December 17, 2009

Holiday Music Picks for 2009

It’s time again for an informal review of holiday music from my personal CD collection. Although I already have lots of holiday music, I went a little crazy this year adding to my collection.

After catching part of a TV special on WXXI, I had to get Sting’s new CD If On a Winter’s Night. The lead singer of The Police has gone a very different direction with this one – it’s a mellow CD, sometimes sounding Renaissance, other times folk or world music. In addition to a few traditional holiday songs, there’s music by Purcell, Schubert, Bach, and a couple of originals. He has great musicians with him too, on strings, guitar, brass, percussion, Northumbrian pipes, harp, and melodeon. Above it all soars Sting’s trademark voice.

I’ve recently discovered the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies, and so when I saw they had a holiday CD, I decided to check it out. The CD opens with a very morose sounding “Jingle Bells,” which suddenly goes up-tempo. It’s sort of manic-depressive – and very funny and unpredictable, which I’ve come to expect from this band. In addition to the traditional Christmas songs, they have a number of originals – including “Elf’s Lament” with Michael Bublé and a beautiful Hanukkah song.

Speaking of Michael Bublé, my husband gave me Bublé’s holiday EP, which showcases this jazz crooner in a terrific version of Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song,” as well as “Let It Snow,” “White Christmas,” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” It may be a short CD – but a number of these songs are definitely going into the holiday mix on my iPod.

After hearing the RPO’s Motown concert back in October, I decided to get a Motown holiday CD – and The Best of Motown Christmas: The Christmas Collection features great music by The Supremes, Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, The Four Tops, and Marvin Gaye. Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas” is a beautiful wish for peace on earth, and The Temptations do a really grooving version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

For something a little different, I found Sunday Music 5: Holiday. These collections are put out by Barnes & Noble and feature a wide range of music by various artists. This holiday mix includes Norah Jones, Ingrid Michaelson, Sufjan Stevens (I love his CD Illinois), Ray Charles, and Lou Rawls. There were also several artists I didn’t know, but was pleased to discover – The Bird and the Bee, and Imogen Heap.

And of course every year I play the RPO’s A Holiday Celebration. Jeff Tyzik’s “Chanukah Suite” is one of my favorites, and “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas” makes me chuckle. “Three Songs from Home Alone” are surprisingly touching, considering how funny that movie is. Several songs on the CD will be played at the RPO Holiday Pops concert this weekend – Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” (a classic!), “Silent Night,” “Ave Maria,” and “Gospel Hallelujah.” Click here for more info.

From everyone here at the RPO, we wish you a very joyous and happy holiday season and look forward to seeing you at the concerts this weekend and in 2010!

December 11, 2009

Our first glance at the designers’ Showhouse presentation boards!

This week, I snuck into the office conference room to get a peek at the gorgeous and creative design boards being presented to the design committee for this Spring’s RPO Symphony Showhouse. Through their presentation boards, the 30 area designers for this major fundraising project show the color palette, fabric samples, cabinetry, wall and window coverings, and furniture concepts which will be used to design and furnish two separate Showhouse homes on one site, a unique Showhouse experience. Pictured here are Anita Hansen and Karen Hill of Hansen + Hill Interiors, explaining their board to the committee. The houses are located next door to one another at the Cottages at Malvern Hill in Pittsford, currently being built by Ketmar Development.

It’s hard to believe, but only five months from now – opening on May 22 running through June 13, 2010 – the fully-designed houses will be completely finished and open for the public to see!

Having been through two RPO Symphony Showhouses (they happen biennially), I’m particularly excited about this year’s integration of music and design. Each of the two cottage-style houses will be themed as either the “Philharmonics” or the “Pops” house. And the designers each have chosen a particular piece of music performed by the RPO as inspiration for their room or space. I can’t wait to see how that translates!

Showhouse tickets won’t be available until early Spring, but you can stay up-to-date through our website at

December 3, 2009

New Work by Jeff Tyzik Debuts Next Week

Jeff Tyzik's new work RIFFS will debut at next week's concert by the Eastman Wind Ensemble (EWE), with Eastman School of Music Professor of Percussion Michael Burritt as soloist. Friday, December 11 at 8:00 pm in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.

"I’ve always been captivated by the skillful development of simple musical ideas by composers I admire, from Beethoven to Bernstein." says Jeff. "On the jazz side of my life, I have also been excited by the energy created from the repetition and development of small phrases which jazz musicians call riffs.

"When Mark Scatterday asked me to compose a piece for Michael Burritt and the EWE, I thought it might be fun to combine jazz and classical compositional techniques in creating a vehicle for Michael’s incredible talents. Michael was very interested in a piece that would highlight his drum set abilities and it fit perfectly with my musical intentions in creating RIFFS. Three sections including fast swing, a heavy medium swing, and an Afro-Cuban finale turn the EWE into a huge jazz ensemble with Michael leading the way."

This free concert is a preview of an upcoming EWE concert at the Midwest Clinic in Chicago, the world's largest instrumental music conference. For more information about the other works on the program, click here.

November 25, 2009

This Thanksgiving - Enjoy Cranberry Corn Bread from the RPO Cookbook!

As you prepare for tomorrow's feast, we have a recipe for you to enjoy, straight from the "RPO Cooks!" cookbook. RPO President and CEO Charlie Owens shared his recipe for cranberry corn bread. He calls it “a delicious new spin on old-fashioned corn bread," and adds: "In my family, we love to reheat the leftover cornbread on Sunday mornings, sliced in half lengthwise and topped with maple syrup and maybe even two fried eggs!"

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. buttermilk
1 c. yellow cornmeal
2 c. all-purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. fresh cranberries, chopped

Preheat oven to 400°. Cream the butter and sugar. Beat eggs, then beat them into butter and sugar. Add buttermilk. Mix well. Sift together cornmeal, flour, and baking powder; mix gradually into liquid mixture and fold in cranberries. Pour batter into a greased 9” square baking pan. Bake for 35 minutes or until the center springs back when pressed gently (or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean).

