Phila. Orchestra conductor ‘behind the beat’

Local Life February 29, 2012 1 Comment

Leonard Bernstein, Valentin Radu, at Hill Library March 7
by Ron Petrou
I am an admirer of Valentin Radu and the VoxAmaDeus Orchestra and chorus, which he directs and conducts. During the past two years I have attended most of VoxAmaDeus’ concerts, to my delight. Most of all through these concerts I have extended my experience and sympathetic understanding of the works of genius arising from the spiritual and musical gifts of the composers of Renaissance and pre-Renaissance sacred music and that of Mozart, Handel, Gershwin, Bach and Beethoven.

Flamboyant conductor Valentin Radu will be present at the Chestnut Hill Library, 8711 Germantown Ave., on Wednesday, March 7, 7 p.m., to present commentary and show a film of Leonard Bernstein conducting Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. The event is free to the public. Flamboyant conductor Valentin Radu will be present at the Chestnut Hill Library, 8711 Germantown Ave., on Wednesday, March 7, 7 p.m., to present commentary and show a film of Leonard Bernstein conducting Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. The event is free to the public.

Many of these concerts have taken place in Chestnut Hill churches: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church as well as in Philadelphia’s Catholic Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul and the Perelman Theater in the Kimmel Center.

However, recognizing that I have been too limited in my experience, I decided to attend on Jan. 19 at Verizon Hall the Philadelphia Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the “Eroica,” conducted by Herbert Blumstedt, a guest conductor from Sweden.

As a result of my experience in New York City as a youth listening to and watching on television Leonard Bernstein, and my similar recent experience with Valentin Radu, I have come to appreciate conductors who feel and display “passion” for the music they conduct.

However on Jan. 21, listening to the 84-year-old Herbert Blumstedt with his restricted “minimalist” approach, I felt he blocked the glorious, victorious “Eroica” from resounding through the orchestra. In fact, it seemed that the orchestra was leading the conductor. After the performance I texted Valentin Radu and told him so, stating that the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Orchestra should look to Valentin as a guest conductor rather than importing a passionless European.

(On Jan. 23 Valentin Radu attended Blumstedt’s conducting of the “Eroica” and later agreed with my assessment, that indeed Blumstedt was disappointing and that he was behind the beat while conducting, whereas, Valentin said, the conductor should always be slightly ahead of the beat.)

A few days later I was looking through YouTube performances on my computer and  came across Leonard Bernstein conducting in the 1970s the Vienna Philharmonic performing the “Eroica.” I had just purchased a 24-inch flat-screen monitor and thus saw Bernstein in all his dashing elegance conducting with the passion I so admired.

Then an idea struck me. Why not present this YouTube video on a large screen at the Chestnut Hill Library for all to see? Valentin heard of my idea and enthusiastically agreed to attend this performance and elucidate what Beethoven, Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic had created in a discussion with the audience. He said, “As you know, Beethoven was my idol.”

Valentin, with his Doctorate degree in music from the Juilliard School of Music, often introduces music he is about to conduct with knowledgeable, lively, provocative and frequently humorous commentary. He studied in New York City at Juilliard in the ‘80s, met Leonard Bernstein, studied under his direction and heard many of his performances.

This program at the Chestnut Hill Library will be sponsored by The Philadelphia Forum for Anthroposophy, inspired by the example and work of Rudolf Steiner. Bruno Walter (1876-1962), the famous conductor who led the New York Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall and later conducted in Detroit, Minnesota and Boston, spoke of Steiner in his “Of Music and Making” (1957): “In old age I have had the good fortune to be initiated into the world of anthroposophy and during the past few years to make a profound study of the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Here we see alive and in operation that deliverance of which Friedrich Hölderlin speaks; its blessing has flowed over me, and so this book is the confession of belief in anthroposophy.

“There is no part of my inward life that has not had new light shed upon it, or been stimulated, by the lofty teachings of Rudolf Steiner … I am profoundly grateful for having been so boundlessly enriched … It is glorious to become a learner again at my time of life. I have a sense of the rejuvenation of my whole being, which gives strength and renewal to my musicianship, even to my music-making.”

This presentation at the Chestnut Hill Library will be in memory of Lewis Dupont Smith, who died of cancer at the age of 55 this past August. A resident of Chestnut Hill, Lewis was a co-founder of the Philadelphia Forum for Anthroposophy.

This concert and commentary will take place, free of charge, at the Chestnut Hill Library, 8711 Germantown Ave., on Wednesday, March 7, 7 p.m.

Ed. Note: Ron Petrou is a resident of Mt. Airy, a videographer, writer, former owner/director of Wordsmiths, a public relations firm in King of Prussia; a former English teacher at Kimberton Waldorf School in Kimberton, PA, and a student of Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy. He, Robert Horner and Lewis DuPont Smith founded the Philadelphia Forum for Anthroposophy, and he conducts weekly study group meetings in Mt. Airy on the works of Rudolf Steiner. For more information, call 267-421-7749 or email

Want to support the Local? Join the Chestnut Hill Community Association. Membership helps fund what we do. Join today.

  • Knut Holt

    In my country, Norway, many famous artists have been and are anthroposophists. Myself i find this philosophy interesting, allthough I do not believe in Anthroposophy regarding all its principles.