December 11, 2012

Here are recommended recordings provided by Mr. Gil French, Concert Editor for American Record Guide, for the upcoming The Four Seasons (Phils 6) on December 13 & 15.  Enjoy!

Puccini: Capriccio Sinfonico
Riccardo Chailly, Berlin Radio Symphony

It’s murder finding a good recording of this work. Riccardo Muti’s with the La Scala Philharmonic (which I’ve never heard) is available online, but Sony no longer issues it.  Claudio Scimone’s old recording has been reissued on the budget-priced Apex label, but the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra was an inferior ensemble back then.

Decca’s album is called “Puccini: Orchestral Music”.  It was originally on London 410007 and was reissued in “The Originals” series, but seems to have disappeared. Online it is available only through  The album opens with a wonderfully transparent account of the “Preludio Sinfonico”; orchestra colors change as the harmonic textures change, balances between strings and winds are exquisite, the flow is seamlessly operatic, and the orchestra itself is absolutely gorgeous.  Too bad the “Capriccio Sinfonico” that follows isn’t on that same level, but it’s good enough, especially when encased by excellent performances of “Chrysanthemums”, the Intermezzo from “Manon Lescaut”, two orchestral selections from each of Puccini’s early operas “Le Villi” and “Edgar”, and three Minuets originally for string quartet.

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Nils-Erik Sparf; Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble
BIS 275

What curves old warhorses can throw! I hadn’t heard a recording of this work for years but always hesitate to rely on old memories of “favorite recordings”. Good thing!

In Baroque works, one normally expects modern “romantic era” orchestras to take more liberties with the score, and early-instrument or “period” ensembles to flaunt their “authenticity” and stick strictly to the score. But with “The Four Seasons” it’s mostly the opposite. Most modern-orchestra performances I listened to were rhythmically square with little spring to their step, and the soloists quite unimaginative, whereas most period performances had exaggerated tempo changes and heaved quickly from quadruple pianissimos to triple fortes; they sounded forced and cute, or, shall I say, “original” in a bizarre way.

The exception is Nils-Erik Sparf. He interprets each movement—in fact, each season—with a unified concept that picked me up at the beginning and didn’t let go until the end. Rhythms are upbeat and brightly articulated, though the sound of his baroque violin is warm and mellow. The same goes for this small orchestra of five violins, two violas, one cello, and one violone (early version of the string bass). Making the sound even warmer is the use of an organ for most of the continuo work, giving velvet support and a firm bass.  Tuning is exquisite—no harsh sourness at all.  Textures are so balanced that one can hear the inner lines’ counter-melodies and harmonic progressions as they play off against the soloist.  Sparf makes virtuosity sound easy, but it is in the slow movements that I found his musicality most striking—how he sustains interest when the torrid air barely moves in “Summer”, and how he works with the teasing, almost baritone harpsichord continuo in “Autumn” before it meets up with that merry harvest-dance finale.

There are two versions of BIS 275 available (at least on The original version contains only “The Four Seasons” and is only 40 minutes long. A later version adds a few other concertos but costs twice as much.  Alas, sometimes the best things come in small packages.



December 1, 2012

Moving Forward with the RPO

Understanding the Board of Director’s Decision on Arild Remmereit
From Elizabeth F. Rice, Chairperson of the Board

On November 28, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Board of Directors decided that 2012–13 will be Arild Remmereit’s final season as music director of the RPO.

The RPO is currently working out the details of an agreement with Mr. Remmereit, and discussing such matters would be grossly unfair to everyone involved; it would also be a distinct violation of the RPO’s own human-resources policy. The RPO does not make a habit of airing its personnel matters in public, and we are saddened and dismayed by people who feel compelled to report rumor and innuendo. 

Understandably, there is significant interest in knowing why the RPO Board of Directors voted to terminate Arild Remmereit’s contract at the end of the 2012–13 season; while the RPO will not identify specific reasons, it is important to provide a reliable description of the background that led to this most difficult decision, and the lengthy process through which the board arrived at it.

The Background

Shortly after the RPO appointed Mr. Remmereit to be music director–designate in summer 2010, tensions developed between him and members of the RPO staff, board, and orchestra. At the time, board members provided Mr. Remmereit with constructive suggestions to assist in easing the tensions. By the end of Mr. Remmereit’s first season in 2011–12, the situation had only grown worse, despite several efforts by the board to mitigate the situation; the orchestra and staff were suffering, and the matter became of serious concern to the board.

In April 2012, after repeated attempts to repair the relationship between Mr. Remmereit and the RPO, the board commissioned Craviso & Associates to identify the underlying problems. As research for the report, Craviso & Associates interviewed Mr. Remmereit as well as people involved with the RPO at all levels. 

The Process

In June 2012, the board agreed upon and communicated specific expectations for Mr. Remmereit to meet in the wake of the Craviso & Associates report so that the relationship between him and the RPO could be repaired. The board developed a protocol for monitoring his progress, provided Mr. Remmereit with a clear means for communicating with the board, and assigned him an advisor to help ensure success. Mr. Remmereit voluntarily agreed to meet these expectations and to follow the protocol.

After five months, the board reviewed Mr. Remmereit’s progress—a process that included input from the staff, his advisor, and board members, and a survey of orchestra musicians—and determined that he had not made sufficient effort to meet the agreed upon expectations and work toward repairing his relationship with the RPO. It was only at this point that the board, after serious consideration of the consequences, took this matter to a vote on November 28, and decided to terminate Mr. Remmereit’s contract.