Click here to order your copy of "RPO Cooks" and other great merchandise from the RPO Gift Shop.

November 21, 2009

Exciting Shostakovich and Soaring Birds

One of the first RPO concerts I ever heard featured Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony. I was not familiar with the composer at the time, but left wanting to hear more. Since then I’ve heard several of his symphonies as well as chamber works, and each time I left feeling inspired. His music isn’t particularly hummable, but something about the orchestration, the color of the instruments, and the emotion behind the music grabs my attention.

Tonight’s RPO concert featured Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1, written when he was just 19 years old. The piece regularly surprised me – one minute I thought I heard English horn, but looked to find it was the bassoon. At another point I thought the basses were playing the melody – but it turned out to be cellos. And then when I thought for sure it was violins – it was the viola section playing. It’s almost as if he was toying with your perception of which instruments were playing at any given time. The piece even had the classical equivalent of a drum solo – with an extended part for solo timpani.

The rest of the concert was wonderful too. It started with Finnish composer Rautavaara’s Cantus arcticus, Concerto for Birds and Orchestra. Centered around field recordings he made in the arctic circle, it’s a bird-watchers paradise (at least in my imagination). At times it sounded like a film score – Winged Migration, perhaps. The last movement reminded me of the time I saw hundreds of snow geese fill the sky during their annual fall migration through Vermont, and was equally thrilling.

Guest conductor Hannu Lintu used his long arms and expressive gestures to draw a rich, full sound from the Orchestra for Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. And soloist Augustin Hadelich held the audience spellbound – you could hear a pin drop during his solo passages. He delighted the cheering crowd by playing an encore from a Bach Violin Sonata.

Hearing the Tchaikovsky concerto also got me thinking of the wonderful melodies in The Nutcracker – less than a week away!

November 17, 2009

Congratulations, Nancy!

Nancy Goldsmith Zawacki, the RPO’s VP of Marketing & Communications, was one of the honorees this afternoon at the Rochester Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40” luncheon. Chosen by a panel of community leaders, the honorees are recognized for having reached impressive professional heights before the age of 40 while simultaneously giving freely of their time and talent in supporting our community. In addition to all she does for the RPO, Nancy is active with the Ad Council of Rochester, American Marketing Association, March of Dimes, Pittsford Little League, Pittsford PTSA, and the YWCA. Congratulations on all your accomplishments!

Photo by Walter Colley

November 11, 2009

Jami Tyzik on “Opera in Love”

Before TV soap operas and reality shows, there was opera. Take the classic story of guy meets girl, guy falls in love with girl, girl leaves him for another guy … and add in powerful music, and you have opera, with its passionate portrayals of love, honor, despair, and betrayal.

Inspired by her experiences as a singer, soprano Jami Tyzik (daughter of the RPO’s Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik) has put together a new program featuring some of the world’s greatest opera works. Before this week’s performances (November 13 & 14, Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre), she took a few minutes to talk with us about this exciting new production.

How did this project come together?

The concept for Opera in Love is something that came to me a few years back. I spent four summers singing with the Aspen Opera Theatre out in Colorado. Every summer, we would do these fabulous house concerts at the homes of different donors and patrons of the festival. The evenings were always very exciting for the audience because they were getting to hear the greatest hits of opera up close and personal. I became very inspired to take this successful concept and translate it to a much larger audience. Opera in Love is a concert that takes the best and most famous moments from opera and combines that with witty introductions and truly seeks to break down the wall between the performers and the audience.

What’s it like working together on stage?

While the incredibly beautiful music of opera is enough to tantalize the listener, it was truly meant for the stage. In Opera in Love, we take each aria, duet and quartet, and create a mini scene from the opera where we are in character acting out the story for the audience. It takes the evening to a much higher level when the elements of music and drama are joined together on one stage. As well as diving into the characters of each scene we perform, all of the singers in Opera in Love feed off of each other’s intense energy and the result is a very entertaining and moving performance.

Tell us about some of the highlights of Opera in Love. What will people hear?

The evening includes highlights from La Boheme, Carmen, Rigoletto, La Traviata, as well as famous arias by Mozart and Donizetti, just to name a few things. All of this music has won the test of time and continues to influence our culture to this very day. Even the audience member who has never seen an opera, and who has no interest in seeing an opera, will find the music to be very familiar, entertaining, and memorable.

Have you worked with the other soloists before?

Our singers hail from all over the country. This project is actually my first time working with all of the singers. The opera world is pretty small and I've had the pleasure of hearing them perform over the years. We all came together last spring as we were preparing and developing this project, and the combination of our four voices together was truly astounding. Our soprano, Mela Dailey, is the wife of former Rochester Philharmonic Assistant Conductor, Peter Bay. Our tenor, Brandon Wood, is married to another wonderful soprano, Danielle Herman Wood, who grew up in Penfield. Our baritone, Marcus DeLoach, lived in New York City for years and has recently made the move down to Texas.

For more information about the concert, and to purchase tickets, click here.

November 6, 2009

The Insightful Intern: The Magnificence of Kodak Hall and Its Performers

I started my internship at the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra at the beginning of September. As a senior Communications/Journalism major at St. John Fisher College, I wanted to try something new and something different. Considering my limited, if not non-existent, classical music knowledge, interning for the RPO certainly fell under those two requirements.

In the ten or so weeks that I’ve been at the RPO, I’ve gotten a chance to be a part of so much. About two weeks ago, I walked into Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre for the very first time to see Vadim Gluzman rehearse. Aside from being blown away by the soloist, I remember standing in the aisle of the theatre and looking up for the first time at the breathtaking grand chandelier. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words; honestly, neither a picture nor a thousand words could describe the beauty and the magnificence of Kodak Hall.

