March 16, 2018

RPO Donor Commissions Oboe Concerto

When the RPO unveils Allen Shawn’s Oboe Concerto on March 22 and 24, your attention will likely be focused on the performers: RPO Principal Oboe Erik Behr, the orchestra behind him, and Ward Stare on the podium. But one person you won’t see on stage is Ron Fielding, who commissioned the concerto. Without his generous support, you would not be hearing the world premiere of this work.

A Rochester resident for nearly four decades, Mr. Fielding has been an RPO donor for more than 15 years. In 2010, he commissioned Allen Shawn’s Violin Concerto, written for and performed by RPO Concertmaster Juliana Athayde. In 2012 he endowed the Ron and Donna Fielding bassoon chair, currently occupied by Matthew McDonald. With this latest gift, Mr. Fielding aims to further highlight and support the works of contemporary, living composers, and introduce their works to a wider audience.

Ron Fielding

 “Classical music needs to be supported,” Fielding says, adding that many audiences don’t get enough exposure to works composed later than the early twentieth century. Fielding also notes the important role patronage has long played in the arts. Without patrons to support them, composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Puccini, and many others would not be able to get on with their work. As gifts like Mr. Fielding’s prove, patronage in the arts is still very much alive and well.

Mr. Fielding himself was introduced to classical music at an early age and has played both piano and saxophone. In 11th grade he entered the Putney School in Putney, Vermont to study music theory. His roommate while at the Putney School was none other than Allen Shawn, with whom Mr. Fielding shares a lasting friendship. (Another Putney alum, Isaiah Jackson, was the RPO's  Music Director from 1973 to 1987). Though Mr. Fielding did not pursue a career in music after graduating from Putney, he remains a passionate supporter of classical and contemporary music. He plans to attend both performances of the Oboe Concerto this month, noting that he enjoys new works even more the second time around!

Allen Shawn’s Oboe Concerto will premiere at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre on Thursday, March 22 at 7:30pm and Saturday, March 24 at 8pm. Also on the program are Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and Haydn’s Symphony No. 22, “The Philosopher.” For more information on the program, read the Bravo program book online, listen to Music Director Ward Stare discuss the program in this short video, or attend a pre-concert chat. Tickets are available at

October 24, 2017

RPO Principal Conductor Michael Butterman marks his final season in 2017-18

Michael Butterman
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) and Michael Butterman announce today that Butterman has decided to conclude his tenure as Principal Conductor for Education and Community Engagement (The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Chair) at the end of his current contract, which expires on August 31, 2018. Maestro Butterman will continue to serve in his current RPO position through the 2017/18 season.

“We are grateful for Michael’s years of service and dedication to the RPO,” says RPO President & CEO Curt Long. “As creator, conductor, and host of hundreds of concerts for young people and adults over the past 17 years, Michael has deepened our commitment to inspire, educate, and engage our community through music. The RPO is privileged to have had the substantial contributions that Michael has made to the Orchestra and the Rochester community.”

Butterman was named RPO Principal Conductor for Education and Outreach – the first endowed position of its kind in the country – in 2000, following a two-year search. During his tenure, the Orchestra has refined its approach to education, specifically emphasizing interactive programming that complements classroom curricula. It has also expanded its audience and reach, impacting more than 20,000 students annually.

"Michael has made a tremendous contribution to the RPO family and to our community during his remarkable tenure, passionately sharing his love of music and enriching the lives of audiences of all ages throughout Rochester,” adds RPO Music Director Ward Stare. “We are especially grateful for the standard of excellence Michael has set for our education programs and know that many thousands of students and families will continue to benefit from his incredible work."

Butterman’s role has included planning and conducting Sunday Matinee, OrKIDStra, Primary Education, Intermediate Education, Tiny Tots, Around the Town, and City and County concerts. He has also appeared on the Philharmonics and Pops Series, and has conducted the RPO’s annual performances of The Nutcracker with Rochester City Ballet. In 2011, he conducted the RPO on a recording of The Story of Babar featuring actor John Lithgow. In 2013, he received the Monroe County Music Educators’ Award for his contributions to area school music programs.

“Michael has been deeply committed to the idea that orchestra music is an essential part – not a frivolous extra – in the education of children,” states former RPO Principal Percussionist Bill Cahn, who is also a passionate music educator. “His concerts for Rochester’s children have been everything that an educational program by a symphony orchestra should be: centered on some of the world’s most inspiring classical music; focused and well-thought-out narrations with universal subjects; and interactive experiences that enable students to participate.”

In addition to his RPO position, Butterman is the music director of the Boulder Philharmonic, Shreveport Symphony, and Pennsylvania Philharmonic Orchestras. He just completed a 15-year tenure with the Jacksonville Symphony, first as associate, and then as resident conductor. A sought-after guest conductor, he’s also led many of the country’s preeminent ensembles, including the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras.

“As my professional responsibilities expand, and in particular, as our daughter prepares to enter high school in the fall of 2018, I feel it important to make adjustments to reduce my travel schedule and workload in general. I do so only after a great deal of reflection, since my work with the RPO has been among the most fulfilling experiences of my life,” says Butterman. “Our primary responsibilities as professional musicians are to communicate the joy of music and to help connect ever more people to its life-enriching power. The RPO embraces these goals, and it has been a privilege to work with my extraordinary colleagues in the Orchestra in the service of this vision.”

