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)

May 1, 2009

Behind the Microphone

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of taking our guest pianist Pascal Rogé over to WXXI to be on Julia Figueras' Backstage Pass. It was great to hear him playing works by Satie and Debussy, as well as by a Japanese composer named Yoshimatsu who I hadn't heard before. He said that while Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms were gods, Poulenc, Satie and Debussy are like friends, and he's more comfortable hanging out with his friends (well, they are all French too, which helps).

It was interesting to learn that he loves new technology - he said it makes it easier to communicate with his family on his iPhone, and in fact texted his wife before the interview to give her the link to listen online. I was also thrilled to have a chance to use my French (it was my major in college) - not that it was necessary since he's fluent in English.

Plus, he was a really nice guy - very easy to talk with and interested in lots of different things - travel, photography, theater, cars, food (all my interests as well). When he travels he's always looking to sample the local foods and make connections with people, and he had a good story about visiting a restaurant on a recent trip to China.

To listen to the interview portion of the show, visit the WXXI web site by clicking here.