“Every night is like a big jam session,” said Matthew Gooding, a classical violinist who trained at the Shenandoah Conservatory and recently performed with Rehearsing Philadelphia from April 8 to April 10. “So, it’s really fun to be able to build and play and compose with other musicians almost on the spot.”
Rehearsing Philadelphia is the city’s newly-formed public orchestra and the first of its kind in the country. Gooding is one member of the 50-person ensemble that recently finished up a three-night set of performances at Cherry Street Pier. Those performances included full orchestra renditions of five pieces: Ann Carlson’s Attune, Ursula Rucker’s For-By-n-WIT … THE PEOPLE, Sun Ra Arkestra and Marshall Allen’s Sonny Dance, Xenia Rubinos’ Pa La’ Orkesta and Ari Benjamin Meyers’ HYMN (for The Public Orchestra of Philadelphia).
Four of the composers led the orchestra during their pieces. Anthony Tidd, the orchestra’s musical director, led the group during Meyers’ piece and the interludes between each song.
“I wanted different types of composers, different types of pieces,” said Meyers, the creator of Rehearsing Philadelphia. “I wanted a few people who were really local to Philly and I wanted a few who were coming from outside. They composed new work for the orchestra that we world premiered [on April 8].”
Izzy Kaufman, a flute player who previously played in the Philadelphia Freedom Band, joined Rehearsing Philadelphia for the challenge and to meet other musicians in Philadelphia, they said.
“I was classically trained, so it really pushed me to do some experimental stuff and get into the darker side of my sound,” Kaufman said.
Members of the orchestra played traditional Western orchestral instruments, like violin, clarinet, trombone, flute and trumpet, as well as nontraditional instruments, like electric guitar, sitar, guzheng, huehuetl and vocals. Some of the pieces also featured choreography from the musicians.
The Curtis Institute of Music and Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design invited Meyers, who was living in Berlin, to create a public art piece during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I thought it would be interesting to imagine a new kind of orchestra that really looks and sounds like Philadelphia made up of all types of different people, different backgrounds, a sonically diverse orchestra,” Meyers said.
Rehearsing Philadelphia began auditioning performers in September 2021. To apply, applicants sent in a video of themselves performing and answered questions about themselves.
The audition process for Rehearsing Philadelphia was much more relaxed than other orchestras, said Gooding, who is in the process of auditioning for other orchestras.
“They just asked us to send a recording of a couple pieces that we wanted to play and heard back within a few days,” Gooding said. “So, it was very relaxed, very easy.”
Around 250 musicians applied. Meyers settled on a diverse group. Some are professionals, while others are amateurs. Some have played publicly before, while others’ first public performances were from April 8 to 10 at the pier.
Rehearsing Philadelphia began practicing at the Curtis Institute of Music in January.
Tchin, a self-taught musician who plays the traditional Native American nose, drone and courting flutes, is used to performing alone, because Native American flutes are traditionally played solo, he said.
“It was really interesting to be part of a group,” said Tchin, who has released five CDs of his music. “In the beginning, it was like, ‘wow,’ this is very strange, but then it started to get more and more familiar and it started to come together nicer and nicer.”
After the orchestra’s last performance on April 10, Tchin, who has performed on top of mountains, in caves and in the tunnels under New York’s Central Park, plans to continue touring the world.
“This was actually one of the most interesting things that I’ve ever done, because it’s a whole huge group,” Tchin said.
Meyers is hopeful that Rehearsing Philadelphia will continue to perform for more seasons, he said.
“I really would have the goal now that this group stay together, have a home, have a place to rehearse,” Meyers said. “I would love to see them play more concerts but also, for instance, in New York and other cities. I would love to bring them to Europe.”
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