This week, I had a chance to see Haochen Zhang, Gold Medalist of the prestigious Van Cliburn competition, rehearse in the great Kodak Hall and I was mesmerized. As soon as Zhang would stop playing in the rehearsal, I saw him look around the theatre in the same admiration that I had only a week or so before. I was reminded of the fact that he’s just 19 years old, juggling not just a touring schedule, but also homework and other things typical of a teenager.

When Zhang plays though, he’s not a typical 19-year-old guy. He’s an experienced, confident, mature musician. His fingers sweep across the keys in a melodic and captivating blur, and you’re lost not only in the gracefulness of his playing, but also in the rich and powerful tones of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, resonating through the hall.

As if being the youngest person to ever win the Van Cliburn Competition doesn’t distinguish him enough as a great musician, he is also the first Chinese recipient. Interestingly enough, the piece that Zhang will be performing tomorrow night—Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1—is the same piece that Harvey Lavan “Van” Cliburn Jr. himself played in 1958 to win the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition.

Don’t worry though; you can still get your tickets for the performance tomorrow night. Just click here.

October 28, 2009

Musings from Vadim's rehearsal...

This morning brought one of those opportunities I don’t often get, but when they happen, they’re unforgettable. I sat in on the first RPO rehearsal of the Violin Concerto by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius with this week’s soloist, violinist Vadim Gluzman and Music Director Christopher Seaman. In a unique turn of events, my RPO colleague, Janice, was able to provide a couple of photos for this blog from onstage, and here’s why. Gluzman wanted to actually face the orchestra for this first musical meeting with our musicians, rather than rehearsing with his back to them, facing out to the hall as he would for a performance. Musicians communicate information with their body language, and once he started to play, it was ALL about the emotion of the piece.

With his jet black hair and clothes to match, Gluzman began to play (the violin seems to arise from a murmuring bed of orchestra strings), and one could almost feel the waves of the Baltic Sea roiling over the icy landscape, with a horizon wide with dark clouds. Gluzman has a HUGE, gorgeous sound, which filled the entire hall, even as his back was to me as I sat in the audience. It pinned me to my seat like a laser. The combination of the solo part combined with Sibelius’ lush orchestration is one of my favorite orchestral experiences. The timpani sounded as if the Nordic gods are having a heated argument, but then there’s a melody that’s passed from viola to bassoon to cello, and each can be heard as part of the whole.

Gluzman brought the second movement to life with a gutsy sound, and a push-pull of phrasing, like breathing. In the virtuosic third movement, he pulled out all his impressive technical tricks: double-stops, harmonics, and more, but all in the service of the music. Incredible.

My non-musician intern sat in on the rehearsal with me, and observed that hearing an orchestra live really IS a completely different experience from listening to a recording, noting with surprise that there’s so much more to see and hear, and so much more subtlety.

October 22, 2009

What makes Vadim Gluzman tick, plus his love affair with his violin...

In preparing to have Vadim Gluzman perform with us, we learned all kinds of fascinating things about him, as a musician and as a person. Here's a quick q&a that will give you an inkling of what makes this violinist tick:

1. What is your musical background, and how did you discover your passion for music?

I grew up in a musical family, my parents are music teachers, so it was only a matter of time until I said that I wanted to study music - I must have been about 6 at the time. But it took some years for me to realize that music is my life, it is who I am.

2. Please describe the relationship with your most influential mentor.

I would not be able to pinpoint only one - throughout my life I was incredibly fortunate to have a number of wonderful teachers and mentors. Arkady Fomin, my teacher in Dallas, TX who became more than just a teacher - a friend, a family member, to whom I am always grateful
for believing in me and helping be to become the musician and the person that I am today
Dorothy DeLay, with whom I studied at Juilliard - a true Grand Dame of violin pedagogy, she could find a "key" to the most difficult "locks." And last, but not least is Isaac Stern - I was privileged to have a chance to play for this great man number of times in Israel and in the US and each and every one of these meetings will stay in my memory and in my playing forever.

3. You will be playing Sibelius' Violin Concerto; what does it feel like to play it? What do you suggest people listen for in each of the movements?

Saga... Epos... are the words that come to mind when I think of Sibelius' music in general and of his violin concerto in particular. So grandiose, yet so intimate at moments, this piece is one of the most challenging both physically and emotionally in the violin literature, at the same time one of the most rewarding. It stands as a grand example, really one of the pinnacles of romantic writing in the violin concerto genre.

4. Your violin is an extraordinary 1690 Ex-Leopold Auer Stradivari. What sets apart this particular instrument from other violins? What do you love about it?

I have been fortunate to play this incredible violin for over a decade now thanks to the generosity of the Stradivari Society of Chicago. After all this time the instrument and I have formed a very close bond. So, describing it is rather difficult - it is almost as impossible as describing the woman that you love... The 'Ex-Auer' has a truly remarkable low register where it sounds so rich and dark that it sometimes reminds me of viola and it's high register is so incredibly penetrating that I often hear questions after a concert if I was miked... (I never am...:) )

5. Have you ever been to Rochester? In addition to performing with the RPO, do you have any other plans while you’re here?

This will be my first visit to Rochester, so I am very much looking forward to working with the wonderful RPO and Maestro Seaman!Besides that, I was hoping (time permitting of course) to make a trip to the Corning Glass Museum and perhaps to some of the NY wineries - I have heard about Swedish Hill and Goose Watch. But of course, Sibelius and my concerts with RPO are the most important, and then for my upcoming European tour I will be "visiting" with some old friends like Schubert, Franck, Korngold, and Brahms. So, my dreams of being a "tourist" in Rochester may very well only remain dreams this time...

October 21, 2009

Does Violinist Vadim Gluzman Have Multiple Personalities?