Factors Considered

The decision to terminate Mr. Remmereit’s contract was made through thoughtful deliberation, and with a number of factors being considered, including the following:
  • the input and reaction of the musicians
  • the input and reaction of other RPO artistic leaders: Jeff Tyzik, Michael Butterman, and Christopher Seaman
  • the ability to sustain our operations with competent and capable personnel
  • the impact on major sponsors and patrons of the RPO
  • the reaction of the general public
  • the effect on year-end donations  
After months of trying to remedy the situation, and assessing all of the above, the vast majority of the board agreed that the best option for the long-term future of the RPO was to release Mr. Remmereit from the contract, as the contract permits it to do. Our assessment of these factors has proven to be accurate and we are very comfortable with our decision.

Moving Forward

The RPO is more than any one individual. While a music director is the public face of an orchestra, just as important are the musicians who make the music. Our musicians have proven time and again that they can play at the highest artistic level with many different conductors and music directors.

The RPO has a vibrant pops program and a world-class principal pops conductor in Jeff Tyzik. It presents educational programs under the capable baton of Michael Butterman, and performs many free community concerts that reach 30,000 people each season.

Mr. Remmereit’s departure does not signal a loss of focus on innovative programming. We will be engaging many talented guest conductors in the future as we begin a search for a new music director. We are confident we can find someone who will bring passion and energy to the position. The RPO’s commitment to education, the community, and artistic excellence in music making remains constant. We hope you'll continue to support our remarkable musicians as so many have done over 90 the past years.

November 30, 2012

A Statement from Jeff Tyzik

As many of you know, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra board of directors decided on Wednesday that 2012-13 will be Arild Remmereit’s final season as music director of the RPO.

We wanted to share comments from Jeff Tyzik, the RPO’s Principal Pops Conductor since 1994 and a Rochester Music Hall of Fame inductee:

"In my 20 years as a member of the artistic leadership of the RPO, I have been with this orchestra through many difficult times. Every organization undergoes changes, and I know that the RPO will weather its current difficulties to emerge as a more unified, stronger Rochester institution. I have complete confidence in our board leadership, staff, and musicians to deal effectively with our internal matters.

Here in Rochester, we are blessed with a great orchestra that has always played—and will continue to play—at the highest artistic level. The RPO has a bright future as a cherished part of our community, and I thank you for continuing to support us."



November 9, 2012

Fifty years of James Bond

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film franchise, the RPO presents Classic Bond on Friday and Saturday, February 15 and 16, 2013, at 8 p.m. in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. The 23rd Bond film, Skyfall, released today (November 9, 2012) in the U.S., prompted us to ask RPO Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik for his Top Five favorite James Bond themes…

1.      The James Bond Theme (Monty Norman):  This is from the very first Bond film in 1962, Nr. No, and remains the iconic, evocative, signature theme for the entire franchise.  Frequent Bond composer John Barry arranged the piece, and claimed he wrote it as well.  But Monty Norman won several law suits against publishers, and continues to receive royalties from the work. 
Hear it here: Bond Theme

2.      Thunderball (John Barry & Don Black, sung by Tom Jones):  After United Artists scrapped John Barry’s & Leslie Bricusse’s original theme entitled “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” because they wanted the theme to have the same title as the film, Barry teamed up with Don Black to write “Thunderball” for the 1965 Bond film. Tom Jones fainted in the recording booth after singing the song’s final, high note, of which he said:  “I closed my eyes and held the note for so long that when I opened my eyes, the room was spinning.”
Hear it here:

 3.      Nobody Does It Better (Marvin Hamlisch & Carole Bayer Sager, sung by Carly Simon):  Written and recorded for the 1977 Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, it was the first Bond theme to be titled differently than the name of the film since Dr. No, although the phrase “the spy who loved me” is included in the lyrics. The song was Carly Simon’s longest-running hit, and received an Oscar nomination for Best Song.

4.      Live and Let Die (Paul & Linda McCartney):  Written for the 1973 film of the same name, this was the best-selling Bond theme ever at the time.  It reunited McCartney with Beatles producer George Martin, who both produced the song and arranged the orchestral break. Originally, film producer Harry Saltzman wanted an African American female to record the song for the movie, but McCartney would only the allow the song to be used if Wings performed it. Saltzman, who had previously rejected the chance to produce A Hard Day’s Night, decided not to make the same mistake again and agreed. Both the original version and the Guns N’ Roses remake were nominated for Grammys.
Hear it here: and Let Die

5.      Goldfinger (John Barry, Anthony Newley & Leslie Bricusse, sung by Shirley Bassey):  Written for the third Bond film in 1964, “Goldfinger” is said to have started the tradition of Bond theme songs being from the pop genre or using popular artists. The piece is a favorite of frequent Bond composer John Barry, who said it was “the first time I had complete control, writing the score and the song.” The musical score, in keeping with the film's theme of gold and metal, makes heavy use of brass and metallic chimes, and is described as “brassy and raunchy” with "a sassy sexiness to it.” Hear it here:



November 6, 2012

Cry a Little, Then Dance: Copland's Clarinet Concerto

Aaron Copland knew the first movement of his clarinet concerto was a real tear jerker: "I think it will make everyone weep," he predicted to his friend Victor Kraft after completing the piece in 1948.

Serge Koussevitsky must have thought the music to be pretty powerful too, because in the summer of 1950 he asked Copland to orchestrate the concerto's first movement as an elegy for strings. Nothing came of that idea--Copland shot it down rather quickly--and in November Benny Goodman finally premiered the complete concerto that he had commissioned from Copland almost four years earlier. (In the video above, the two team up with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1976.)

With a jazzy, jaunty second movement, the Clarinet Concerto--which Rochester Philharmonic Principal Clarinet Kenneth Grant performs on November 8 and 10 with the RPO--was a big hit on the New York City Ballet's 1951-52 season as the music for Jerome Robbins's Pied Piper. It was also part of NYCB's summer 1952 European tour, where critics labeled its spirited nature as distinctly American.

