Did you know that one of the world’s leading music conservatories is located in Philadelphia, and that their uber-talented students showcase their talents every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening throughout the school year at recitals that are free and open to the public? Neither did I, until I went on a date there a few weeks ago.
The students are from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, and their recitals are performed an intimate 240-person auditorium (Field Concert Hall) (handicapped accessible) located in the Institute’s “main building” – a gorgeously preserved 19th century mansion located at 1726 Locust Street, near the south-east corner of Rittenhouse Square park.
My date and I dressed up special for the occasion (think fine wool suit, cufflinks, swishy dress, pointy heels) and met for a pre-concert drink at the swanky Bar 210 at Lacroix across the park. The location was certainly convenient, and their happy-hour (5-7pm) of half-priced cocktails ($6 instead of the usual $12) is a great deal, but the ambience was a little sedate. Next time I’d go to Fish instead. Located a few blocks away at 1708 Lombard streed, Fish has an intimate bar that overlooks their open kitchen, filling the small space with the sights and sounds of the chefs at work, a nice prelude (and contrast) to the sights and sounds to be enjoyed at the concert hall afterwards.
How cheap we talkin’: The recitals are FREE! Happy hour drinks and/or snacks, $7-$15 (with tax/tip).
Why this will impress your date: Watching these amazingly able child-prodigies perform will impress anybody. And your date will appreciate you for being the kind of person who would think of such a nice way to spend an evening together, despite your having only average musical abilities.
The Inside Game: Make sure to get the the concert at least 10-15 minutes early to secure a seat. The recitals start promptly at 8pm (they won’t let you walk in once it’s started) and the auditorium is filled on a first-come, first-seated basis. But even if the recital does reach capacity you can still watch the live feed on a flat-screen television in the lobby.
Score Extra Points: By remembering to sneak in a water bottle.
Next Date: Student recitals are at 8pm (almost) every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening from October 11 through May. Have a favorite composer? Check the schedule to see who’s playing, as well as what pieces/instruments.
Getting a drink after the concert is an option too, but if you go beforehand you can take advantage of happy hour. Only a few short blocks from the concert hall, Fish is a good option. In addition to $3 beers (UFO, Yards Brawler) and $6 specialty margaritas, their happy hour also includes a rotating menu of $6 “small bites.” My date had the mussels with coconut, Panang curry, and lemongrass, and together we sopped up every last drop of the sweet, slightly spicy broth with fresh bread. Meanwhile I indulged my love of all things fried by ordering the fish and chips. The chunks of mahi-mahi were tender and only lightly breaded, and the “chips” were tiny, crispy, salty, potato sticks that paired perfectly with the malt vinegar mayo it came with.
If you are looking for a quieter place (the background noise from the open kitchen is persistent), try Bar 210 at Lacroix. It has that peculiar atmosphere that only hotel bars can have, but their cocktails are fresh and creative (my date had the Cucumber Vesper and described it as a “Martini, fresh from the garden”) and are only $6 from 5-7pm. They also offer a “snack” menu from 5-11pm including a new twist on a Philly favorite: soft pretzels with apple mustard ($4). Note to first daters: Both Fish and Bar 210 are teeny bars, so either show up early, or be prepared for the possibility that you and your date will have to stand around making (potentially) awkward pre-seating conversation.
After drinking our drinks, eating our eats, and paying our debts, we hurried over to the Curtis Institute. The Curtis Institute was founded in 1924 and since that time, has been training young musical prodigies for careers in the performing arts. Students are accepted at Curtis solely on the basis of their “artistic talent and promise” and attend the institute on a tuition-free basis (the institute has provided merit-based full-tuition scholarships to all its students since 1928). Most of the pieces on the schedule are classical concertos, sonatas and the like, but there is also percussion group and sometimes vocalists. The night we went, we saw a flute soloist, as well as pieces employing some combination of harpsichord, cello, flute, viola, and double bass. The performances were flawless (as far as I could tell), and the innate talent and enthusiasm of the young performers is evident. The audience was enthusiastic too- over the applause we could make out several calls of “Bravo!” from around the room.
Between songs my date and I traded stories about our childhood forays into the musical arts. I learned that my date was a clarinetist (I played piano). During intermission we explored the stately lobby with its carved wooden ceiling, thick drapes, and Oriental rugs.
There’s also a narrow hallway off to the right adorned with entertaining caricature-style sketches of famous composers. The whole atmosphere is very warm and inviting – not at all intimidating like some classical performance venues can seem, especially to the uninitiated. I was glad we had dressed up for the occasion – it was part of the fun, and along with the harpsichord made me feel like I was on a date to the symphony circa 1925. That being said, it was clear we could have showed up in jeans, and that would have been just fine too.