August 26, 2010

Christopher Seaman Talks About the RPO's 2010-11 Season

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2010-11 Season promises to be one for the history books, as we celebrate our Maestro, Christopher Seaman, in his final season as the RPO's Music Director.

We caught up with Christopher - who has been "Down Under" this summer, conducting and teaching in Australia -  to find out more about the upcoming Philharmonics and Symphony 101 Series concerts.

This year’s Philharmonics Series features some of your favorite pieces. Can you tell us about a few that have particular meaning for you, as you look back over your career?

Well, our opening concert features Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, affectionately known in the orchestral world as "Tchaik 4." This has always been one of my big favorites (Tchaikovsky himself once said it was his best), but the work gained a special significance for me because it was on the program for my trial concert for the job of Principal Timpanist of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. I was 22, very inexperienced, and felt a bit shaky at the rehearsal. But when the concert came I decided that as it would be the only time I would ever play with a great orchestra, I should enjoy myself, which I did. The next morning the General Manager called me and offered me the job, so I ended up spending four years with that wonderful orchestra during which I learned an enormous amount and played with some very great conductors, including Munch, Solti, Haitink, Boult, and Svetlanov.

We’ll be doing Vaughan Williams’ "London" Symphony, which I played with the renowned conductor Sir Adrian Boult, who knew Vaughan Williams. After I conducted the piece for a broadcast on the BBC, I had a letter from him saying I had got it "right." I also conducted it for a guest appearance with the Rochester Philharmonic in March 1997, and as a result was later asked to be the RPO’s Music Director. Many of the Orchestra members associate that piece with me, and particularly wanted me to do it.

And our closing Philharmonics concert features Brahms’ Second Symphony, which got me my first conducting job, four years after the London Phil, as assistant conductor for the BBC Scottish Symphony in Glasgow.

We have several guest artists returning for the occasion – including Olga Kern and Jon Nakamatsu, with whom you also have recorded. Can you share some stories about what it was like working with them?

I first met Olga Kern on stage the week we recorded the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto with her, back in 2003, and we very quickly developed a close musical relationship. I’m glad to have her coming back this season. Jon Nakamatsu has a long relationship with the RPO, since Al Davis first saw Jon perform during the Van Cliburn competition in 1997 and encouraged us to bring him to Rochester. For years now, we’ve been playing the piano that was donated in Jon’s honor, and so of course we wanted him on this season.

Several of the Orchestra musicians are featured on concerts this year. Can you tell us more about the pieces they will be performing?

It is always a big event when Juliana Athayde, our Concertmaster, appears as soloist with the Orchestra. Over the past few years she has had major triumphs with a whole range of concertos (including a world premiere last season). This season she plays the Glazunov Violin Concerto, a work which will show her brilliance, expressive power, and virtuosity to the full.

Stefan Reuss, our principal cellist, joined the RPO in 1988, and is well known in Rochester not only for his fine work with the orchestra but also for his very active participation in chamber music. Stefan's cello is a beautiful Guadagnini made in 1798, and on it he will play the much-loved first concerto by Saint-Saens.

Our Principal Clarinetist Kenny Grant will be joining us next May for Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, but he will be playing it on the basset clarinet, reaching a third lower than the usual clarinet. Mozart originally wrote this concerto for this instrument, so Kenny will be able to play it as Mozart intended, without having to transpose any notes. I conducted the first UK performance of this concerto on basset clarinet, with Alan Hacker—one of the clarinetists credited with the revival of the instrument—back in 1968.

What can patrons look forward to in the Symphony 101 and 201 concerts this season?

This year’s Symphony 101 concerts will feature music by some of the greatest composers, pieces that mark milestones in the history of music. For the first concert, in addition to playing music by Handel, Gluck, and Mozart, we will be playing something by Antonio Salieri. Many know Salieri as Mozart’s rival in the film Amadeus, and we will get to see how their music compares. One of the concerts will feature some of my own musical milestones, including works by Bach, Wagner, and Vaughan Williams. And our expanded Symphony 201 concert in Kodak Hall will go in-depth on Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7.

What is one of your funniest or oddest RPO concert memories ...

So little has gone wrong. But there was one time, during a Symphony 101 concert, when there was a power outage and all the lights went out. I asked the audience, "Would you wave one hand in the air?" They did, and right after that the lights came back on and I said, "Confucius said, ‘Many hands make light work’."

What is your favorite restaurant in town?