The Rochester Philharmonic performs Copland's Clarinet Concerto with Principal Clarinet Kenneth Grant as soloist on November 8 and 10, part of a program that includes music by Jeff Tyzik, Michael Daugherty, and Leonard Bernstein. 

November 1, 2012

Ron Spigelman on Ron Spigelman

Ron Spigelman
Read about this weekend's guest conductor.

The first coherent notes that I strung together as a trumpet student were fragments of songs on the radio, movie themes and jazz standards my first teacher taught me. He didn't read music until later in his life, and his philosophy was to teach me by ear and by logic. I remember that for him it was about the melody, the song, and the words (although at age 7 I was still learning those too!). "Try to follow the melody, let it lead you," he would say.

My first ensemble experience was in a jazz band. I miss playing in one, but I don't know if my chops could handle it now! After playing in youth orchestras and studying at the Royal Academy of Music, classical music had become my life, but it was those jazz songs that I would find myself whistling. As a conductor, I dreamed of conducting the great works by Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler, and I have been lucky enough to do that. I have never, however, felt more lucky than to conduct the music of Gershwin, Porter, Basie, and Ellington, and to work with artists such as Audra McDonald, Marvin Hamlisch, Arturo Sandoval, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.

October 29, 2012

Ron Spigelman on Harold Arlen

Guest conductor Ron Spigelman joins the RPO November 2 and 3 for a tribute to the great American songwriter Harold Arlen. Read Spigelman's thoughts on what makes a great song, which composer should be on the cover of the great American songbook, and more.

Harold Arlen
It hit me early on that these incredible artists and composers have not only left an indelible mark on our culture, but have also been unforgettable to me. A great song is one that I think about or even occasionally whistle (or sing) for no apparent reason. It stops being subjective when a melody or a line is conjured up from my subconscious. It stays there because it is meant to be there and it's now a part of me. Some may define great music as the way something is composed. I have always thought of it as something that effects me viscerally and never leaves me.

The songs of Harold Arlen have always felt that way to me. "Over the Rainbow" is one of those songs that is not far from the surface at all times, and I know I'm not alone on that one. The turn of phrase in many of his songs clearly has a lineage to blues, which is why jazz musicians love to do versions of his songs. More than that, if I were to describe his music, I would simply say that it's timeless and always is an in-the-moment experience. If it was up to me, I would put Harold Arlen on the cover of the Great American Songbook. I am so looking forward to doing this concert next weekend!

--Ron Spigelman

October 9, 2012

Suggested Recordings: Howard Hanson's "Nordic" Symphony

Hanson: Symphony No. 1 (“Nordic”)
Kenneth Schermerhorn, Nashville Symphony
Naxos CD 559072

Howard Hanson was born in Wahoo, Nebraska, but his parents were Swedish, and his favorite composer was Finland’s Jean Sibelius. In fact, when George Eastman established the Eastman School of Music (ESM), he first offered its directorship to Sibelius (old George knew far more about classical music than he ever let on); Hanson, just returning from several years of study at the American Academy in Rome, was the second choice, began in 1924, and the rest, as they say, is history.

There are only three recordings available of Hanson’s “Nordic Symphony”, and they set my expectations on their head. (So much for relying on memory of judgments made long ago.) Howard Hanson’s own recording with the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra came up the loser. It contains the Mercury label’s worst possible engineering: the orchestra sounds raw, dry, and so congested that the only inner details you can in full passages are either piccolos or trumpets blaring at triple-forte. While Hanson does move things along, his rhythmic pulse can be quite foursquare.

I thought the Seattle Symphony on Delos (re-released on Naxos) would be better, but not so. While the sound is certainly warmer and more resonant, far too many details are still inaudible, and Gerard Schwarz allows the flow to become sluggish too often.

To my surprise, the recording I can best live with until a better one comes along is Kenneth Schermerhorn’s. He’s not as animated as Hanson the conductor, and in the last movement his “Allegro” is hardly “con fuoco”. But he maintains his chosen pulses, has a good grasp of form, and for once I could actually hear the harp, the contrabassoon, and an array of colors the woodwinds add when “doubling” the lines of other instruments.

Final conclusion: this symphony, written in 1923 when Hanson was finishing up his time in Rome, is poorly orchestrated—that’s why so many details (and there are loads of them) remain inaudible. So there’s the challenge for Arild Remmereit and the RPO: will enough colors and details support the obvious melody lines and harmonies to make this performance a thrilling experience? If the answer is yes, the world is still waiting for a really good recording!

By the way, there’s one error in the Naxos liner notes. The writer confuses the Eastman Philharmonia (ESM’s upper classmen’s and graduate students’ orchestra) with the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra. For the American Composers Concerts that Hanson began at ESM in 1925, he created the Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra (ERSO), comprised of ESM artists’ faculty, advanced students, and members of the Eastman Theatre Orchestra that, with the advent of “talkies”, became the Rochester Civic Orchestra in 1929. In 1941 the ERSO began giving public concerts as part of ESM’s annual Symposium of American Orchestral Music. By the time it (and the Eastman Wind Ensemble) began recording for the Mercury label in the early 1950s, its name had changed to just Eastman-Rochester Orchestra. Mercury stopped making classical recordings in the mid 1960s, and the orchestra ceased operating in 1973.  

Gil French is a music critic living in Rochester. 

October 3, 2012

Suggested Recordings: Korngold's Violin Concerto

Guest writer Gil French re-starts our blog with this guide to the finest recorded performances of Korngold's Violin Concerto, which the RPO performs live with James Ehnes on October 4 and 6. 

Korngold: Violin Concerto
James Ehnes; Bramwell Tovey, Vancouver Symphony
Onyx 4016 or CBC 5241
Anne-Sophie Mutter; Andre Previn, London Symphony
Deutsche Grammophon
Jascha Heifetz; Alfred Wallenstein, Los Angeles Philharmonic
RCA (mono)

What a great time I had really getting to know Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto in depth by comparing seven different recordings! 

