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Arts Desk

Mozart In The Market: The Philadelphia Orchestra Pops Up At Reading Terminal

You never know where you're going to run into The Philadelphia Orchestra. An earthquake zone in China? Tokyo's Suntory Hall? Last week, as The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns reports, it was the Reading Terminal Market, where 11 string players crowded into the lunchtime bustle and invited everyday people to try their hand at conducting.

David Patrick Stearns: Moses Smucker, the imposing but amiable Amish man usually seen behind the counter at Smucker's Quality Meats & Grill, stepped out to conduct Mozart with a chamber version of The Philadelphia Orchestra. No conflicts with his Amish lifestyle; the orchestra is low-tech.

Moses Smucker: It was just fun. The market needed something to laugh at. 

DPS: The invitation came from the Orchestra's cover conductor, Scott Terrell. 

Scott Terrell: If you want to conduct The Philadelphia orchestra, you will have the opportunity to do so...

DPS: These impromptu conductors at the Reading Terminal Market tended to be either young and curious, or people who are old enough to know that an opportunity like this may not come again, as with Tennessee tourist Kristie Nies. 

Kristie Nies: I'm 57. Why not? Why NOT?

DPS: It was a day of unexpected connections. After conducting the Orchestra, the 18-year-old Taiwanese student Jimmy Cuo began to see both music and his university major - economics - as similarly sophisticated manifestations of human behavior. One of the listeners, the retired Temple University professor Richard Greene, heard more literal connections between the music and the nearby cheesesteak stand.  

Richard Greene: When you hear the music and you get the rhythm of the cheesesteak people, sometimes it coincides. 

DPS: The beauty of the Reading Terminal Market is its wide cross-section of humanity. But the conditions were hardly optimal for the musicians, says cellist Richard Harlow.

Richard Harlow: I was playing so loud to get over the noise, it reminded me of the days when you'd take your cars out on the freeway to blow the carbon out of them by going 80 miles an hour.

DPS: Did the circumstances allow musicians to make a lasting impact? The nature of music is such that we'll never really know. Once, when in a music museum, I encountered a cello that was, so to speak, open to the public. And the room was safely empty. Though I always imagined what playing a cello would be like, my sitting down and actually doing so opened up a world that has made me hear the instrument differently ever since. Maybe I, too, should have tried conducting.