December 4, 2013

RPO Musicians Share Holiday Traditions

As we move into this busy time of year—with all the holiday parties, shopping, decorating, cooking, and getting ready for houseguests—we took a moment to ask the RPO musicians about their holiday traditions and favorite holiday music. Of course, there are the annual Gala Holiday Pops concerts to prepare for. But beyond that, we asked them what they do to celebrate the holidays.

Concertmaster Juliana Athayde says, “My favorite holiday tradition is celebrating Christmas Eve with my family in California. Since my mom’s family is of Norwegian descent, we celebrate on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. Complete with performing at late night mass (our whole family is made up of musicians), enjoying a delicious dinner, and opening presents!

“As kids, we always had to make sure the dishes were cleared and the dishwasher was running before we could open presents. Then, we would each open one present at a time starting from the youngest person in the family to the oldest. We still do it that way and I love that it allows us to focus on what each person has given and received, instead of everyone ripping open their presents at the same time.”

Principal Clarinet Kenneth Grant says that his holiday traditions include “enjoying our week of Holiday Pops … and quiet times with family in front of the fireplace.”

Acting Principal Cello Kathleen Murphy Kemp says, “When my kids were little, we cut down our tree and made lots of Christmas cookies. Dinner and church on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day, and we opened stockings before breakfast. Traditions are changing now as the family has grown up. Excited to see what their traditions will be!”

As far as favorite music, Juliana has quite a collection of jazz and retro holiday tunes. “If I had to pick a favorite,” she says, “it would be any of Harry Connick Jr.’s holiday albums. I think I have them all and the combination of his velvety sound along with the great arrangements—whether for big band or intimate jazz combo—make for a great listening experience sure to liven up any holiday gathering!”

Kenny Grant recommends the Johnny Mathis album The Sounds of Christmas. And Kathy Kemp suggests, “The RPO holiday CD, of course!”

You can purchase your own copy of the RPO’s A Holiday Celebration, featuring the Festival High School Chorale, tenor Tonio Di Paolo, and Jeff Tyzik’s The Twelve Gifts of Christmas, Little Drummer Boy, and Chanukah Suite. It's on sale now for $5 in the Eastman Theatre Shop or online.

Why Donors Support the RPO

The RPO is “a cultural jewel that I want to help preserve,” says donor Deanne Molinari (pictured at left), a retired higher education administrator from Fairport. “The RPO is one of the best orchestras in the United States, and the most versatile as evidenced by the various concert series and the education work it does.”

Molinari is one of more than 30 donors who have joined the newly formed Artistic Excellence Society (AES), which recognizes annual campaign donors who make three-year pledges of $2,500 per year or more. “I was pleased to be able to join the Artistic Excellence Society because we are so fortunate in this community to have an orchestra to support,” she says. “Many communities have lost that option because they were unable or unwilling to support their orchestras when the need was greatest.”

“I’ve long been convinced that supporting our outstanding orchestra also provides support for so many other Rochester cultural organizations that are connected to the RPO,” says Rob W. Goodling, a Corn Hill resident, former Churchville-Chili choral director, and current music history instructor at the Hochstein School of Music and Dance.

Funding from AES members directly supports musicians' compensation, educational programming, artistic innovation, and concert and guest artist or guest conductor underwriting.

In addition to helping the RPO to attract and retain the best talent, serve the community, and grow in national recognition, other benefits of joining the AES include the opportunity to “adopt” a RPO musician, complimentary refreshments at Eastman Theatre concerts, a special donor brunch, and much more.

Jeff Crane, superintendent of schools for the West Irondequoit Central School District, says, “Sue and I enthusiastically joined the AES as a way in which we could demonstrate our gratitude for—and influence the sustainability of—the tradition of excellence that is the RPO!”

For more information about joining the AES, call Lauri Van Hise at 585-454-7311, x280 or e-mail her at

Orchestra photo by Janice Hanson.

December 3, 2013

20 Years of Gala Holiday Pops

This season, the RPO celebrates Jeff Tyzik’s 20th anniversary, and also the 20th annual Gala Holiday Pops concerts, taking place Dec. 19*-22. Tyzik conducts the RPO, along with the Festival High School Chorale and the new Community Children's Chorus, in sparkling carols, holiday favorites, and more.

In recognition of this momentous occasion, we talked with chorale director Harold McAulliffe, who works with co-director Amy Story to put the concert together.

How did the first Festival High School Chorale come together?
Jeff approached myself (High School Choral Director at Pittsford Sutherland), and Lonnie Arnold (High School Choral Director at Fairport) to see if we would be interested in recruiting and preparing a choir made up of students from local area high schools. We were, and the rest is history.

