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!

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