On his web site, violinist Vadim Gluzman responds to the question, “So, where do you come from?” with this: “Born in the Ukraine; Israeli (and proud of it); living in New York.”

This got me to thinking about how each of us has “multiple personalities,” and how the place we live affects how we view ourselves, and how we are viewed by others. For instance, I’ve spent more than half of my life in New England, lived in Europe as a child and then during a year abroad, and now call upstate New York home. Each of those places has shaped my perspective.

Gluzman comes to Rochester next week to debut with the RPO in Sibelius’ Violin Concerto. As a teenager in Israel, he met the renowned violinist Isaac Stern, who became his lifelong mentor.

And we’re in for an extra-special treat—Gluzman plays the extraordinary 1690 ex-Leopold Auer Stradivarius violin, loaned to him by the Stradivari Society of Chicago. If you’ve seen the movie The Red Violin, you’ll know that the older instruments have a special sound all their own. Visit Gluzman’s web site to learn more about his violin:

Click here for more information about this concert.

October 14, 2009

Rochester City Ballet Dancers Featured in Glamour Magazine

Former Rochester City Ballet members Luis Ribagorda and Sarah Lane – both now with American Ballet Theatre – were recently featured in Glamour Magazine in an article on the secrets of happy couples. Read on for their interview.

Luis and Sarah will be returning to Rochester next month for the annual Nutcracker, as Cavalier and Sugar Plum Fairy, respectively.

And—NEW this year!—Nutcracker children’s tickets … starting at $10!
Click here for more information.

It's faith!
Luis Ribagorda, 25, corps de ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Sarah Lane, 25, soloist, American Ballet Theatre; married two years

SL: I broke up with him about 5 million times. I grew up in a very Christian, controlled family. He's a laid-back Catholic. I wasn't sure it could work. Finally I realized I was happier, more myself, when I was with him. So we got married. It's not that common for two dancers.

LR: We are together most of the hours of the day, and the ballet world is very intense. We fight a lot.

SL: But not about big things anymore!

LR: And when we get to dance together, the intensity becomes absolutely amazing.

(Glamour Magazine, August 5, 2009)

October 7, 2009

Ribbon Cutting Christens Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre

This afternoon, the Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester officially named Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Numerous local dignitaries—including our own Charlie Owens and Christopher Seaman—were on hand to cut the ribbon. (Christopher Seaman pictured here next to Assemblyman David Gantt, holding a piece of the ribbon.)

Here's a view from the mezzanine level box seats, with the Eastman Philharmonia on stage rehearsing for an upcoming concert.

Dawn and Jacques Lipson and Richard and Gwen Sterns try out the box seats on the Orchestra level.

Tomorrow night's RPO festivities to inaugurate Kodak Hall include a gala Red Carpet Spectacular (sold out), the red carpet walk beginning at 7:30 pm, and the 8:30 pm concert. Former RPO Principal Timpanist John Beck will lead the red carpet procession playing a historic snare drum that was played to announce the Star Spangled Banner in September 1922.

October 6, 2009

Orchestra Has First Rehearsal at Kodak Hall

This morning, the Orchestra had its first rehearsal in the newly renovated Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Today was a test run—giving Christopher and the musicians a chance to fine tune the acoustics as they played a selection of excerpts.

We have a select few seats left for the Thursday and Saturday concerts—but a greater choice of tickets is available for the Sunday matinee. Click here for more concert information.

October 1, 2009

One Week to Opening of Kodak Hall

In just one week, the doors will open on the newly renovated Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre's for the RPO's historic inaugural season.

We have a select few seats left for the Thursday and Saturday concerts - but tickets still remain for the Sunday matinee. The concert features Beethoven's Ninth and the world premiere of Geo by Doug Lowry, Dean of the Eastman School of Music. Click here for more concert information.

September 30, 2009

Your RPO on the Airwaves

With the RPO season getting underway this week - and the opening concerts in the newly renovated Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre next week - the RPO has been on the radio airwaves to spread the word.

Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik was Steve Hausmann's guest on 92.5 WBEE this past Sunday, talking about the upcoming Motown and Opera in Love concerts, as well as his new timpani concerto. Click here to listen to the 15-minute interview.

And tomorrow, Thursday, October 1, the RPO's President & CEO Charlie Owens and Eastman School Dean Doug Lowry will be Bob Smith's guests on WXXI's 1370 Connection, talking about the theatre renovations. The program airs at 12 noon and then again at 10:00 pm. Click here to listen live on 1370 AM.

September 17, 2009

New Arrival at the RPO

They arrived at 1:40 pm on Wednesday, September 16, weighing in at 150 lbs. each.

The latest addition to the RPO family of instruments is a new set of timpani, made possible by a generous contribution from Patrick and Barbara Fulford. Patrick is on the RPO board and a percussion enthusiast.

Chris Dolson, the representative from Yamaha, flew in for the delivery and has been working with RPO Principal Timpanist Chip Ross to adjust the drums for their new home, since they had traveled many time zones to get here.

Former RPO Principal Timpanist John Beck also stopped by to check on the new arrivals (pictured here with Chris and Chip).

The new instruments will be a great addition, since not only are they beautiful instruments, but as Chip said, “the sound of a high quality timpani drum can truly enhance the color of an orchestra by leaps and bounds.”

And in other news, earlier this week another shipment of chairs arrived at the Eastman Theatre. These are the restored chairs for the Mezzanine.

September 9, 2009

Christopher Seaman Talks About the 2009-2010 Season

We recently caught up with RPO Music Director Christopher Seaman to learn more about the highlights of the upcoming concert season.

The Philharmonics Series opening will be one for the history books, with the first concerts in the renovated Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Why did you choose to open with Beethoven's Ninth?

Because it's a piece for a big occasion, and this is certainly that. Its choral finale is also full of optimism, reflecting how we all feel about the newly renovated Theatre, and all it will do for Rochester and our Orchestra.