Korngold described the piece as “written for a Caruso rather than a Paganini,” and the long, supremely lyrical melodies transported me so fully that they really did make me want to sing. But I couldn’t hold the tunes in my head. Why, I wondered. They’re certainly not faceless. 

Only by looking at the score did I understand why: the meters constantly shift, and there are frequent tempo changes, retards, and accelerandos. The music also has the expansiveness of Mahler, but also the “open prairie” sound of American composers like Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland. Korngold, after all, did spend a vast about of time in both Vienna and the US, especially Hollywood, where he gained fame writing scores in the 1930s and 1940s for Errol Flynn movies. Ah, but on the best recordings all these tempo and meter changes are completely seamless, and the flow utterly musical to such a degree that I craved more as I went from one recording to the next.

Two recordings reign supreme. (Now I’m not saying this just to be polite; when I did my comparative listening last March, I had completely forgotten that James Ehnes would be the soloist for this concert.) James Ehnes and Bramwell Tovey both bring out the Caruso element in all three movements. The flow is so marvelously sustained and the parts so ingeniously woven together that the shifts of tempo never show, never stagnate, and are always going somewhere. Ehnes’s role is self-evident, but Tovey is equally long-lined and lyrical, especially when such rich, warm, and transparent engineering lets all the inner details come though. This recording was originally released on CBC Records, which is since gone out of business; it has been reissued on the Onyx label.

I have to add, however, that Anne-Sophie Mutter and then-husband Andre Previn give Ehnes and Tovey a real run for their money. I would describe their style as not only Caruso-like but rhetorical, that is, so caught up in the inner language of the concerto that at times the rhythmic flow is so natural that Mutter is practically speaking. In the third movement she’s really more like Paganini--terribly exciting!--and, in truth, the orchestral and engineering qualities are even more remarkable.

Both recordings are quintessential and the choice is de gustibus. But for yet another exciting take, no one plays it like Jascha Heifetz. This is one of his best recordings. He’s not as romantic in the second-movement Romance as Ehnes or Mutter, and the monophonic sound muddies orchestral details; still, the early hi-fi pre-stereo sound is tolerably good. But oh! that sweet sweet sound of Heifetz. How did he get it? RPO Assistant Concertmaster Willy Deglans once told me he once saw a film of Heifetz with the sound slowed down seven times, at which point Heifetz’s vibrato was at the normal violinist’s rate. I never have understood how professional violinists can play so many notes so fast so accurately for so long—and especially Heifetz!

By the way, those other four recordings were by Gil Shaham and Andre Previn (Deutsche Grammophon), Nikolaj Znaider and Valery Gergiev (RCA), Chantal Juillet and John Mauceri (Decca), and Ulrike-Amina Mathe and Andrew Litton (Dorian). After starting my listening session with Ehnes and Tovey, none of these four could hold my attention for more than 10 minutes.

July 25, 2012

So long, farewell...

Thank you to all the loyal followers of our blog! The time has come to say farewell. The RPO blog will be shutting down until further notice.

In the meantime, you can still connect with the RPO online. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit for concert information, promotions, and more.

See you soon!

April 9, 2012

Music of the Night

Thursday, April 12 and Saturday, April 14, the RPO celebrates spring with a two-night Spring Festival, featuring pieces by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Bartok, Sibelius, Richard Strauss, Christopher Rouse, and Joan Tower.

Saturday evening, the RPO string and percussion sections perform Mozart’s Serenata notturna (Evening Serenade). Notturna, meaning night or nocturnal, probably references the piece’s original role as a witty and entertaining piece to be performed at an evening social gathering. Click below for an audio preview of the Minuet and Trio.

Thursday, the string and percussion sections take center stage for evening music of a different kind, performing Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok. Comprised of four movements, the third movement is representative of what is often referred to as Bartok’s night music—music that evokes the eerie otherworldy-ness of the nocturnal world. Bartok used this so-called night music in many of his slow movements and the night music style has since been used by composers from George Crumb to Miles Davis. While Mozart's Evening Serenade is the perfect accompaniment to a pleasant and sociable evening, Bartok evokes night at its lonliest and most macabre; the eerieness of this music was used to great effect by director Stanley Kubrick in his 1980 film The Shining.

Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta is among Bartok's most famous pieces. (Next season, the RPO will perform another of Bartok's greatest and most famous works--the Concerto for Orchestra.)

Tickets start at $15. Buy a ticket to Thursday' s performance and get 50% off Saturday. For tickets, call 454-2100 or click here.

March 1, 2012

Juliana Athayde Discusses Barber's Violin Concerto

This weekend's program features Brahms's Tragic Overture and Symphony No. 4, as well as Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, performed by RPO concertmaster Juliana Athayde (The Caroline W. Gannett and Clayla Ward Chair); below, Juliana discusses her thoughts on this concerto, the special memories that it evokes, and more:

My earliest memory of the Barber violin concerto is from thirty years ago, when I was just one year old playing in the playpen as my mom taught the piece to one of her violin students. Of course I don't actually remember being in the playpen but this particular piece has always held special meaning for me and it feels like an old friend, a piece I have always known. I truly remember it as one of the first pieces of music I ever heard, sounding familiar and comforting, and playing it brings back wonderful memories. I am delighted to share this wonderful concerto with RPO audiences this weekend.

The first two movements are full of gorgeous melodies, passionate moments, and tranquil themes. Notably, the second movement features a beautiful oboe solo, which will be played by my husband Erik Behr, introducing the enchanting melody later given to the solo violin. The last movement is a furious perpetual motion, meaning that the tempo is fast and the notes are constant! In the entire movement (spanning five pages of music) I have fewer than thirty measures of rest! This movement sounds at times fun and lighthearted while at other moments menacing and intense. The race to the end of the movement is topped off with a final flourish as if to say "ta-da"!