What are some of the highlights for you?
The greatest highlight is having former participants share with me the positive significance that their experience played in their lives. Seeing the pride that the students show when having the honor of performing with the RPO. Observing how competitive it has become to now be a part of the choir.

What has changed through the years?
The quality of the choir. We now have standards such as NYSSMA** solo scores and previous NYSSMA and County festival participation. The students now have to be recommended by their teacher and the teacher has to rate each submitted student on a proficiency list.

How do you find new singers for the chorus each year?
We invite each choral director from all area high schools to submit to us a list of no more than 10 students for our consideration. Each student’s qualifications and proficiency list placement is taken into consideration.

What is the atmosphere like backstage during the Gala Holiday Pops?
Full of excitement and pride as the students realize the honor that they are experiencing.

* Dec. 19 is a special performance benefitting the Rochester Rotary Sunshine Campus and the Monroe Community Hospital Foundation. Ticket prices for this concert differ from the other performances.

** NYSSMA = New York State School Music Association

November 12, 2013

Rachmaninoff Goes Pop

Rachmaninoff's sweeping, soaring melodies have captivated classical audiences and transcended the classical genre, turning up in popular music throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Themes from his second piano concerto have served as inspiration for pop songs like "Full Moon and Empty Arms," made famous by Frank Sinatra in the 1940s:

as well as Eric Carmen's 1975 power ballad "All By Myself."

Carmen also gained inspiration from Rachmaninoff for his 1976 hit single "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again," which directly quotes Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony. Listen to Carmen's version, and compare it to Rachmaninoff's original:

Rachmaninoff's influence on these songs underscores his tremendous gift for writing a great melody that resonates across genres and generations. But, his music is much more than a catchy theme to be extracted and re-purposed. When put into context, these themes become part of a larger picture, seeming to evolve endlessly and go on forever. It's not just about the main theme, but about where it goes, how it changes shape, what's around it, and how all of the lines are woven together, and it's something that the pop versions can't re-create.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra perfoms Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 November 14 and 16, 2013 in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. The program also includes Hindemith's Concert Music for Strings and Brass and Richard Strauss's Oboe Concerto. Junichi Hirokami, guest conductor; Erik Behr, oboe.

November 6, 2013

Magical Nutcracker with Rochester City Ballet

This Thanksgiving, be transported by Tchaikovsky’s timeless score and the captivating dance and costumes of The Nutcracker. This year marks the 15th anniversary of this enchanting production by the RPO and Rochester City Ballet. Performances take place at 2 and 7 PM daily Friday, Nov. 29 through Sunday, Dec. 1 in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.

The classic tale of Clara and her magical nutcracker is brought to life by talented dancers from the Rochester City Ballet, guest artists from America's top ballet companies, 175 community children, and the Bach Children’s Chorus – with Tchaikovsky's wonderful music performed live by your RPO, conducted by Michael Butterman (The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Chair).

RCB Artistic Director Jamey Leverett has created new choreography for The Nutcracker’s signature Land of Snow scene. “The whole show is nostalgic and exciting, with the snow scene being one of the most magical moments in the entire production,” Leverett said. “We’ve updated this classic section to showcase the incredible technique of our dancers and make the scene that much more special.”

Children's tickets start at only $10! Click here for tickets online, or call the Eastman Theatre Box Office at 585-454-2100.

Get ready for The Nutcracker with story readings at Barnes & Noble, Pittsford (Nov. 8, 7 PM), Penfield Library (Nov. 9, 11 AM), Greece Library (Nov. 9, 11 AM), and Strong Museum of Play (Nov. 11, 11 AM and 1 PM). 

Fans are invited to answer Nutcracker trivia questions on Facebook throughout the month of November for a chance to win two tickets to the Sunday evening show. To follow performance preparations and see behind-the-scenes photos of costumes and rehearsals, visit the RCB Facebook page.

Juliana Athayde’s Pumpkin Pie Recipe

As you gear up for your Thanksgiving feast, we have a recipe you’ll enjoy straight from the 2008 RPO Cooks! cookbook. RPO Concertmaster Juliana Athayde shared her recipes for a full Thanksgiving dinner – brined turkey with gravy, baked acorn squash, stuffing, spinach soufflé, and to top it all off, her mom’s bourbon pumpkin pie.

The cookbook includes more than 200 recipes from RPO musicians, conductors, guest artists, Rochester Philharmonic League members, and RPO staff.

Purchase your own copy of the RPO cookbook in the Eastman Theatre Shop at 433 East Main Street, open during RPO performances (one hour prior to the show through the end of the concert) and every Thursday and Friday from 10 AM to 2 PM.