Butterman’s conducting highlights in the current season include the following Sunday Matinees: Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” (Nov. 19), Anderson & Roe (April 15), and Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 (June3). He will also conduct The Nutcracker (Nov. 22-26) as well as this season’s OrKIDStra finale: Beethoven Lives Upstairs (May 20). Although his official tenure will conclude at the end of the 2017/18 season, he will return to lead several performances in the 2018/19 season, including some OrKIDStra, Sunday Matinee, and Primary Education concerts.

“Michael has been a part of the RPO family for my entire tenure and it has been a joy to work with him on wide-ranging projects that have benefited our community,” says RPO Concertmaster Juliana Athayde. “He never fails to brings an inspiring level of commitment to the music and communicates effortlessly with audiences. I always look forward to his educations concerts especially, as he finds dynamic ways to connect students to symphonic music, and their reactions as they experience much of this music for the first time are thrilling. We are sad to see Michael go, but look forward to his return as a guest in the coming seasons.”

The RPO will celebrate Butterman’s 18 years of service with a special concert to be announced.

October 12, 2017

RPO reports balanced budget for first time in six years

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) closed its books on a highly successful 2016/17 season while opening its 95th season with a trio of outstanding programs that reflect its commitment to providing excellent symphonic music to the community: Itzhak Perlman on Tuesday, September 12; Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik’s A cELLAbration: The Music of Ella and More on Friday and Saturday, September 15 and 16; and Grieg’s Piano Concerto + Cinderella with Music Director Ward Stare on September 21 and 23.

On September 1, Orchestra management also transitioned smoothly to new President and Chief Executive Officer Curt Long from Ralph Craviso, who was appointed Interim President & CEO in 2015 (later dropping the "Interim" from his title) to assist the Orchestra in a financial turnaround.

The news about that turnaround is also exceptional: the RPO’s five-year financial plan has achieved a balanced budget for the fiscal year ending August 31, 2017 (the first year of that five-year plan, which was developed under Craviso’s leadership) for the first time in six years. The foundation of that plan included improvements in fundraising as well as in expanded programming – including concerts involving films, video games, etc. – to bring in new audiences. It also relied on ongoing contract concessions by the RPO musicians themselves.

The results are extremely encouraging. This past season’s ticket sales were up by 20%, reflecting an increase of 10% more subscribers and 30% more individual concert patrons. Public support followed suit: the RPO saw an increase of 25% in fundraising during 2016/17, including a season-ending, matching-gift Summer Challenge campaign that exceeded its $200,000 goal.

“This is the first step of a journey that will hopefully take this world-class orchestra to long-term financial stability,” explains Ingrid Stanlis, newly voted chairperson of the RPO Board of Directors.
“We owe a great debt to Ralph Craviso and outgoing Board Chair Jules Smith for their exceptional work through this process. With the excellent artistic leadership provided by Music Director Ward Stare as well as Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik, and the recent appointment of Curt Long with his 24 years of success managing symphony orchestras, the Board is confident that we will continue to advance that five-year plan.”

This upward trajectory – along with the stellar reputation of the RPO – is what drew Long from his post as president of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra (ASO), where he increased ticket revenues by more than 70 percent. During his tenure there, he also oversaw the ASO make its Carnegie Hall debut, release a limited-pressing recording of commissioned works, engage Carlos Izcaray as new Music Director, expand education programs both in Greater Birmingham and in underserved rural communities throughout Alabama, and successfully launch the Sound Edge Festival.

“I am excited to assume this leadership role and my family and I look forward to becoming part of the Rochester community,” says Long. “Even as we celebrate the start of a wonderful turnaround for the RPO, we also need to remember that there is much work yet to be done as we enter the second year of our five-year plan. We need to continue to grow audiences and – like most orchestras around the country, which generate more than half their revenue from contributions – to continue to rely upon the generosity of this supportive community in order to serve Greater Rochester with excellent and ever-evolving programs that engage, entertain, and educate.”

September 25, 2017

Meet Karl Vilcins, new bassoon and contra-bassoon

A Long Island native, bassoonist Karl Vilcins is a graduate of Ohio State University and the Manhattan School of Music. From 2005-2011, he served as principal bassoon with the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra. For the past five years, he has worked as a New York City freelance musician, playing with many groups including the Orchestra of St. Lukes, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, American Ballet Theater, and the American Composers Orchestra.

Personal: Married to Aimee, daughter Ava (5), son Jacob (4), Shelby, black lab

On choosing bassoon: I started clarinet in fourth grade. One night I was watching a PBS broadcast of an orchestra concert with my grandmother. I don’t remember the piece they were playing, but it featured the bassoon section and I immediately fell in love with it! I went up to my band director the next day and told him I had to play bassoon. He then tried to discourage me from playing it, saying “You seriously want to play this thing?!?!” Look at all the thumb keys!!!” The rest is history!

How would I describe myself:
Easy going, with very frequent spells of silliness I have two small kids!

I enjoy carpentry and furniture making; I don’t see it as being that different to reed making. I do fair amount of carpentry as a hobby and a small side business

What I’m reading: Anything by Mo Willems (children’s books). The life of a father with two kids! Also, I love my Woodsmith Magazine.

Favorite concerts this season: I’m looking forward to Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. It has a very fun contra-bassoon solo. Also, Harry Potter. Is there an explanation needed?

Look for Karl onstage this fall, and read more about him on!