I hope the RPO patrons will love listening to the piece as much as I love playing it. This concerto is particularly accessible to listeners, especially the first two movements with their romantic and sweeping melodies. The sheer intensity and excitement of the final movement is enough to get everyone's heart pumping!


Hear Juliana perform Barber's Violin Concerto with the RPO, Thursday March 1 and Saturday March 3 in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Click here for tickets, or call 454-2100.

February 21, 2012

RPYO to Perform Annual Side-by-Side Concert

The RPYO presents its Annual Side-by-Side Concert with the RPO on Sunday, March 4 at 3 PM in Kodak Hall
David Harman, Conductor

Sunday, March 4, RPO musicians will share music stands with the talented student musicians of the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra for a performance of two renowned orchestral works by famous composers of Czech origin in a concert called “Moldau & Mahler.”

The program will feature Bedřich Smetana’s (left) symphonic poem The Moldau, which traces the journey of the Moldau River as it flows through the Bohemian countryside and into the city of Prague towards its confluence with the Elba River. A highly innovative work for the 1870s, it is rich with orchestral colors, evocations of rustic Bohemian life, and Slavic folklore, and portrays nature as both a benign and tumultuous force.

Forty years younger than Smetana, Gustav Mahler (right) lived much of his life in Vienna but never forgot his own Czech origins. His symphonies are rich with streets sounds, tunes, rhythms, and emotional experiences recalled from his childhood. Some of these are included in the big, intense final movement of his first symphony that the RPYO and RPO will also perform together, a movement that Mahler labeled “stormy” and “vehement,” referring perhaps to both natural forces and human emotions.

The first half of the concert will feature RPYO Concerto Competition winners Matthew DeCross, a 12th grade marimbist from Pittsford Sutherland High School; Erica Klafehn, a 12th grade violist from Penfield High School; and Hayley Miller, an 11th grade flutist from Canandaigua Academy. Matt will play a lively movement from the popular Marimba Concerto No. 1 by Brazilian composer Ney Rosauro. The mood will shift dramatically as Erica performs the deeply mournful Trauermusik written in 1936 by the German composer Hindemith, who wrote this work not only in grief for the death of the British King George V but also for the traumas he was witnessing in Germany under the Nazis. A movement from Mozart’s first Flute Concerto, to be performed by Hayley, will be a delightful restorative tonic, as only Mozart can be. To finish the concert’s first half, the entire RPYO will come together for Argentine composer Arturo Ginastera’s musical portrait of scenes from the Argentine countryside.

March 4th at 3:00 PM, Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Tickets are $12.00 for Adults and $8.00 for Students and Seniors and can be purchased from RPYO musicians, from the Eastman Theatre Box Office on 433 Main Street in the East Wing of the Eastman School of Music, by telephone at 454-2100, online, or by calling the RPYO at 454-7311 x224.

We invite you to go to to learn more about the RPYO, including information on our Spring Auditions for new members, which will take place at the end of March.

February 14, 2012

RPO Bassists Lead Master Class in Ithaca

Before the RPO's performance in Ithaca last weekend, RPO Bassists Gaelen McCormick and Colin Corner (The Anne Hayden McQuay Chair) made a special visit to Ithaca College. The pair was invited by Ithaca College Professor of Bass Nicholas Walker to teach a master class to Walker’s bass studio. They also performed a set of duets for the students.

Remarked Walker: “This was a particularly rewarding day for our double bass students who had the opportunity to spend over two hours with Gaelen McCormick and Colin Corner. How generous of these musicians to drive down early through a snow storm to perform duets for our students, and then give them terrific coaching about their own playing and learning approaches. My students and I were so engaged by their elegant chamber music, and the wealth of knowledge and experience they bring to their art.”
RPO bassist Gaelen McCormick (left) joined us to share her thoughts on the master class; read below for her first-hand account:
"I was so delighted to be contacted by the bass professor at Ithaca College, Dr. Nicholas Walker, asking if any of us in the bass section would like to work with his students on the day the RPO was in Ithaca. Colin Corner (pictured right) and I both said yes to this opportunity. We began the class by performing Dave Anderson's "Seven Duets." Colin used to play in New Orleans where Dave is principal, and had all kinds of (hilarious) background stories to share with the class about the music and the composer.

Then we listened to four of the students play music ranging from American fiddle tunes which a student had arranged for himself as a solo work, a contemporary work written only a few months ago where the student played with great extended techniques and even sang during the solo, to works of Bach. The students were such a great group! They all had a great positive approach to playing, and were very supportive of each other. I was also impressed by their willingness to try new ideas on the spot. I led the class in a Dalcroze Eurythmics exercise where we walked and sang around the classroom. Everyone jumped right in to try this without reservation. After class, the students stayed on to ask Colin about his gorgeous Hill bass, which he recently bought, and to take turns playing a bit on it.

We were delighted to work with such creative and outgoing musicians!"

February 12, 2012

The Sounds of New Orleans

Few cities can claim a musical history as prodigious as that of New Orleans. Widely regarded as the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans is a musical hotbed that has produced some of the greatest musicians in history, from past legends such as Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet to current stars such as Wynton Marsalis and Trombone Shorty. This Friday and Saturday, trumpeter and vocalist Byron Stripling and organist Bobby Floyd join Jeff Tyzik and the RPO to bring you a slice of the New Orleans sound.

Trumpeter and vocalist Byron Stripling (left) is currently artistic director of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra and leader of his own quartet. Stripling attended the Eastman School of Music and has performed with ensembles such as the Lionel Hampton Band, the Woody Herman Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, as well as with over 50 different symphony and pops orchestras.