There are so many and probably one or two I haven’t discovered yet—but Thali is a very nice Indian restaurant, and One is very good. I also like Virtu and Richardson’s Canal House. And I have been going to the Highland Park Diner ever since I started coming to Rochester and they all know me there.

Use this link for more information on the RPO 2010-11 Philharmonics Series.

Click here for more information on the Symphony 101 Series.

Tickets go on sale Monday, August 30 at 10:00 am! For just that one day only, there is a special ticket price of $20.10 for select Thursday Philharmonic performances in honor of Christopher Seaman’s final season as music director. Click here to buy online.

You can also become a season ticket holder now and save up to 20% off regular prices, plus have additional benefits such as the no-hassle ticket exchange and Subscriber Standby. For more information on subscribing, click here, or call 454-2100.

August 18, 2010

Q&A with Michael Butterman on the 2010-2011 Season

This coming season, Michael Butterman, the RPO's Principal Conductor for Education and Outreach (The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Chair), leads engaging family concerts that tell a complete and compelling musical story. We had a chance to talk with Michael to find out more about the upcoming season.

Next year’s orKIDStra Family Series continues the theme of music that has a story. Please tell us more about those concerts.

We open with Green Eggs and Ham—the great story in which a child teaches an adult about prejudice—in a wonderful musical setting for soprano and child actor by Robert Kapilow, the composer who wrote the Polar Express setting that we performed at Christmas a few seasons ago.

A Family for Baby Grand is a terrific story that introduces the instruments of the orchestra to young children. The composer, Brad Ross, is the brother of our principal timpanist, Chip Ross.

For our Fairy Tales concert, we'll hear some of the great music for concert, opera, and ballet that has been inspired by classic fairy tales and learn how composers can tell stories or paint pictures with the music they write.

Peter vs. The Wolf, which closes our season, is a wonderful dramatic twist on Prokofiev's well-loved children's classic. In this version, we hear the story unfold in retrospect through a courtroom drama in which the wolf attempts to prove his innocence to the jury. It's the same great music as always, but with some added humor that will delight both children and their parents.

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

In the fall, we'll be featuring the winner of the Rochester Philharmonic League's Young Artist Competition for 2010. The young flutist will be joining us to play one of the staples of the flute repertoire: a work by Griffes entitled Poem. We'll partner that with another work by the same composer (who grew up in Elmira, NY) called The White Peacock and fill out the program with famous works about other exotic people, places, and things.

This year you’re conducting one of the Symphony 101 concerts – what do you have planned?

This season, the Symphony 101 series is exploring "Musical Milestones"—pieces that changed the course of music history or represented important achievements by significant composers. My concert focuses on the 19th Century and the Romantic Era. We'll begin with Beethoven, who was a pivotal force in the transition from the Classical period to early Romanticism. From there, we'll look at program music—music that tells a story—from Berlioz and Liszt. We'll talk about Wagner's unique aesthetic approach and then end with Debussy and the beginnings of impressionism, as well as the transition to the eclecticism of the 20th century that he helped usher in.

What is one of your funniest or oddest RPO concert (or rehearsal) memories ...

It's a moment that was funny mostly because of how much funnier it could potentially have been. The celeste plays an important role in Tchaikovsky's orchestration of The Nutcracker, especially during the famous "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy." Because of space limitations in the pit, we typically use a synthesizer instead of an actual celeste. The type that we used a few years ago had one of those wheels that could be rotated to scroll through the various sounds from which to choose. Well, during the intermission, someone must have bumped up against it, because when it came time for the Sugar Plum Fairy to dance to the little tinkling-bell sound of the celeste, we heard instead the twangy sound of a harpsichord. Everybody in the pit immediately glanced over at Joe (keyboard player Joe Werner), who seemed as surprised as anyone at the sounds that were emanating from his keyboard. The incident became much funnier in retrospect as we imagined how much worse it could have been. Instead of a harpsichord sound, the wheel could have landed on something like dogs barking, chickens clucking, or cannon shots. I think any of those would have brought the show to a halt!

What is your favorite restaurant in town?

There are so many good ones from which to choose. It really depends on the sort of mood I'm in. I love 2 Vine, but also Dinosaur BBQ. Of course, there's always Golden Port, which is right across from the RPO offices. The owner, Wayne, is always friendly, welcoming, and supportive of the orchestra. I've known him since before the restaurant moved from its former location on Clinton Avenue. I enjoy going to the Highland Park Diner with Christopher, which must certainly be his favorite spot. But, truth be told, I'm always plenty happy to just go to the Pittsford Wegmans and graze!

