphale” and guided the singers very well. When they sang the chorus from Mendelssohn’s Elijah, “Cast your burden upon the Lord,” their grasp of dynamics, keeping a warm tone and religious atmosphere, and quality of sound demonstrated that this choir can hold their own with the best of them if they like. The alto and bass/baritone we heard were solid while singing selections from Ralph Vaughn Williams’ “Mystical Songs” (“The Call,” “Love bade me welcome,” respectively), knowing how to shape the music and demonstrate passion appropriate for a church.

There was a soprano who was far too harsh as a soloist: she butchered Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” There was nothing religious or warm about it, and a lack of buildup just destroyed any feeling the performance could have had. Her Latin was lifeless, and when she had to sing English in a song later, it was very difficult to understand what she was singing. She may have been tired – she does have a good voice and a lot of power – but what was irritating was the lack of care with the music and a lack of engaging the audience. To her credit, when the organist slowed her down and warmed up the music a bit by changing stops, she became mellower and more musical.

Still. The organist alone was that good – based on this, the concerts are highly recommended.

2. Artists’ House – This might be the best gallery in Philadelphia; Paul and I have visted for years and it rarely disappoints.

Some of the work that stood out:

  • Brett Eberhardt’s graphite drawing, “Sofia Studio” – contemporary artists are very professional and technically sound, but leave a lot to be desired in terms of theme. The starkness of the room arrests; it is beautiful but feels haunting. Contrast with Katia Kapovich’s lines, from “Painting a Room:” Freedom smells of a freshly painted room, / of wooden floors swept with a willow broom, / and of stale raisin bread.
  • Sydney McGinley’s “Footbath #1” – her use of pastels is virtuoso. The colors and lines that occur in the garments recur in the skin and features of her subjects; it’s like the world is a rainbow in a way. The classical poses of those depicted added to the strength of the women in her drawings; I wondered about femininity in past years, and whether or not contemporary feminism is only an encouragement of girlishness. The sensuality in the works featured here stems from something soft but womanly and deliberate.

There’s more, please do check out the current exhibition as a whole. I really wanted to spend $100,000 on art that night.


  1. Your observations of the First Friday atmosphere are amusing. I’ve been in Macon and in Columbus and could’ve said the exact same things. Macon’s, at least, is still very alcohol-centered despite the mobs of 15 year old goth girls- or whatever they call them now, but there’s no particularly interesting source, no particularly interesting restaurants, but hey they try… :P

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