Pianist and organist Bobby Floyd (right) has performed with artists such as Ray Charles, and his soulful sound has backed artists such as Chuck Mangione, Branford Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Mavis Staples, Gerald Wilson, and Wycliffe Gordon.

Stripling and Floyd will join the RPO for a salute to the one and only Louis Armstrong, with selections including Bourbon Street Parade, What a Wonderful World, When the Saints Go Marchin' In, Saint James Infirmary, and Basin Street Blues. Click here or below to watch Armstrong perform Basin Street Blues:

The program also pays tribute to two other New Orleans-greats: rock and roll singer/pianist Fats Domino, and gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Click below for video of Fats Domino performing I'm in Love Again, followed by Mahalia Jackson performing How I Got Over:

Friday, February 17 and Saturday, February 18 at 8:00 PM, Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Tickets start at $15 ($10 student tickets) and are available online or by calling 454-2100.

February 6, 2012

Music for Your Valentine

Valentine’s Day is next Tuesday, which means that couples around the world will be celebrating love and its many-splendors. Everyone loves a good love song and regardless of genre, music has always had a unique capacity to express the passions and emotions associated with love. This Thursday and Saturday, bring your Valentine to Kodak Hall as Arild Remmereit leads the RPO in an evening of romantic works.

The program begins with Richard Strauss’ Don Juan, a tone poem based upon the legendary womanizer who ‘loves them and leaves them’ before coming to a fiendish end (click here for a full summary). The Don Juan legend has inspired countless works of art, literature, and music over the years, including the great Mozart opera, Don Giovanni. Strauss’ version is magnificent and wonderfully original, using soaring melodies to encapsulate the swagger, debauchery, and bravado of the lusty seducer.

Strauss (pictured left) composed Don Juan as a young man of 24; its international success and original, groundbreaking style cemented his place as a rising star of the composition world. Notorious for its technical difficulty (it’s an orchestra-audition-list staple), Don Juan is a virtuoso piece that will showcase the abilities of the RPO's world-class musicians to full effect.

The program also includes music from Strauss’ comic opera, Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose). Composed 20 years after Don Juan, Der Rosenkavalier shrewdly examines the full spectrum of love; the plot celebrates the excitement and passion of love-at-first-sight, but also shows the repercussions involved when love grows cold. The RPO will be joined by sopranos Noelle McMurtry (as Sophie) and Rebecca Farley Witty (as Marschallin), and mezzo-soprano Laura Vlasak Nolen (as Octavian) for these performances.

Violinist Stefan Jackiw (right) will join the RPO as well, performing Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy. Scottish Fantasy is both Romantic and romantic, evoking the rugged beauty and exuberant spirit of Scotland. The piece is a fantasy on traditional Scottish folk melodies including Auld Rob Morris, Hey the Dusty Miller, I’m a’ doun for lack o’ Johnnie, and Scots wha hae. Click here or below for a preview, performed by Jascha Heifetz.

Valentine's Day is associated closely with roses, and this weekend's program will feature a rose of the musical variety in the form of contemporary composer Karen Tanaka's Rose Absolute. Read below for Tanaka’s introduction to this piece:
Rose Absolute was inspired by a perfume of the same name, created by the French perfumery Annick Goutal, located near the Place Vendôme in Paris. Rose Absolute is the most beautiful and pure rose of roses. The image of this composition, sounds and colors came to my mind instantly when I visited the shop and was handed a beautiful bottle of the perfume with a lovely scent of roses. The piece was written as a floral bouquet for a lover, as my personal, romantic present.”

Share these works with your Valentine, Thursday, February 9 at 7:30 pm or Saturday, February 11 at 8:00 pm in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased online or by calling 454-2100.

* Scottish image: Eilean Donan Castle;

February 4, 2012

Q & A with RPO Tubist W. Craig Sutherland

This Sunday's family concert celebrates the tuba's unique and indispensable contribution to the world of music, and just as no orchestra would be complete without the tuba, the RPO wouldn't be complete without its Principal Tubist, W. Craig Sutherland. This week, Craig joins us to share his thoughts on Tubby the Tuba, the Superbowl, and more.

Hometown: Clarence, NY

What music school did you attend, and who were your most inspirational teachers? Abe Torchinsky at the University of Michigan and Warren Deck at The Juilliard School.

What kinds of music do you enjoy listening to? Anything with an interesting bass line...

What can you tell us about Tubby the Tuba? Tubby the Tuba is a timeless classic, teaching children about music and life, and the important message of self-confidence. As any performing artist, you have to believe in yourself and your abilities. As Tubby's story demonstrates, the tuba can do a lot more than just play oom-pahs.

This is my second time playing Tubby the Tuba professionally. I played the piece when I was a member of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (CSO) in SC (along with my RPO colleagues Lara Sipols and Heidi Brodwin, who at the time were also members of the CSO). In addition to Tubby, I will be playing, the Largo al factotum aria from Rossini's Barber of Seville.

Who would Tubby like to see win on Sunday? This Tubby is a lifelong Bills fan, who, unlike Tom Brady, loves Buffalo and its hotels! Given that Tubby's creators, composer George Kleinsinger and lyricist Paul Tripp, both spent their lives in New York City, Tubby would most likely be cheering for the Giants this Sunday though he's had good times in New England, too.

A current favorite children's CD in our house: My 8 ½ year old daughter Madison (pictured right) loves to listen to the RPO's newest recording, The Story Babar and A Family for Baby Grand narrated by John Lithgow. I really enjoyed participating in the creation of this CD and adding these musical stories to the repertoire along with Tubby the Tuba and Peter and the Wolf.