Pianist Misha Dichter is featured on both Philharmonics and Symphony 201 concerts this year. Have you worked with him before, and how did you come to choose Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for him to perform?

Misha is an old friend; I first worked with him in Holland more than 25 years ago. His power and mastery suit him admirably to the brilliant Rhapsody, and his knowledge and ready sense of humor will make him the ideal soloist for our historic first Symphony 201.

This season has several concerts for fans of the piano, including Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 and Bernstein's Symphony No. 2, "Age of Anxiety." Please tell us more about those works.

Both Mozart and Bernstein were wonderful pianists in their own right; in fact, Bernstein performed the solo part himself at the first complete performance of his symphony for piano and orchestra. In these two pieces we have a wide range of what the piano can express in terms of brilliance and also emotion. The slow movement in Mozart's concerto is one of his most poignant creations.

Several of the orchestra musicians (Doug Prosser, Melissa Matson, Juliana Athayde, Charles Ross) are featured on concerts this year, with two of them performing world premieres. Can you tell us more about what they will be playing?

The Tomasi Trumpet Concerto is really well-written for the instrument, allowing Doug Prosser to shine as he takes center stage. It has elegance, charm, and it also requires real virtuosity, all of which Doug can readily deliver.

Harold in Italy is a major work of Berlioz – not played by the RPO since 1984 – and was inspired by a Lord Byron poem, so it's programmatic in nature. It also explores the particular color of the viola – lyrical but also poignant. Melissa is well suited to this important work. Her viola is also special, made in 1650 by Mattheus Albani.

Allen Shawn has written a wonderfully imaginative Violin Concerto for Juliana, lyrical and whimsical for much of the time, but also offering plenty of fireworks.

We are also excited about our very own Jeff Tyzik's upcoming Timpani Concerto, which Charles Ross will deliver with his customary panache. He will be playing a new set of timpani, made possible by a generous contribution from Patrick and Barbara Fulford (Patrick is on the RPO board and a percussion enthusiast). These important world premieres also show our continued adventurousness, even in challenging times.

What can patrons look forward to in the Symphony 101 Series this season?

In Symphony 101 this year we are exploring some labels easily put on music, such as "classical" and "romantic," and we shall discover that these labels can be misleading, since there is more to great music than meets the eye (or ear!). Symphony 201 is of course an important new step in this series, taking it into Kodak Hall and focusing on a single masterwork – Rachmaninoff's "Paganini Rhapsody" – in great depth.

What music is in your CD or MP3 player right now?

My iPod has a whole range of stuff, but probably my favorite listening is Beethoven's string quartets, especially the late ones. These have kept me sane when waiting at many airports.

What's your cell phone ring-tone?

The least offensive noise I could find. My house phone at home plays a Mozart piano sonata in the wrong key, but at least it's Mozart.

Where are your travels taking you during the summer break?

I am now in the middle of my Australian tour, which I do every year. I'm having a wonderful time with the orchestras and also with some young conductors I've been coaching. When it's over, I'm having a break in the UK, before coming back to Rochester for the Grand Opening!

September 8, 2009

2009-2010 Tickets Are Now On Sale!

RPO tickets went on sale at 10:00 this morning, and we had a line of people in the box office waiting to buy their tickets.

The Grand Opening of Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre on October 8, 10, & 11 includes Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and a world premiere by Eastman Dean Douglas Lowry (limited seating available for Thursday, October 8).

Concert highlights include:
  • Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 with Orli Shaham
  • 2009 Van Cliburn Gold Medalist Haochen Zhang playing Tchaikovsky
  • Misha Dichter performing Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
  • The Magic of Motown
  • ABBA: The Hits
  • South Pacific in concert
  • The Nutcracker (NEW! Children's tickets this year – starting at $10)
  • an orKIDStra concert featuring Babar the Elephant
Click here for all 2009-10 season concerts.

September 3, 2009

Q&A with Jeff Tyzik on the 2009-2010 Season

This week, we talked with RPO Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik about some highlights of the coming season and new projects he's working on.

The Pops Series opening weekend features the music of Motown. Have you worked with Spectrum and Radiance before, and what can people expect to hear at this concert?

I have worked with Spectrum both here in Rochester and also in other cities. In my opinion, they sing the classic Motown "hits" better than the original performers. It will be my first time with Radiance and I'm looking forward to the great music made famous by the "girl" groups.

The "Opera in Love" concert in November includes your daughter Jami, who sang selections from Bizet's Carmen and Gershwin's Porgy and Bess at last fall's Pops opener. Did this new concert grow out of that experience?

I was talking to Jami a year ago about wanting to do an "Opera" pops program and we decided to work together. She has put together some great new vocal talent and worked with a director to semi-stage the evening. We both want people to have a fun evening as they get to know this wonderful music in a casual setting. Also, I love being on stage with Jami.

And tell us more about Dave Bennett, who will be joining the RPO for the Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw tribute concert.

Peter Appleyard – the phenomenal 80-year-old vibes player who played with us last year – told me about Dave Bennett and since Peter worked with Benny Goodman, I figured he knew what he was talking about. I checked him out and found that he is a gifted jazz clarinetist with a strong musical resemblance to Benny Goodman.

You're writing a new Timpani Concerto for Charles Ross to perform on the Philharmonics Series. How did that come about?

Charles asked me if I would be interested in writing a concerto for him. I have started writing more creatively for the timpani since he joined the RPO and I was honored that he asked me. I'm putting the finishing touches on it as we speak.

What music is in your CD or MP3 player right now?

I'm writing so much music and concentrating on my timpani concerto that I'm not listening to anything right now.

What's your cell phone ring-tone?

Musical ring-tones drive me crazy ... I tend to keep the tunes in my head; so I'm afraid I have a standard old-fashioned ringer sound.

Where are your travels taking you during the summer break?

