August 22, 2011

Michael Butterman Previews the 2011-2012 Season of Education Concerts

This coming season, the RPO’s Principal Conductor for Education and Outreach Michael Butterman (The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Chair) leads engaging family concerts that feature unforgettable characters, classic stories, musical hijinks, and more. We spoke with Michael to find out more about the upcoming season.

Next year’s orKIDStra Family Series features several iconic stories. Please tell us more about these concerts.

We begin in October with two tales of wayward bunnies ... The Runaway Bunny is a book by Margaret Wise Brown (author of Goodnight Moon) that has been set to music by composer Glen Roven. It's a work for violin soloist, narrator, and orchestra. The violinist for whom the piece was written, Ittai Shapiro, will be performing with us. He is an internationally renowned soloist who happens to also be a Rochester native. We will also be performing a musical setting of Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit. This is a charming adaptation that requires the narrator to use various character voices as well as to sing. We're pleased that Jennifer Carsillo, who recorded the narration for A Family for Baby Grand, will be joining us for this concert as well.

In February we'll hear about one of the unsung heroes of the orchestra—the tuba—in the well-loved classic, Tubby the Tuba. April's concert happens to fall directly on April 1—so we thought that we'd put together a fun concert that doesn't take itself too seriously. This will be an April's Fools' concert with plenty of surprises in store.

The RPO’s performance of Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches will be extra-special, because it will be the New York State premiere of the work. Can you tell us about the origins of this piece?

Sure ... we close our season in May with the premiere of a new musical setting of The Sneetches. We had a lot of success presenting Green Eggs and Ham last season and we were approached by Rochester physician and RPO supporter Sid Sobel, who happens to love this story as much as I do. He feels that its disarming way of getting to the heart of human nature is a wonder, and asked his friend, and eminent composer, Lorenzo Palomo, if he would write a work for narrator and orchestra that would bring this story to life in the concert hall. We're very excited to present what we expect will be a major new addition to the repertoire for children and families.

The RPO regularly performs concerts for schoolchildren at Kodak Hall and around Monroe County. What do you have planned for next year?

Our Intermediate Concerts for 4th and 5th graders will center on a work called The Composer is Dead. That ominous-sounding title is taken from a book by Lemony Snicket, author of the popular children's books A Series of Unfortunate Events. It takes the form of a mystery in which an inspector interrogates the various instruments in the orchestra and learns about their particular roles in music. For our Primary Concerts, for third graders, we will present Peter vs. the Wolf, which is a new take on Prokofiev's classic work. In this version, the piece is turned into a courtroom drama/comedy in which the wolf attempts to prove his innocence. Our orKIDStra audience enjoyed our presentation of the work this past season and we thought that it would be well received by our Primary Concert audiences as well. And our Tiny Tots concerts, for pre-schoolers and kindergarteners, will explore basic musical elements in a concert called "High, Low, Fast and Slow: Musical Opposites."

And you’ll be making your Philharmonics Series debut this season. Can you tell us about the pieces that you will be conducting?

I'm very excited about this program because all of the pieces share an important common thread while exhibiting a tremendous variety of styles. Paris has been one of the most important centers in the history of music and each of these pieces is inexorably linked with this great city. We begin with Mozart's "Paris" Symphony—a work that he wrote especially for the accomplished (and large) orchestras of the city and one that he wrote with the Parisian audiences in mind. The Parisian setting opened up new possibilities to Mozart—ones that he fully explored, and exploited, in this exuberant work.

Then, we welcome Misha and Cipa Dichter, with whom I've had the pleasure to work on two previous occasions. They will play for us Francis Poulenc's wonderful Concerto for Two Pianos. Poulenc embraced a wonderful blend of sacred and profane. He was a deeply religious person, but also had a playful streak and could be quite irreverent. Parts of this concerto seem to come right out of Paris' cafés and saloons of the 1920s, while the gorgeous second movement channels Mozart's approach to beauty through simplicity.

Finally, we have Saint-Saёns' massive Organ Symphony—one of the most popular works in the repertoire, but also one of the least performed, due to its large size and need for an organ. We will be bringing one into Kodak Hall. If you saw the film Babe, then you already know one of the great melodies from this piece. It's a work that is beautifully organic in its construction (common themes and motives unite all of the movements) while containing a great deal of surface appeal as well.  It has great tunes and builds to a tremendous climax. What more could one want?

What do you enjoy most about conducting Education concerts?

Young people make for the most enthusiastic audiences of all. They hold nothing back. If they like something, they really like it, while the converse is also true. So I know that we have an opportunity to make a significant impact, and we get immediate feedback on how successful we've been. For me, those moments when I can sense that we've played something that has really connected with the kids are the ones that I treasure.

The RPO released a new children’s CD this spring featuring The Story of Babar and A Family for Baby Grand. What was your favorite part of making the CD?

Although I had been involved in recording projects before, they had been "live" events, so the process of planning the recording sessions and working on editing and mastering was absolutely new to me—and quite fascinating. It was very interesting to learn, for example, just how much "magic" can be accomplished with recording technology and by a skilled engineer, and yet how many details, in the end, simply depend on flawless execution on the part of the musicians being recorded. Throughout it all, Jeff Tyzik and our engineer, John Truebger, provided incredible support and I'm very grateful to them both.

What music are you listening to at the moment?

At this very moment it's all-Christmas, all the time. I happen to be conducting three different holiday programs in December (though none in Rochester), and now is the time when those programs are being finalized. So I'm familiarizing myself with the incredible amount of new music that composers and arrangers come out with each year that is geared toward the holiday season. Trying to keep those programs comfortable and familiar without becoming stale and predictable is a pretty big challenge. But it's fun. And as I've been sweating through the summer heat, listening to sleigh bells seems to help ... at least a little bit!

Where are your travels taking you and your family during the summer break?

We were privileged to spend about nine days in New York City in June taking in concerts, several ballets, a little Broadway, and plenty of museum time. It was the top item on our daughter's "wish list" for the summer. But we also managed to squeeze in some beach time and a visit to California to see family and do a little hiking.

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