5 Fun Facts About the Tuba:

1. The tuba is youngest of all the brass instruments. 

2. If you were to stretch the metal tubing of a tuba, it would be 18 feet long, the same length as a French horn. 

3. Orchestras typically have one tuba, though some composers have written pieces that call for more, including Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique.

4. Tubas are made of brass, a metal made of copper and zinc. Both of these metals are found in vitamins. This means that during your life you may eat an entire tuba - and it would be good for you! 

5. Tubas are not made in Tuba City, AZ

The tuba family: The brass tubing for the tuba begins at the mouthpiece, and bends and folds until it finally flairs, forming a large bell. Tubas are found in various pitches, most commonly in F, E, CC, or BB­ in "brass band" pitching. The main tube of a B tuba is approximately 18 feet long, while that of a CC tuba is 16 feet, of an E­ tuba 13 feet, and of an F tuba 12 feet (not including any valve branches). Tubas are considered to be conical in shape as the bore of their tubing steadily increases in diameter along its length, from the mouthpiece to the bell. 

History of the Tuba: The serpent was invented in France by Edme Guillaume c.1590. As its name suggests, the Serpent was coiled back and forth like a snake and was played by means of six holes. Later on, keys were added so that this instrument could play with greater facility. 

This instrument saw wide use in the church as a bass accompaniment for religious music that had evolved from Gregorian Chant. In Britain, in addition to its sacred role, the serpent was soon adopted as the bass member of military wind bands.

Modern Tuba: The modern tuba was invented in the middle of the nineteenth century. In the 1800s it joined the military band. About 100 years later the tuba was included as a regular member of the symphony orchestra. 

The Tuba is the largest and lowest sounding member of the brass family. It's sound is very round and mellow. The tuba, along with the string basses and bassoons, provide the lowest sounds for the orchestra. One tuba is used to complete the brass section. Some composers wrote for more than one, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz was the first major work orchestrated for tuba.

Sousaphone: Contrary to popular belief, J. W. Pepper suggested the design to John Philip Sousa. The Sousaphone, alleged to have been first made by C. G. Conn in 1898, was actually first manufactured by J. W. Pepper in 1893. In fact, the original J. W. Pepper Sousaphone is still in existence.

Hear Craig perform this Sunday at 2:00 pm in Performance Hall at Hochstein! Tickets start at $10 and can be purchsed online or by calling 454-2100.

January 30, 2012

Let's Dance!

This weekend, come to Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre for an energy-filled evening of live music and dance, from Johann Strauss, Jr.'s sophisticated and elegant Blue Danube Waltzes, to the bubbly and energetic Lindy Hop, to the fiery and seductive tango.

The performance will feature the choreography of Lindy Hop specialist Carla Heiney, pictured left. Heiney’s choreography has been nationally televised on the hit show So You Think You Can Dance and she has won numerous dance titles, including the 2010 National Jitterbug Championship and the 2008 and 2009 International Lindy Hop Championships. Click below to watch a clip of Heiney’s routine from So You Think You Can Dance.

Jeff Tyzik and the RPO will be joined onstage by vocalists Todd East and Cindy Miller, as well as an all-star lineup of dancers, including Kelsey McCowan, Joseph Barlev, and 2011 Jitterbug Championship winners Stephen Sayer and Chandrae Roettig. You’ll also see the sultry and passionate tango, performed by Argentine tango experts Eva Lucero and Patricio Touceda, as well as tap dancer—and Eastman School of Music student—Alex Dugdale. Click here to read bios on all of the featured performers.

Performances are February 3 & 4 at 8:00 pm in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased online or by calling 454-2100.

January 23, 2012

The Mahler Puzzle

“Gustav Mahler is the composer of contradictions and paradoxes. He is the composer of ambiguities, contrasts, complexities and cognitive dissonance.” (from “Mahler 4, a contradiction” by Kenneth Woods)

This weekend, the RPO will present its second Mahler Symphony of the 2011-2012 Season with a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, January 26 and 28 in Kodak Hall.

When starting work on his Fourth Symphony in 1899, Mahler composed backwards, beginning with the finale. The last movement of the Fourth Symphony is built around a song entitled Das himmlische Leben (Heaven’s Life) which draws its text from a collection of German folk poems, Das Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn). Mahler composed Das himmlische Leben as a free-standing piece in 1892 and toyed with the possibility of using it in the finale of his Third Symphony before deciding that the song should be used in a different symphony. The song (which will be performed this weekend by soprano Christina Pier, pictured below) is sung from the point of view of a young boy, and describes a vision of heaven as a place where no one ever goes hungry. Click here to read the full text and translation.

Thematically, the final movement of the 4th Symphony can be viewed as an extension of the themes expressed at the end of the “Resurrection” Symphony. The end of the 3rd movement of Symphony No. 4 briefly works up into a thunderous, transcendental trumpet fanfare akin to the finale of the Second Symphony, but quickly dies down, and transitions into the tranquil description of heaven in the Fourth movement. While the finale of the Second Symphony takes us to the gates of the afterlife, the finale of the Fourth Symphony goes through those gates, and shows us what the other side might be like.

Mahler's Fourth is often characterized as being lighter and ‘happier’ than many of his other works—it is one of his shortest symphonies, is scored for a relatively small ensemble, and begins with a jovial flute/sleigh bell motif. However, in true Mahler fashion, this cheerfulness often belies a darker undercurrent and is subject to extreme and sudden shifts throughout the piece, from major to minor and from cheery to tragic. As conductor Kenneth Woods notes in his blog A View from the Podium, the Fourth Symphony is “often described as his simplest and most straightforward work…but it’s also his most multi-layered, most contradictory, most enigmatic, most paradoxical work. Nothing in this piece is as it seems.”