Juliana’s Pumpkin Pie with Bourbon

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3/4 c. sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. canned pumpkin puree
1 c. undiluted evaporated milk OR heavy cream
1/4 c. bourbon
1 9” pie shell in pie pan (store bought or homemade)

Preheat oven to 450°. Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add remaining ingredients, beating well after each addition. Pour into pie shell and bake at 450° for 10 minutes, then reduce to 325° and bake for another 45 minutes, or until the custard filling is firm. Serves 8.

October 7, 2013

Michael Butterman on Orchestra Games

The RPO's OrKIDStra Family Series starts this Sunday with Orchestra Games, a fun and engaging concert with an Olympics theme. Read below for a little pregame analysis from Michael Butterman, RPO Principal Conductor for Education and Outreach.

Hello OrKIDStra Families!

Even though it feels more like summer, the fall is here, and with it another RPO season. We're excited to bring you the first of this season's OrKIDStra concerts this coming Sunday, October 13, at 2 PM at Hochstein. We're calling the concert "Orchestra Games," and it features a fun, narrated piece by the same name, as well as great music by Verdi, Bartók, and John Williams. 

You may not realize that it's nearly upon us, but early in 2014, the world will be focused on a brand new Olympic competition in Sochi, Russia. Our concert will help get you into the competitive, sporting mood as we put all the instruments in the orchestra through a series of "events" meant to test their pitch, volume, endurance, agility--you name it. Before we get to the competition, we'll "warm up" with some Bartók, which will get us paying attention to speeds (tempos), as well as highs and lows and which instruments produce them. We'll also play some Verdi, which will prep our listening ears to focus on louds and softs (dynamics) as we hear the powerful brass and gentle strings sometimes engaging in a little "role reversal."

Then come the games. Gregory Smith is a brilliant composer whose "Mr. Smith's Composition" we performed a few years ago. He's back with another work that playfully examines the instruments of the orchestra in an ingenious fashion, all hosted by our play-by play commentator, narrator Sam Krall. Be prepared to cheer for your favorites as we bring you right into the action!

Of course we'll have activities for the kids starting at 1PM in the lobby, so feel free to come early and enjoy. It promises to be a great kickoff to our slate of concerts, and, as always, a great way to introduce young people to the symphony orchestra and the magic of live music. No matter what your age, though, there's great fun to be had at the OrKIDStra concerts and we'll look forward to seeing you there this coming weekend.

See you at Hochstein!
Michael Butterman, Principal Conductor for Education and Outreach

September 23, 2013

Guest Artist Spotlight: Get to Know Jennifer Koh

"Koh is a risk-taking, high-octane player of the kind who grabs the listener by the ears and refuses to let go." --The Strad
Fast facts about Jennifer Koh, RPO guest violinist September 26 and 28:

    ➤ and won the International Tchaikovsky Competition, the Concert Artists Guild Competition, and the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1994.

    ➤ She's performed with the world's leading orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, LA Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, National Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, and Philadelphia Orchestra. She also performs frequently at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the Kimmel Center.

    ➤ Koh has diverse and adventurous musical taste, embracing the classics of the violin repertoire 

    ➤ while also championing contemporary pieces and composers. Hear her thoughts on Lutoslawski's Chain 2, which she recently performed with the New York Philharmonic:

    ➤ She's a Grammy–nominated recording artist (for String Poetic which includes music by John Adams, Jennifer Higdon, Carl Ruggles, and Lou Harrison). 

    ➤ Her talents extend beyond music: she has a BA in English literature from Oberlin College.

Hear Jennifer Koh perform Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with the RPO and guest conductor Jun Märkl, September 26 and 28. The program also includes Mahler's First Symphony and Aaron Jay Kernis's New Era Dance.

September 18, 2013

Mahler 1: The Funny Side of Sadness

"Gustav Mahler is the composer of contradictions and paradoxes. He is the composer of ambiguities, contrasts, complexities and cognitive dissonance." --Conductor Kenneth Woods, Mahler 4, a contradiction
Modern classical audiences like Mahler; in fact, several critics and scholars have declared him this generation's Beethoven.

So, why does Mahler resonate with us? It is, of course, great music, but ambiguity and paradox are perhaps key underlying factors of its appeal. As in life, nothing in Mahler's music is ever just happy or sad: instead, it constantly shifts from one extreme to another, capturing the complexity of the human experience in very real way—and guaranteeing a powerful experience for the audience.

