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Peter Dobrin – Philadelphia Inquirer Arts and Culture Critic

By Admin | December 12, 2007

Peter Dobrin brings a sophisticated and wide music appreciation and knowledge and almost twenty years experience on the local scene as the Arts and Culture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He also blogs on news from the local to international arts scene at Phillynews.com. We recently caught up with him. 


Where are you from?

Born in Manhattan, raised in Miami, Florida.

Where did you go to college and what did you major in?

I received my undergraduate degree in music performance (majoring in horn) from the University of Miami. My master’s is in music criticism, from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.

What was your career path from college to being the Arts and Culture critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer?

I freelanced for the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and Philadelphia Inquirer, and wouldn’t go away until the Inquirer hired me fulltime.

Where does the arts and culture scene in Philly rank in comparison to other large America cities? Which institutions rank near the top?

Assuming that New York is in a category by itself, Philadelphia is pretty near the busiest arts town in the country. The Philadelphia Orchestra and Curtis Institute of Music rank at the top with the best and most highly respected peer groups internationally.

The Barnes and Philadelphia Museum of Art are near the top, though they clearly don’t rank as highly internationally among their peers as Curtis and the Orchestra.

What is the most underrated or great-but-off-the-beaten-track cultural institution in Philly?

The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. Each year out of the 65 concerts they present, and the 30 or so I attend, I hear at least half a dozen that are so high in concept and execution I leave the concert hall feeling like a more complete musician for having been there.

It’s the city’s best musical hedge against becoming provincial. What other arts group in town can you call up the general number for tickets and get personal advice on what you should attend? I mean, the people answering the phone there can tell you the difference between Beethoven’s Opus 18 and Opus 59 string quartets.

What events and organizations do you cover for the Inquirer?

Could be anything, from the Philadelphia Orchestra to TUBACHRISTMAS, from real estate deals for the Please Touch Museum to debt at the Franklin Institute.

How would you rate outgoing Philly mayor John Street in terms of the supporting the city’s cultural life?

Street didn’t do much for arts and culture in the city as far as I can tell.

Who are the top three most influential people or patrons of the Philly culture scene other than elected officials?

It’s about the money. Gerry Lenfest, Rebecca Rimel and Leonore Annenberg carry the biggest purses and most clout.

What three cultural events or institutions or performances anywhere in the world are tops on your “to do” list?

The Musikverein in Vienna, the Metropolitan Opera, Tanglewood.

Thomas Jefferson University last year secretly came to an agreement to sell The Gross Clinic for $68 million to an Arkansas museum founded by an Wal-mart heiress. Although officials there now deny it, their initial plan was to build a medical building with it, before there was much protest from the community. What was your reaction to that whole episode?

I think it’s part of a bigger transfer of wealth from large but shrinking East Coast cities to smaller but growing centers of wealth. I think Philadelphia does a good job of holding on to what it can, the Gross Clinic, the Maxfield Parrish mural, but things have and will slip out of town. I wish a few local foundations would get together and formulate a sensible strategy to deal with future plundering.

If you had to make one guess as to who will be the next conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who do you think it will be?

A great musician who has great chemistry with the players, I hope. I am not being glib. It never hurts to state the obvious given the fact that orchestras are worried about a lot of things besides music these days, fund-raising, audience development, and community engagement among them.

What do you think of the Philadelephia’s iconic New Year’s Day Mummers Parade?

Love it. I watch is every year from my mom’s living room window on Broad Street. I think it should be televised nationally.

Do you think the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts can return to national prominence any time soon?

an. Could. Should. I think the new leadership is promising, and that they each have a lot to prove personally, which can be a tremendously motivating factor. Let’s see a statement from the board about the institution’s ambition, and we’ll all have a better idea of the odds for success.

You produce a well-written, frequently updated blog on the arts scene in Philly and elsewhere. Do you enjoy blogging?

Love blogging. It’s more my real voice than a lot of my in-print writing.

Copyright 2007 DailyInterview.com

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