WHAT: The West Philadelphia Orchestra is a 15-member band founded a year ago, here in West Philly, to play music from the Balkan region. This music of southeastern Europe is influenced by various ethnic groups from the former Ottoman Empire.
ORIGINS: Twenty-five-year-old musician-organizer Gregg Mervine (who is not from the Balkan region, by the way) grew tired of commuting to New York for the gypsy music scene. A former University of Sciences student, he drew up songs on his own and invited fellow players to share his love of music from Romania, Hungary, Serbia and Macedonia. Mervine, who now plays percussion and does vocals, eventually established a regular group of people who reflect the diverse origins of Balkan music. “We’re just fifteen additions from Philadelphia.” he says. “Some of us are jazz, classical, and some people come from bluegrass. We have a lot of influences from such different backgrounds.”
WHY THE NAME?: Many similar bands in Europe are simply named after their location. Following that tradition, Mervine and his bandmates took on the name West Philadelphia Orchestra.
PENN CONNECTION: This hipster ensemble includes Penn undergrad Yonatan Mazuz on tenor sax and post-doc researcher Janos Perge on violin and vocals.
WHAT’S GOING ON: You may have heard them from your backyard—the band often practicies at Mervine’s home at 45th and Locust streets. West Philly Orchestra can also be heard as they take to the Old City streets on First Fridays. They have performed at the Kimmel Center and the Rotunda. Catch them every month at the bar Tritone (located at 1508 South St.) for a Balkan dance party. Their next extravaganza is set for 10 p.m. on Nov. 18.
WHY GO SEE THEM?: Simple. It’s the only Balkan instrumental ensemble in the area. According to Mervine, people who have never heard this complex musical genre before usually like it. Possibly because the music is so easy to dance to. “It’s a new sound, but very accessible. It’s [got] a good rhythm and beat.”
MORE INFO: Visit their homepage at www.myspace.com/westphiladelphiaorchestra. Make sure to get a sneak preview with their online video and music tracks.
Originally published on November 15, 2007