Leonard Bernstein devoted one installment of his popular 1960s “Young Person’s Concert” educational series to an examination of the contradictions and paradoxes to which Woods refers. In the program, entitled Who is Gustav Mahler?, Bernstein uses the Fourth Symphony to illustrate the ways in which Mahler was a “double man.” Among the doublings identified by Bernstein are the problem of being both a conductor and a composer (a problem with which Bernstein was personally familiar) as well as Mahler’s inner conflict between child-like purity and tormented adult, between smart adult and innocent child, and between the Slavic folk music of his birthplace and of his Jewish background, and the ‘traditional’ Western music of the Classical idiom. As Bernstein describes, it was this sense of inner conflict, this battle between two Mahlers, that made his music so powerful and so original. Click here or below to watch Bernstein’s entire program.

If you came to the RPO’s performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony and loved it, the Fourth Symphony is just as great, but in a different way. While Mahler 2 is monumental, powerful, and awe-inspiring, Mahler 4 is made up of many different elements that briefly come forward and then fade into the background—alternatively playful and whimsical, mournful, ferocious, beautiful, and serene, the Fourth Symphony is filled with dichotomies that are woven together into something complex and characteristic of the man that wrote it.

Arild Remmereit conducts Mahler's Fourth January 26 at 7:30 pm and 28 at 8 PM in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. The program also includes Peggy Stuart Coolidge’s Blue Planet, Lehár’s “Vilja Lied” from The Merry Widow, Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Emperor Waltz, and Imre Kálmán’s “Heia in den Bergen” from The Gypsy Princess. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased online or by calling 454-2100.

January 16, 2012

Bennett Brings Legends of Swing to Life

This weekend, experience the spirit, energy, and exuberance of the Swing Era as Dave Bennett and the Dave Bennett Sextet join Jeff Tyzik and the RPO in a salute to clarinet-greats Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Pete Fountain, and more, January 20 and 21 at 8:00 pm in Kodak Hall.

Clarinet prodigy Dave Bennett has recorded with three of Goodman's famous band members - guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli; vibraphonist Peter Appleyard; and pianist Dick Hyman - and has earned widespread praise for his musicianship, as well as his ability to replicate the technique, style, improvisational skills, and tone of the greatest jazz clarinetists in history.

Of Bennett, Dick Hyman remarked: "Dave is a phenomenon - plays his instrument beautifully, invents and improvises with great skill, and above all, in a perfect Benny Goodman manner, brings tremendous excitement to a performance," while Pizzarelli commented, "if Benny had heard this guy he would have had him over to play duets."

Bennett has performed with numerous orchestras including Toronto, Detroit, Omaha, and Nashville, as well as the RPO. In his second appearance with the RPO, Bennett will perform Benny Goodman's biggest hits, including the electrifying Sing, Sing, Sing, as well as the hits of other great clarinetists of the Swing Era, including Artie Shaw's Begin the Beguine, Jimmy Dorsey's Tangerine, Woody Herman's Woodchopper's Ball, and a New Orleans-style Pete Fountain Medley. Click below for a preview of Bennett performing the George Gershwin classic, I Got Rhythm.

Tickets for these performances start at $15 and can be purchased online or by calling the Box Office at 454-2100.

January 2, 2012

70 Years After Premiere, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel Retains Contemporary Feel

When Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel made its premiere in April of 1945, it captivated everyone from theater critics to a 15-year-old Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim, who attended opening night with friend Jamie Hammerstein (son of Oscar) later described the evening as a “seminal experience” and recalled how the musical moved him to the point of tears:
“I remember how everyone goes off to the clambake at the end of Act One and Jigger [the hoodlum villain] just follows, and he was the only one walking on stage as the curtain came down. I was sobbing.” (How Sondheim Found His Sound, p. 64)
For Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, Carousel came at the heels of their debut, the hugely successful Oklahoma! When writing their second musical together, Rodgers and Hammerstein included many of the elements that had made Oklahoma! a success, such as the ballet sequence. They also added new elements; for example, instead of opening the show with the traditional overture, Rodgers composed the “Carousel Waltz,” which was accompanied by an onstage pantomime.

One of the most important innovations introduced in Oklahoma! was the integration of music and story, so that plot advancement and character development were accomplished not only through dialogue, but also through the songs themselves. In Carousel, Rodgers and Hammerstein built upon this concept, creating masterfully-written examples of musical storytelling such as Billy Bigelow’s near-8-minute-long “Soliloquy” and the famous bench scene.’

Based upon the play Liliom by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár, the plot of Carousel centers on the complex and often turbulent relationship between carousel barker Billy Bigelow (portrayed in this production by Ben Crawford, pictured above, left) and mill worker Julie Jordan (portrayed by Alexandra Silber, pictured right). In contrast to the generally sunny Oklahoma!, Carousel depicts a complicated world that is at times painful, tragic, and dark, a shift in tone that prompted Sondheim to quip, “Oklahoma! is about a picnic; Carousel is about life and death.”

It is, perhaps, this timeless and universally-relatable subject matter that makes Carousel just as moving today as it was 67 years ago. Of course, Carousel features one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most beautiful scores, with classic songs such as “If I Loved You,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” “What’s the Use of Wondrin,’ ” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Together, these elements contribute to make Carousel one of the all-time masterpieces of musical theater and a favorite of everyone from critics to audiences to Richard Rodgers himself:
“One of the most frequent questions I am asked is: ‘What is your favorite of all your musicals?’ My answer is Carousel. Oscar never wrote more meaningful or more moving lyrics, and to me, my score is more satisfying than any I’ve ever written. But it’s not just the songs; it’s the whole play. Beautifully written, tender without being mawkish, it affects me deeply every time I see it performed.” (From Richard Rodgers’ autobiography, Musical Stages, p. 243)
The RPO performs Carousel in a live concert performance, complete with Broadway actorsJanuary 6 & 7 in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased online or by calling 454-2100.