Where are your travels taking you during the summer break?

I've had a couple of concerts out in Colorado, which is beautiful this time of year. We also got to NYC for several days to take in some ballets. This was a treat for our daughter, who at six is a budding ballerina. Her biggest thrill was getting a backstage tour of the Met given by Sarah Lane, one of American Ballet Theatre's principal dancers, whom we know from her many appearances as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the RPO's Nutcracker over the years. Also got up to Canada for a few days to visit some relatives and right now, as I write this, we're headed to the beach for a little end-of-summer R & R.

Use this link for more information on the RPO 2010-11 orKIDStra Series.

Click here for more information on the Symphony 101 Series.

Tickets go on sale August 30, but become a season ticket holder now and you can save up to 20% off regular prices, plus have additional benefits such as the no-hassle ticket exchange and Subscriber Standby. For more information on subscribing, click here, or call 454-2100.

August 12, 2010

Q&A with Jeff Tyzik on the 2010-2011 Season

This coming season, the RPO’s Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik leads the orchestra for all the best in popular music, featuring jazz, Broadway, the return of Bugs Bunny to Rochester, and our festive tradition of Gala Holiday Pops. I had a chance to talk with Jeff to find out more about the upcoming Pops concerts.

The Pops Series opens with a tribute to the Music of Ray Charles. Tell us more about Ellis Hall, the featured guest that night.

Ellis Hall has worked with Michael McDonald and other artists. He is endorsed by the Ray Charles family as an artist that most represents the Ray Charles sound. He recently had a successful concert with the Boston Pops. He sings the hits of Ray Charles, plays B3 Hammond Organ and a background vocal group comes with him to lend an air of authenticity for the Ray Charles sound.

Use this link for a video clip of Ellis Hall singing "Georgia on My Mind."

Note: the Pops season opening concert also includes a Red Carpet Spectacular with a Wegmans culinary extravaganza. Click here for more information.

We have a few guest artists coming back this season with new projects, including Debbie Gravitte, Wycliffe Gordon, and Michael Cavanaugh. Can you tell us more about those concerts?

Each of these artists is a top entertainer and it will be fun to see them return with a new show. We will feature Debbie doing eclectic Broadway and swing music. Wycliffe will be doing his signature jazz and then a whole half of a concert dedicated to the mix of gospel music and jazz. Michael Cavanaugh—who was here for the tribute to Billy Joel—will now unveil his tribute to Elton John.

And we hear you’re working with actor and singer Keith David on a tribute to Nat King Cole —how did that come about?

Both Chris Stager, our marketing consultant, and Byron Stripling, a performer who has had many appearances with the RPO, suggested Keith David. He is a wonderful actor who happens to love the music of Nat King Cole. His voice has an uncanny resemblance to Nat King Cole and I am creating this concert for its first performance here in Rochester.

The Rochester City Ballet will be part of the Pops Series for the first time this season, although Jamey Leverett has choreographed dances to your music before, for Bravo! Colorado. What is that process like?

I have had two experiences working with Jamey Leverett and the RCB. These experiences have been among the most profound of my career. I'm looking forward to this interesting and unique opportunity to have two of Rochester's most important cultural assets on stage at the same time.

What is one of your funniest or oddest RPO concert (or rehearsal) memories ...

One of the funniest and most stressful was the time we had the Mambo Kings in the orchestra pit. They were supposed to rise on the elevator while we were playing together during the performance. We had a stage crew member in the pit who had to press a button to activate the upward movement of the elevator while the concert was in progress. We were all playing and when he pressed the button, nothing happened. Everyone was panicked. It took a few minutes to realize that the stage manager at the time had forgotten to activate the switch from backstage. It's funny now, but at the time it was terrifying.

We know you like to cook – what are some of your favorite meals this summer?

This summer is all about light meals. Grilling local vegetables. Eating our local fruits like raspberries, strawberries and peaches and lots of seafood from Wegmans.

Where are your travels taking you during the summer break?

I'll be spending time on the North Fork of Long Island, NY—at the very tip of Long Island—and then a little time on Cape Cod. Both locations are near the ocean. Early morning walks on the beach to clear my head and get ready for the new season. I also get to spend good time with Jill and of course our dog, Puccini.

Click here for a full list of the 2010-11 Pops Series.

Tickets go on sale August 30, but become a season ticket holder now and you can save up to 20% off individual ticket prices, plus have additional benefits such as the no-hassle ticket exchange and Subscriber Standby. For more information on subscribing, click here, or call 454-2100.