I'm having a short "Staycation" at home this year before my guest conducting schedule heats up in September. I'm enjoying being home with Jill and our dog "Puccini," a Coton de Tulear.

August 31, 2009

Don't Miss It!

Who is this dashing fellow? How does he jump so high? And where is he headed? Watch now, and the mystery will be solved before your very eyes!

Click on the picture - or click this link:

August 27, 2009

Six Weeks and Counting to Theatre Opening

This week, RPO PR Director Amy Blum (pictured 2nd from right, along with Wendy Borden, Karen VerSteeg, and Linda Altpeter of the Eastman School of Music) took a tour of the renovations at the Eastman Theatre.

The new boxes are now in place, and there are about 100 workers on a variety of projects in the Theatre and in the adjacent building under construction. The chandelier has been cleaned – with 750 new bulbs – and is now back up, some of the carpeting is done, and the lobby lounges are being painted. Click here for photos of the ongoing renovations on the Eastman School web site.

And don’t miss your chance to hear the RPO perform Beethoven’s Ninth in the renovated Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, Opening Weekend, October 8, 10 and 11. Click here for more info.

August 20, 2009

Q&A with Michael Butterman

Right now at the RPO, we're all getting ready for the 2009-2010 season. We caught up with Michael Butterman, the RPO's Principal Conductor for Education and Outreach (The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Chair), to find out more about the upcoming season.

Next year's orKIDStra Family Series seems to have a theme of music that illustrates a story, with Carnival of the Animals, The Snowman, Babar the Elephant, and The Firebird. Please tell us more about those concerts.

Each concert in the orKIDStra series features a marquee or "brand-name" piece around which the rest of the program will be built. We're especially excited about The Firebird, which will be presented in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre along with some absolutely fantastic life-sized shadow puppets, and the return of The Snowman for our holiday concert. This animated classic, with live music from the RPO, was such a hit last year that we decided to bring it back. I think it could very well become a favorite new holiday tradition in Rochester. (Click here to learn about the full orKIDStra Series.)

The RPO also performs concerts for schoolchildren at Kodak Hall and around Monroe County. What's planned for those next year?

Our popular Tiny Tots programs for preschoolers will explore musical opposites through a new program based on the Goldilocks fairy tale. In this version (for which I've written a narration), Goldilocks stumbles upon the forest home of three very musical bears and learns about pitch (this instrument is too high ... this one is too low ... this one is just right!), volume, and tempo. Our Intermediate concerts, held in February and March for fourth graders, will draw comparisons between language and music, exploring ways in which the structure and elements of verbal communication are similar to those of musical communication. We also have our Primary concerts in May for third graders, for which the program is still being finalized.

What will you be doing for the Around the Town concerts next season?

Our fall concerts will be a bit like the Valley Manor program from this past summer, which was well-received. I called it "In Nature's Realm," after a Dvorak tone poem, and it included familiar pieces inspired by the natural world, like the Moldau, Schumann's Spring Symphony, Debussy's Clare de Lune, and so on. In the spring, we will be performing at, among other places, the performing arts center at Penfield High School as the culmination of a joint project between the RPO and the American Studies program at the high school. Throughout the year, I'll be making several visits to their classes, giving talks and leading discussions about the place of music in American cultural history – how American music assimilated European traditions while adding ingredients from African-American culture, for example. And how composers like Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff were (or were not) affected by their own American journeys.

What's it like to conduct The Nutcracker, coordinating the music with the movements of the dancers?

You framed that question exactly correctly, since I really do feel as if I need to make the music work for the dancers. With the first few ballets I conducted, I wanted to make the music sound exactly the way I thought it should (especially in terms of tempo) if it were being performed on the concert stage. But now I always remind myself that, while I want the music to have dramatic tension and direction and so on, the dancers are the ones who are really on the line, so to speak. They have to complete their various maneuvers without tripping up and while maintaining smiles on their faces. I have great respect for what they're able to do and have become pretty accustomed to "reading" them (noticing whether I might need to speed up or slow down a bit) in performance.

You’ll also be conducting a couple of Pops concerts this year – are you brushing up on the music of ABBA?

I'm showing my age, but having grown up during the time when their music was "fresh," it's pretty much in my blood. I don't think it will take that much brushing up, frankly! And I must confess that ABBA's Greatest Hits has a semi-permanent place in one of the slots of the CD changer in our living room. Our five-year-old daughter uses the room as a makeshift dance studio and "Dancing Queen" is one of her favorites.

What music is in your CD or MP3 player right now?

Besides ABBA? I feel like I listen to music for a living, in a way, so I rarely have it on as background or merely for relaxation. I spend a lot of time with new pieces that composers or publishers send my way. If I'm preparing to conduct a certain piece, I also try to spend some time listening to other works by that composer (especially ones I don't know) to help provide a kind of context for understanding the one I'm about to do. And I try to do a fair amount of exploring ... just going to the Naxos site, for example, and browsing around, listening to bits and pieces of this and that; much the way one might browse the shelves in a bookstore.

What's your cell phone ring-tone?

You know, I always have it on vibrate. I listen to so much music that I probably wouldn't hear it ring anyway!

Where are your travels taking you during the summer break?

I was in Chicago in June for the League of American Orchestras conference. I've also been to Boulder (and Rochester) for concerts, but since the fall is shaping up to be especially travel-heavy, we decided to take some time for fun this summer. We visited family in California and Canada, met other family for some beach time in Florida, and thoroughly enjoyed our first experience at Disneyland.

August 11, 2009

What’s Your Favorite Summer Food?

Well, it’s finally starting to feel like summer, with warmer weather and time to sit out on the porch before the sun goes down. With the summer concert series over – and the new season still weeks away – many of the RPO staff and musicians are taking some well-deserved vacation time.

