My Wonderful Visit To Philadelphia

My visit to Philadelphia last October made me eager for a return visit this year. I went back to some familiar places – the Kimmel Center to hear a Philadelphia Orchestra concert, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Film Center to attend the Philadelphia Film Festival – and took in somewhere new: The African American Museum in Philadelphia. My centrally located hotel, the Warwick on Rittenhouse Square, allowed me to access these places easily, sometime via walking (Philly is a highly walkable city), sometimes via Uber, and sometimes via mass transit. As always, I looked to the Visit Philly organization – go to – for helpful tips to my weekend. The site is especially helpful for LGBTQ travelers.


Yannick Nezet-Sequin, the ensemble’s music director, is becoming the face of American orchestral music. Before he became artistic head of the Metropolitan Opera he had already been talent-scouted by the Philadelphia Orchestra. I liken him to Mayor Pete: a youngish, brilliant person who happens to be gay and who gives me hope. This time, I heard him conduct Schubert’s “Wanderer Fantasy,” as orchestrated by Liszt. The piano soloist was Louis Lortie, who played with tremendous clarity. The evening’s main event, however, was the 75-minute Mahler Fifth Symphony. (The maestro should come out with an energy-boosting product: he had spent that day’s afternoon conducting “Turandot” at the Met.)  At first, I found the Mahler rendition lacking in tension – there was occasional slackness in the work’s crucial horn section. But the famous Adagietto section was moving and the Rondo-Finale thrilling.

I never stay long at large museums: I am easily overwhelmed. I prefer to wander the galleries until my eye alights on something. On this visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it was “Rhetoricians at a Window,” a work (1658-1665) by Dutch painter Jan Steen. The wall label explained: “These mirthful men are members of a chamber of rhetoric, a type of dramatic and literary society popular throughout the Dutch Republic.” How I would have liked to join in their mirth!

I found mirth instead at “The Two Popes,” one of the myriad offerings of the Philadelphia Film Festival, presented in October by the Philadelphia Film Society at various venues. Directed by Fernando Meirelles, “The Two Popes” tells of the encounters over the past 15 years between Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). The movie does not shirk from including the men’s moments of moral weakness (With Benedict, the Church’s child-abuse crisis; with Francis, Argentina’s brutal military regime of the 1970s). Powered by its masterful central performances, “The Two Popes” manages to blend sly humor with ample social consciousness.  The movie will receive a theatrical release in late November and will be streamed on Netflix beginning December 20th.

I’d never visited this fascinating museum at 701 Arch Street, and I was happy to remedy the lack. The museum is the first institution built by a major United States city to house and interpret the life and work of African Americans. I looked at a current exhibition, “In Conversation: Visual Meditations on Black Masculinity,” a two-gallery feast of photography that explores the construct
of Black masculinity through the lenses of 55 women and non-binary photographers of African descent. We are accustomed to seeing images of black masculinity through the eyes of male artists and it was illuminating to see the theme through the eyes of the female and non-binary.


Steps off Philadelphia’s historic central square, the Warwick is a wonderful combination of tradition and contemporary design. I appreciated the hotel’s attention to detail in the rooms: pegs for hanging coats, reading lamps near the bed that are flexible, easy-to-use coffee makers. Highly recommended.

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