The Power of Classical Music
If you frequent the Philadelphia Orchestra, you are probably familiar with David Kim, First Violin and regular soloist. Named Concertmaster in 1999, Kim not only performs each season with the Philadelphia Orchestra, but he also plays with orchestras around the world.
And yet, every May for the past few years, Kim treats an intimate group of about 100 people to a private performance at The Hill at Whitemarsh.
Kim’s performance at The Hill is one of about nine classical performances that happen each year as part of The Hill’s Classical Music Program, which is run by Hill resident Nancy Hess. Kim’s performance this coming June will mark the 12th anniversary of the concert series, for which Hess has managed to wrangle incredible talent over the years. In fact, the Resident Council of The Hill at Whitemarsh presented Hess with an award in June 2018 honoring her contributions to the community by way of the classical music series.
When Hess moved to The Hill shortly after its opening in 2007, she decided to take the initiative and launch a concert series for her fellow residents. She had spent her entire professional life working in music, serving as the Director of Music Preparatory and Extension for Temple University before her retirement in 2003. With her connections, booking the concerts was easy; getting the residents involved, however, was a challenge.
“One of the first concerts I produced for The Hill was renowned Icelandic soprano Disella Larusdottir, who was marvelous,” recalls Hess. “But we were getting close to showtime and there were mostly empty seats. I couldn’t let that happen, so I had friends run into the dining room to bring people out to the performance. They all loved it. These days, we have at least 100 people at each performance, and sometimes even have to turn people away!”
According to Hess, the classical music series at The Hill has created many memorable performances.
“In September 2018, we hosted a four-piece ensemble from the Philadelphia Orchestra, who were all principle players – the bassoon, the violin, the viola and the cello,” says Hess. “It was truly remarkable. There were 130 people in attendance for that concert, and the musicians stayed afterwards to chat with the residents. It was fabulous.”
In March, The Hill will be hosting the DePue Brothers Band, which, as the name implies, is a group of four brothers who all play the violin and blend classical, bluegrass and rock genres when they play together. One of the brothers, Jason DePue, plays for the Philadelphia Orchestra and was a member of the Temple faculty with Hess.
“They are all so talented as solo artists, and it will be great to have all four of them play here at The Hill,” says Hess. “It’s so fun to watch them play together. They have a varied repertoire, and everyone really loves them!”
Hess handpicks all of the acts herself. She keeps an eye—and an ear—out throughout the year and makes notes of performances she’d like to see come to The Hill. By August, the full program for the next calendar year is complete and all of the acts are booked. Hess handles all of the details herself, from booking the talent, to setting up the performance room and equipment, to taking care of all the musicians’ needs.
“We attract lovers of classical music and those with an interest who are looking to get more into it,” says Hess. “The only requirement is showing up with an open mind—and open heart. We have a beautiful rebuilt Steinway piano here that we use for performances. I have the technician at Temple University come to The Hill to tune the piano and make sure that the sound is perfect for our musicians.”
According to Hess, it is also equally important to have the experience be perfect for the guests in attendance at each performance. Classical music is an emotional experience that is felt as much as it is heard; it can be very sensitive to the person listening. This is especially true of those who have an untrained ear. There’s a good mix of classical music lovers and those who are experiencing the genre for the first time in the audience for performances at The Hill.