The RPO opens its season on Sep. 26 and 28 with Mahler's Symphony No. 1, "Titan." Here's one example of paradox in Mahler 1: the third movement quotes a melody that the audience will recognize as "Frère Jacques." However, Mahler puts it in a minor key, transforming it from a cheerful, innocent, children's song to a funereal dirge.

The "Frère Jacques" theme is introduced as a bass solo, which will be performed on Sep. 26 and 28 by RPO Principal Bassist Colin Corner. Here are Colin's thoughts on the solo:

"It's always an exciting experience to play Mahler's First Symphony as a principal bassist. The third movement of the symphony begins with a lovely double bass solo. The score is marked "Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen" which translates to "solemn and processional, without dragging," and is a funeral march. The timpani starts with a simple, rhythmic bass line, and the double bass starts a round of a familiar tune—"Frère Jacques," but in a minor key—before passing it on to the bassoon and other instruments in the orchestra.

"The bass solo is marked in the score to be played softly and with a mute, to give it a melancholy and dark character, although I haven't decided whether or not I will use one. (We have a tradition in the RPO bass section of using mutes at our discretion, in part because of the size and darkness of the Eastman Theatre acoustic.)

"Much controversy has surrounded the 3rd movement. Initially, audiences were upset by it—what to make of a sad Frère Jacques melody in a minor key over a funeral march,  followed by folksy polka-like music played by the woodwinds, then a quote from the Wayfarer song cycle ... all starting with a solo double bass? And it doesn't end there: a re-reading of Mahler's score has been interpreted as a bass soli by some conductors, who will insist that Mahler intended for the entire section to play in unison. I suspect Mahler heard this in the first rehearsal and then changed it to solo bass.

"In any event, I am thrilled to get to play it with the RPO and guest conductor Jun Märkl. Listen carefully at the start of the 3rd movement for the bass solo!"
Colin Corner, Principal Bass

Hear the RPO perform Mahler's First Symphony September 26 and 28 with guest conductor Jun Märkl. The program also includes Aaron Jay Kernis's New Era Dance and Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto (Jennifer Koh, violin).

More on this concert:
Watch an excerpt of the third movement as featured in "Humor in Music" (an episode of Leonard Bernstein's Young Person's Concert Series.) This episode examines how composers use musical incongruity to create humor. Bernstein discusses Mahler's First Symphony in parts two and three of the video (part three is below).

September 11, 2013

Michael Butterman on OrKIDStra Series

The RPO’s OrKIDStra Series introduces children to orchestral music through fun and engaging concerts. Thanks to RPO Principal Conductor for Education and Outreach Michael Butterman for sharing his thoughts on the upcoming season.

“We open with The Orchestra Games—a mock Olympics sort of competition featuring the various instruments and sections of the orchestra and a narrator providing ‘play-by-play’ commentary. We'll have fun discovering which instruments can play the fastest, loudest, highest, lowest, and so on.

“Narrators join us for the next couple of concerts as well, including Tales of Russia—which weaves together folk tales and vivid music by various composers—and a musical setting of The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket, author of the A Series of Unfortunate Events books for kids. I think this one will have a special appeal to the slightly older kids in our audience, say, ages 8 and up. 

“And then guest conductor Neil Varon will be joined by an animated co-host—Picardy Penguin. Picardy appears on screen and interacts with the conductor, orchestra, and audience in real time as he explores the building blocks of music.”

Watch a preview of Lemony Snicket's The Composer is Dead below, featuring commentary by author Lemony Snicket and composer Nathaniel Stookey.

September 4, 2013

Michael Butterman on Musical Connections

This season, the RPO launches the new Musical Connections series at Hochstein, which will explore the fusion of music and other art forms. Michael Butterman, RPO Conductor for Education and Outreach (The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Chair), tells us what audiences can expect to hear at these concerts:

“As a musician, I find it fascinating to explore how artists in other fields express themselves. One can read a poem about the sea, look at a seascape painting, and then listen to something like Debussy's La Mer, and find illuminating points of similarity, while also marveling at the different effect that each medium has on the observer. Our Musical Connections concerts will begin to examine the ways in which music and areas like painting, dance, and poetry interact, overlap, and inform one another. And we'll do it with some humor and plenty of ‘visual aids.’

“We start off looking at how music and art overlap (color-tone color, subject/background-melody/accompaniment, etc.), what music inspired by art sounds like and what art inspired by music *looks* like (Music and Art, Oct. 6). Then, dancers from Rochester City Ballet will help us celebrate the union of movement and music (Music and Dance, March 2). And finally, we'll hear music inspired by words, words inspired by music, and hear some new songs set to the poetry of the marvelous Maya Angelou (Music and Literature, May 25). We'll also stick with the no-intermission format and continue Christopher's tradition of taking audience questions afterwards.”