But before they set out for summer music festivals, hiking paths, or family vacations, I asked them about their favorite summer food. And not surprisingly, had a range of responses (see below). For myself, I always look forward to a dinner of corn on the cob with hot dogs, coleslaw, chips, and either watermelon or ice cream for dessert.

If you have your own favorites – or a suggestion of a new recipe to try – let me know…
  • Whatever is locally grown and in season! Asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc: we live in a great place for "terroir" eating!
    – Peter Kurau, French Horn

  • One of my favorite summer recipes is Fresh Corn Salad from the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. It is a delicious way to enjoy the summer treat of sweet corn - cooked slightly, mixed with cider vinegar, olive oil, fresh basil, red onion, salt, and pepper. In fact, I'm making a big batch of it for a party this weekend! It's always a big hit.
    – Stephanie Blaha, French Horn

  • My favorite summer foods include white peaches, juicy cherries, gazpacho, and ice cream.
    – Libba Seka, Viola

  • My favorite summer food is a cheeseburger, the same as my favorite winter food.
    – Ken Langley, Violin

July 29, 2009

Highlights of this Past Season

As the RPO’s 2008-2009 season winds down and we prepare for the new season ahead of us in a newly renovated theatre, we decided to take a look back at the past season and asked RPO musicians and staff: What were your favorite moments of this past season?

For me, some of the highlights were the new guitar concerto by Sergio Assad (so neat to see a guitar quartet fronting the Orchestra); the all-French program with pianist Pascal Roge; the Philharmonics’ finale with Holst’s The Planets; and the two recent all-Mozart concerts at Hochstein.

Read on for more season highlights …
  • My memorable moments: Herbig's Mahler 6; Ling's Shostakovich 5; Remmereit’s Rachmaninoff 2; Cirque de la Symphonie; playing Tchaikovsky 5th 6 or 7 times on educational concerts at 10:00am!

    And another one – Michael Butterman's concert presenting the sound track to the Wizard of Oz. It was great music, extremely difficult, and required phenomenal preparation and leadership from the podium. Michael was sensational, and the orchestra sounded great. The event made a great impression on me, even though I couldn't see anything of the movie!

    – Peter Kurau, French Horn

  • I really enjoyed the Mahler Symphony No. 6 concerts in March. I love Mahler's music and had never gotten to play his Sixth Symphony before. It is such a thrill to be on a stage full of talented musicians playing such great music. We had a great section of nine horn players that week, so it was a lot of fun!

    – Stephanie Blaha, French Horn

  • It's like asking which child is your favorite! So, here are three:
    1) Finally coming home to perform on July 4th in Rochester
    2) Don Potter and the RPO: "Over the Rainbow"
    3) The RPO performing the music of Led Zeppelin. Breathtaking!

    – Nancy Zawacki, Vice President of Marketing & Communications.

  • My favorite parts of this season were the Brahms 2nd Concerto played by John Lill and every second of the rehearsals and performances with Gunther Herbig. Mr. Lill trusted the score to speak for itself, without intervention from a later period's excesses, and the resulting architecture was a monument to Brahms' genius. Maestro Herbig is, along with Jerzy Semkov, one of the last of the great conductors trained in the European tradition that puts quality of sound and phrasing before speed and volume. His Mahler 6th was one of the high points of my career.

    – Ken Langley, Violin

July 17, 2009

Musician Visits with ESY Students

Earlier this week, RPO Principal Bassoon Abe Weiss took some time to have a musical visit with students participating in the ESY (Extended School Year) program at Brighton High School, and their teacher, Joanne Ouzer. In addition to demonstrating the many intricacies of the bassoon, he spent time chatting about his role as a musician with the Orchestra. The ESY students are exploring the Greater Rochester Community and all that it has to offer.

July 10, 2009

RPO Summer Series Starts Tonight!

Starting tonight, the First Niagara Center City Pavilion will be home of the RPO Summer Series, kicking off with the Best of the Blues with Byron Stripling, Dee Daniels, Bobby Floyd and Jeff Clayton. The rehearsal this afternoon sounded great!

And you won't miss the Pavilion - diagonally across from the Eastman Theatre. Just watch for the big blue banner!

Next week - Russian classics by Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky (July 17 & 18), followed by The Music of Led Zeppelin (July 24), The Music of Pink Floyd (July 25), Beatlemania (July 29), and Three Broadway Divas (July 31 & August 1). Click here for more information.

June 19, 2009

Youth Orchestra Collects Violins for School 19 Students

Since last fall, parents and students in the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra have been involved in a music program at Dr. Charles T. Lunsford School 19 in Rochester, helping teach violin to the school's 3rd grade classes. They have also collected close to 50 string instruments which are now in the hands of young musicians.

This week, 17 of the students performed a concert at Bernunzio’s Uptown Music during the Jazz Festival. With a backdrop of colorful guitars, the students – with their teachers Robert Faulkner, Gretchen Judge, and Patty Yarmel – demonstrated how much they had learned over the year. First they played a very simple version of “Apple Pie,” then went on to play more elaborate versions. They also played “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in more and more complex rhythmic patterns.

Family members and friends were in the audience – and the pride really showed on the students’ faces at the end of the concert. Click here to watch a story about these young musicians on WROC-TV, Channel 8.

If you are interested in contributing a student violin, or making a monetary donation to fund violins for School 19, please contact Susan Basu at 454-7311 x224 or email

June 4, 2009

First Niagara Pavilion Goes Up Across from Eastman Theatre

Assembly began on Monday morning for the RPO’s new summer home at the First Niagara Center City Pavilion (see photos below). First, it will be used for Club Pass concerts during the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival June 12–20 and then it will stay up through the month of July.

Conveniently located diagonally across from the Eastman Theatre, the Pavilion will provide complete patron amenities including air-conditioning, seating for approximately 2,000, and concessions. Click here for a fact sheet with more information, including seating charts.

