November 21, 2011

The Nutcracker - Magic and Memories

It just wouldn't be the holidays without The Nutcracker. Beloved by generations, the ballet's timeless tale of fantasy, imagination, and enchantment resonates with audiences young and old and perfectly captures the spirit of the holiday season. Whether you have childhood memories of attending with your parents, or more recent memories with your own children, The Nutcracker is a seasonal tradition that inspires remembrance and nostalgia.

As a child, I listened to my father’s old record of The Nutcracker Suite on a daily basis, and still remember the first time my parents took me to see the full ballet. No matter how many times I see the ballet or listen to the music, The Nutcracker still retains the original magic that captivated me when I was young.

For musicians, the memories created by The Nutcracker can be of a slightly different nature. Professional musicians often perform Tchaikovsky’s score multiple times each year, and once in a while, something is bound to go wrong. This week, RPO Principal Clarinetist Kenneth Grant (The Robert J. Strasenburgh Chair) joins us to share some of his own Nutcracker experiences:

My funniest Nutcracker memory was in Columbus, OH, when we did 22 every year. We would lift the pit up to stage level for the overture for each performance. One time, a cellist was leaning back in her chair and when the pit got near the stage lip it caught the scroll of her cello, driving the end pin into the floor. This snapped the neck of the cello, sending pieces of wood into the wind section. As this was occurring we began the overture.
Another time, I forgot to switch clarinets for Le Chocolat. Realizing this, I tried to transpose, failing terribly while the rest of the wind section went into laughter.
A few years after I left Columbus, someone decided to have water fowl on stage during the raising of the Christmas Tree scene. Of course one of the ducks jumped into the pit and started to run around the orchestra until a violist picked it up and threw it back on stage!

Come to Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre this weekend to make Nutcracker memories of your own. Featuring the talented dancers of the Rochester City Ballet, the Bach Children’s Chorus, 150 community children, and Tchaikovsky’s enchanting score performed live by your RPO, The Nutcracker is a holiday classic not to be missed.

The Nutcracker runs for six performances, November 25-27 at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. Kids' tickets start at $10. For tickets, click here or call the Box Office at 454-2100.

November 14, 2011

The RPO's Got Rhythm: Boléro & Other Latin Works!

Few pieces in the classical repertoire are as thrilling as Boléro. Based on the Spanish dance of the same name, Ravel's composition builds from a solo snare drum, slowly adding orchestral sections until its dramatic finish, complete with bold slides from the trombone section!

Check out this video of Boléro made by the Copenhagen Philharmonic. They take "adding orchestral sections" quite literally — each section mysteriously appears at Copenhagen Central Station as intrigued pedestrians watch!

On Thursday and Saturday at Kodak Hall, the RPO (led by Arild Remmereit) will conclude the concert with Boléro, preceded by several other great orchestral works. In keeping with the women composers theme, the program will begin with Gabriela Lena Frank’s Three Latin American Dances. The program also highlights Roberto Sierra’s Sinfonia No. 4, a piece commissioned by the RPO, along with 11 other orchestras, as part of the Sphinx Commissioning Consortium. The consortium is an initiative to highlight Black and Latino composers and encourage diversity in classical music. The works by Frank and Sierra are both RPO premiere performances.

The program will also include Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 (in lieu of the previously scheduled Barber Concerto), featuring internationally acclaimed pianist Jon Kimura Parker. A versatile musician, Parker is equally at home performing pop and rock. Although he's not performing a Latin dance piece, Mr. Parker is sure to keep you on your toes — he has even been known to work in the theme from X-Files into his Mozart cadenzas!

See the RPO perform in Kodak Hall this coming Thursday, November 17 at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, November 19 at 8 pm! Tickets start at $15. Order your tickets online today or call 454-2100 to order by phone.

Also, in keeping with the Latin theme of this week's RPO concert, Arild Remmereit continues the Symphony 101 season on November 18 and 20 with The Latin Sizzle in the Performance Hall at Hochstein. Remmereit surveys the Latin American music of our time by Arturo Marquez, Roberto Sierra, and others, including the music that precedes them, and how these Spanish rhythms have captivated composers for centuries. To learn more and purchase tickets for Symphony 101, click here.
Dancer painting by Tom Deacon

November 7, 2011

Günther Herbig Conducts Dvořák’s "New World" Symphony

This is music that captures the energy, the exuberance, the promise of a great nation. This Thursday and Saturday at Kodak Hall, Günther Herbig conducts the RPO in one of the most beloved symphonies in the entire repertoire: Dvořák’s love letter to America, the "New World" Symphony.

Born and raised a Bohemian peasant, Antonín Dvořák never strayed far from his simple roots. During his three years as director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, he developed a particular interest in the music of African-Americans and Native Americans, reflecting his love for his homeland’s native culture.

