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.

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