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Victor CafeVictor Cafe| Philly Pops| Larry and Carol Spiz

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Victor Cafe| Philly Pops| Larry and Carol Spiz

Victor Cafe 

Rick DiStefano, the owner of the Victor Café, says his grandfather, John DiStefano, came to the U.S. in 1908 and started a gramophone shop in 1918. The shop became a meeting place for friends and family to spin records and hang out, especially during the Great Depression. John’s wife was known to make food for the shop’s visitors, and after the repeal of prohibition, John purchased a liquor license. In 1933, the couple turned the record shop into a restaurant where their patrons would eat amazing Italian food and listen to the classics. Since John was notorious for his knowledge of voice and music, celebrities would visit the Victor Café to get advice and network – many of them hoping to be introduced to people he knew at RCA Records. Rick looks back on being a kid in his grandparent’s restaurant with fond memories. He recalls customers constantly singing, occasionally pushing their plate of pasta to the side to stand up and belt out a tune. 

The Victor Café began incorporating opera music into its traditions in 1979 and 1980 when they hired two waiters who were opera students. Eventually, the restaurant evolved into an entire opera-singing wait staff – a tradition that continues still today. Unlike most other restaurants, the Victor Café’s hiring process is based off a performance audition. Singer and server Anais Naharro-Murphy says she thinks working at the Victor Café is special because it’s a family business run by people who care deeply about both their employees and their business. A normal night at the Victor Café is like a night at any other restaurant, apart from voice warmups in the back alley and opera performances, cued by a bell, about every twenty minutes. As the Victor Café’s owner, Rick is also the executive chef. He says he likes to keep the menu based consistently on what his grandmothers would cook – traditional Italian food – with the occasional twist. The Victor Café is a Philadelphia landmark today, with famous scenes in movies like Rocky and, more recently, Creed. If you haven’t visited the Victor Café yet, you ought to make a reservation and prepare yourself for some beautiful opera music and delicious Italian food.

Philly Pops

We head out on the town with the Philly POPS, a 65-piece orchestra that plays American pop favorites from Broadway to “Top 40” hits. Suzanne meets Michael Krajewski, Music Director of the Philly POPS, and learns how both his career and the Philly POPS have evolved since his induction in 2013.

The difference between a pops orchestra and a classical symphony orchestra is simply in the type of music each performs. A classical orchestra plays classical music specifically written for a symphony orchestra, while a pops orchestra plays music of various genres of popular music like jazz, movie soundtracks, “Top 40” hits and beyond. Michael Krajewski became the Musical Director of the Philly POPS in 2013, and he is responsible for the orchestra’s amazing comeback from trying times. Frank Giordano, Philly POPS President & CEO, reveals that the Philly POPS were in bankruptcy when Michael was hired. After 34 years under the iconic Peter Nero’s direction, the POPS programming was becoming stale, and Frank knew they needed fresh programming. Famous composer and conductor Marvin Hamlisch mentioned to Frank that Michael was the best programmer in the business, and they set up a meeting. Frank saw exciting potential in Michael and trusted that he could revamp the program. Although the Philly POPS, and Frank especially, were nervous to replace the talented Peter Nero, their decision panned out extraordinarily well. Frank says it was “love at first note;” the orchestra and the audience immediately loved Michael and his humor. 

Michael’s responsibilities as the Philly POPS Music Director include conducting the concerts, planning programs, picking songs, mapping out entire seasons, booking guest artists and beyond. Michael says that some songs are much easier to pull off than others, but with the help of a talented arranger and orchestrator, the pieces turn out to be quite amazing. He believes that the Philly POPS are the best pops in the country because their orchestra is completely dedicated to being a pops orchestra, while other orchestras play both classical and pops. Preparing for the Philly POPS famous Christmas show begins with hard work and planning in the summer and throughout the fall. Michael says being the Music Director for the Philly POPS is his dream job; he can’t believe he gets paid to do a job he loves so much. His dedication and love for music is evident in every amazing Philly POPS performance.  

Larry and Carol Spitz

Dr. Larry Spitz, a Philadelphia internist, and his wife, Carol Klein, spent decades in the medical field before deciding it was time for a change of pace. The couple agreed to spend less time at work and more time focusing on ceramics, an art form they’ve both practiced enjoyed for years. Suzanne visits Larry and Carol’s studio in Philadelphia to learn more about their work. 

Although Dr. Larry Spitz still practices Internal Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania hospital, he considers himself a full-time artist alongside his wife, Carol. Carol also works at Penn Hospital, managing the Penn Diagnostic Center, and has a master’s degree in Developmental Biology and Biochemistry. Science isn’t the only passion that Larry and Carol share; they’ve both been working with ceramics since they were young adults. While studying medicine at Princeton, Larry learned many ceramics methods and techniques from Hawaii-born artist, Toshiko Takaezu. Carol studied ceramics in high school, and has practiced the art form ever since. Today, Larry and Carol have a studio in Philadelphia, where they spend about three hours a day making ceramics.

Larry and Carol believe that having a shared passion is important to a relationship; they work together to solve problems and expand their visions. Larry’s signature ceramic creations are known for being big and unusually light, a characteristic he acquired from Japanese ceramics traditions. He fills a mold with plaster and carves a vessel out of the mold once hardened. He then creates layers with clay to keep the vessels very thin, yet strong. While spinning, Larry adds distinct colors to the clay to give his art a dynamic energy. When Larry is happy with the progress of his piece, he places it in the kiln to create a hardened, finished product. Unlike her husband, Carol incorporates textiles into her pieces to produce unique designs and effects. After making a basic shape using recycled clay and fabrics, she finishes her pieces with unusual patterns using various materials. Although Larry and Carol use very different approaches for their creations, they both typically finish a piece within 24 hours. This amazing duo may not have taught us how to master ceramics, but they did teach us that the couple that creates together, stays together! 

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