“I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what we call Negro melodies,” Dvořák told the New York Herald. “This can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition. They are pathetic, tender, passionate, melancholy, solemn, religious, merry, gracious, or what you will. There is nothing in the whole range of composition that cannot find a thematic source here.”

Wildly popular, the “New World” Symphony helped legitimize American music to the rest of a skeptical world and paved the way to acceptance of twentieth century American cultural exports. Read more of Don Anderson's program notes here. And for an audio preview, click here.

American immigrant Günther Herbig, a nationally and globally prominent conductor, is particularly suited to lead the New World Symphony. Originally from East Germany, Günther Herbig left behind a challenging political environment and moved to the United States in 1984, where he has since conducted all of the top-tier orchestras, including New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco.

Thursday and Saturday's concerts will also feature the beguiling Fifth Symphony of the 19-year-old Schubert, and Mozart's delightful Fourth Horn Concerto, with the RPO's Principal Horn Peter Kurau (The Cricket & Frank Luellen Chair).

Kurau also performs Mozart’s Rondo, which was reconstructed in its original form by Professor Marie Rolf of the Eastman School of Music, who added back in 66 measures that had been missing. Peter Kurau first played the complete work in 1991 at a concert at the Eastman School. Use this link to read a story about it in the New York Times.

Experience these classical masterpieces on Thursday, November 10 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, November 12 at 8:00 pm at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre! Tickets start at $15. Order your tickets online today or call 454-2100 to order by phone.

November 4, 2011

Youth Orchestra Prepares for Sunday’s Concert

Every September, the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra holds its weekend retreat at the Rotary Sunshine Campus in Rush, N.Y. RPYO parent Dr. Thomas Ball from LeRoy agreed to serve as camp doctor this year.

Staying at the camp for two nights, he observed the retreat’s rehearsals in preparation for the RPYO’s November 6th concert at Performance Hall at Hochstein, with several shared meals, relaxing activities, and an army of dedicated parent volunteers. A few days later, Dr. Ball shared with us these reflections for our RPYO student musicians and families.

To read more about this Sunday's concert, click here.

--Susan Basu, RPYO Manager

by Dr. Thomas Ball

We live in a time of uncommon privilege.  Yet privilege can seem so common.

"How much trouble can they be?" my wife prodded. The coordinator for the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra's annual retreat was looking for weekend medical coverage. As the parent meeting proceeded, we shifted uncomfortably on the cafeteria's fold-out benches. My wife nudged me gently and offered to be the nurse.

A few weeks later I pulled up the curved entrance to Rotary Sunshine Campus in Rush, NY. We registered and set up my violinist younger daughter in her cabin after dropping off her violin at the lodge before the evening rehearsal. The next morning I awoke bright and early to the clanging of cymbals and some discordant brassy squeals, courtesy of the percussion section. The RPO mentors were introduced after breakfast and took the students for sectional rehearsals.

I retired to my room, which was pretty posh by camp standards, complete with private shower, my choice of three sturdy wooden bunks and even a framed still life of flowers. After organizing the medical supplies I had brought, I discovered that classical music campers are a careful lot. Only one “patient” came to my door. Here was a chance to prove my worth. He leaned forward on his chair and pointed out a ribbon of congealed blood, which had trickled down his shin from a scratched mosquito bite. I rummaged through my bag and found the Epi-Pen, the splint, and even the defibrillator. But no Band-Aid! Like a good sport, my patient took the offered paper towel, wiped off the blood, and thanked me just the same.  It's all too easy to take the common things for granted.

That evening I set down my folding chair outside the barn door to listen to rehearsal with Dr. Harman. I will never forget hearing the trumpets opening Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition when my older oboist daughter was in the RPYO six years ago. Hearing such amazing music in the open air made it even more special. The music this night was no less captivating. I imagined the deer and other forest creatures pressing in to listen at the edge of the field as they might for Snow White serenading The Seven Dwarfs.

Mussorgsky again gave me chills with Night on Bald Mountain, and the finale of the Saint-Saëns Bacchanale made me want to lead a thundering charge into battle. The Latin-flavored piece—Danzón No. 2 by the Mexican composer Arturo Márquez— was difficult to sit through without dancing. "You are a big orchestra. You have a lot of power. Use that power only for good." Dr. Harman cautioned them.

The RPYO is clearly using its power for good. The great individual effort from the 105 student musicians of the orchestra, the ongoing teamwork on the part of the parents, and Dr. Harman's exceptional leadership and musicality are all focused on one shared goal: making wonderful music together.

I suppose we might all define privilege differently, but on this evening it was the opportunity to listen to the music of great composers being rehearsed by an extraordinary group of young musicians beneath a canopy of stars. Consider the opportunity you have to be part of such an outstanding orchestra. Having the faculties and the freedom to appreciate such beautiful sights and sounds as we shared on this weekend, and possessing the talent to perform at such a high level is not something to be taken for granted.

Prepare well, enjoy the performances, and above all, be grateful for this privilege.

Oh—and don't forget the Band-Aids.