For four weekends beginning July 10 & 11 – plus one special mid-week concert of Beatlemania! – exceptional guest artists will join the RPO for Best of the Blues, classical masterpieces by Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, the hits of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, and, closing out our summer pavilion concerts, your favorite Broadway classics. Click here for the full Summer Series information.

Monday morning - the beams have arrived and footings for the Pavilion are being set in place. (Click on photos for bigger image)

Tuesday - the footings have all been securely bolted into the pavement, and the facade of the Pavilion is going up, beam by beam.

By Wednesday, the structure is really taking shape, seen here from Chestnut street looking across to the Eastman Theatre.

One more section of the roof goes up and is locked into place.

A view of the Pavilion from the corner of East Main Street and Gibbs, in front of the YMCA.

And here's the view of the Pavilion from in front of the Eastman Theatre.

May 29, 2009

RPO Has Great Big Band Sound

This morning, I stopped over at the dress rehearsal for tonight's concert, and boy, can the RPO swing!

Conducted by Jeff Tyzik, Night at the Cotton Club recreates the music of the 1920s and '30s, with mood lighting to make it feel like the legendary Harlem nightclub.

Trumpeter Byron Stripling (pictured) was in fine form and I can't wait to hear the whole concert - which also features singer Carmen Bradford, drummer Bob Breithaupt, and tap dancer Ted Levy.

Joining the RPO in the saxophone section (pictured here between Nancy Boone and Ray Ricker) is Jamal Rossi - a different role for him than his usual one as Senior Executive Associate Dean and Professor of Woodwinds at the Eastman School of Music. This is just one of many ties between the RPO and Eastman, especially since many of the musicians were either students or have taught at the school.

May 28, 2009

Final Beam Raised at Eastman "Topping Out" Ceremony

This morning, the final steel beam was raised for the new building adjacent to the Eastman Theatre. Despite the pouring rain, many people from the Eastman School of Music and the RPO, along with local dignitaries and area residents, gathered in a tent just off Main Street to celebrate the occasion.

“Topping Out” is the term used in the construction world to indicate that the final piece of steel is being raised into place. Following the tradition, the beam was painted white and everyone attending the ceremony was invited to sign the beam.

The Eastman School added a new musical touch – with percussionists “playing” the beam using percussion mallets and actual hammers. For good luck, the beam was also decorated with a small evergreen tree – an old European tradition – and an American flag.

Following the ceremony, everyone gathered across the street at the YMCA and watched as the beam was raised into place, to fanfare from an Eastman brass ensemble.

May 22, 2009

A New Appreciation for The Planets

After last night’s concert, I have a new appreciation for Holst’s The Planets. I had heard it before on recordings, and last summer heard the RPO play it at CMAC. But that was such a different experience, being outdoors and with the wonderful images of planets on the big screen, so you could just let the music take you on a journey. This time, I was more able to focus on the different sounds in the orchestration, and Christopher’s pre-concert chat provided some new insights.

There are bits in the opening Mars movement that sound like they’re straight out of a Star Wars movie – although I suspect it’s the other way around, since John William had probably heard Holst. Christopher observed that the movement was five beats to a measure – instead of a typical march in two – which dehumanized the music. Made me think of a platoon of Storm Troopers.

The next movement, Venus, had some beautiful lyrical bits, appropriate for the Bringer of Peace. It was nice hearing the interplay between the harps and the celesta; and at one point, Juliana Athayde, our Concertmaster, had a solo which then passed to the Principal Oboe, Erik Behr. It was an especially sweet moment, knowing that they’re engaged.

Next comes Mercury, and you could really hear the quicksilver messenger in the darting, up-tempo music. Christopher pointed out that in Holst’s time, the quickest means of communication would have been Morse code, and you can hear that punctuated rhythm in the music, especially in the percussion section.

Jupiter enters bringing jollity and laughter. This happy movement is one of the most recognizable – perhaps because one section has had words put to it (much to Holst’s dismay, apparently). It’s a famous English poem, I Vow to Thee My Country, and was played at the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Saturn is the Bringer of Old Age, and I found myself picturing an old man in a bathrobe and slippers, slowly walking down a long hallway. It does have a very deliberate gait to it at the beginning, as if considering the approach of old age and all it brings, but a very peaceful acceptance at the end. This movement also featured the bass oboe – an instrument I’d never heard before.

Immediately after comes Uranus, the Magician. Christopher called this “The Teddy Bear’s Apprentice,” since it sounds like a cross between Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Teddy Bear Picnic. There were some playful and surprising bits, then it was like it all went up in a puff of smoke.

The last movement, Neptune, takes us to the outer edges of the universe, as it was known at that time (Pluto had not yet been discovered). The music was very ethereal, appropriate for The Mystic, as Neptune was called. When the women’s chorus floats in from offstage, you feel like you’re spinning out into space.

On the way home from the concert, I realized that The Planets is similar to other music I really like – for instance, Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun – in how it has you picturing certain images. But where Debussy is impressionistic program music conveying feelings, the Holst is more like a movie soundtrack, just waiting for you to put actual images to it.

There’s another chance to hear The Planets – and also Haydn’s unusual Farewell Symphony with its dramatic ending – Saturday night at Eastman Theatre. Click here for more information. It’s worth going early for the 7:00 pm pre-concert chat – Christopher is engaging, entertaining, and very informative. Also be prepared for a huge orchestra for The Planets – not sure how they fit everyone on the stage!

May 21, 2009

Introducing Dr. Seaman!

On Sunday, Christopher Seaman was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Eastman School of Music. He was recognized as "a champion of music and the role of the arts in the health of a community." Eastman Dean Douglas Lowry added: "He is not only a dynamic musical leader of the Rochester Philharmonic, but has also been a dedicated friend to the Eastman School of Music, many of whose faculty members have seats in the RPO." Congratulations, Christopher!

(Photo courtesy of the Eastman School of Music)