August 23, 2013

2013–14 Season: Matthew McDonald Recommends

"Mozart & Tchaikovksy (Stravinsky's Fairy Kiss; Mozart Piano Concerto; Tchaik 5) will be a blast because each piece on the program features the bassoon in an interesting and dramatic way. Very challenging.

"Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony has been something I've been wanting to play for a long time. The piece's character demands a mournful and, at times, a darkly humorous bassoon voice.

"I can't wait to get started!"
--Matthew McDonald, Principal Bassoon

Mozart & Tchaikovsky

Nov. 7 and 9; Christoph Campestrini, guest conductor; Barry Snyder, piano

STRAVINSKY The Fairy’s Kiss: Divertimento
MOZART  Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488
TCHAIKOVSKY  Symphony No. 5

Shostakovich's Tenth
May 22 and 24; Thomas Wilkins, guest conductor; Douglas Prosser, trumpet

BECKEL  Toccata for Orchestra      
ARUTIUNIAN  Trumpet Concerto          
SHOSTAKOVICH  Symphony No. 10

Listen to an excerpt from the fourth movement of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10, performed by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. (You can hear an example of the "mournful" bassoon voice that Matthew describes starting around 2:35; hear McDonald perform it live with the RPO in May, 2014).

2013–14 Season: Gaelen McCormick Recommends

"The Appalachian Spring concert is one I'm very excited about.

"That concert will be the first time for me playing Barber's School for Scandal Overture, which is something I heard on a Pittsburgh Symphony broadcast back in high school. The orchestration struck me as very different from the Beethoven symphony my youth orchestra had been working on, and seemed like a challenge. It'll be fun learning it now.

"Appalachian Spring is something that I love more every time I perform it. Growing up, there was something about Copland's way of writing that bothered me; I think it's the very openness of his writing, with the voices spread out, that gave me the odd sense of loneliness. But as I traveled our country in my 20s, I've seen how the prairie/Midwest looks and feels, and now the music sounds more like the expansive plains (or big sky if you're thinking Montana). While I was an undergrad at Eastman, I regularly took modern dance classes at the U of R. We watched many videos of seminal 20th century choreographers, like Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey, and of course Martha Graham. Watching the dancers execute her vision of Appalachian Spring really sharpens the angular nature of Copland's writing.

"Piazzolla's Four Seasons is going to be hot! Juliana is an incredible musician, and Astor Piazzolla gives so much emotional material to work with in the seasons. I was lucky to perform a string quintet arrangement of these a few years ago, and the music is full of sweeping drama, and moments of gritty abrasive harmonies. He really tells the story of love and life in a large city (Buenos Aires). Tango is something that is near and dear to me--I met my husband taking tango lessons a few years ago!"
--Gaelen McCormick, Bass

Appalachian Spring
Oct. 24 and 26; Larry Rachleff, guest conductor; Juliana Athayde, violin

BARBER  Overture to The School for Scandal
COPLAND  Appalachian Spring Suite
PIAZZOLLA  The Four Seasons
FALLA  Three-Cornered Hat Suite No. 2

Watch a clip from the ballet Martha Graham choreographed to Copland's Appalachian Spring:

2013–14 Season: Thomas Rodgers Recommends

"In the RPO's 2013–14 season, I am especially looking forward to our concerts with Maestro Christoph Campestrini and Barry Snyder on November 7 and 9.

"Maestro Campestrini conducted my very first RPO concert in March of 2012, and I really enjoyed playing under him. I am excited that he will be working with us again.

"I was fortunate to get the opportunity to play some chamber music with Barry Snyder several months ago, and he is such a wonderful musician/pianist and person. I am looking forward to hearing him again."

--Thomas Rodgers, Violin

Mozart & Tchaikovsky
Nov. 7 and 9; Christoph Campestrini, guest conductor; Barry Snyder, piano

STRAVINSKY The Fairy’s Kiss: Divertimento
MOZART  Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488
TCHAIKOVSKY  Symphony No. 5

Listen to Van Cliburn silver medalist (and Eastman School of Music Professor) Barry Snyder perform Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit, "Scarbo":

2013–14 Season: Kenny Grant Recommends

"For me, the Bartók, Brahms, and Higdon concert is one that I'm really excited about.

"Jonathan Biss is an amazing artist and we have not had the Brahms First Piano Concerto in some time. I find the orchestrations of these concertos beyond the scope of the symphonies. Brahms being a pianist really pours his heart and soul into each of his two piano concertos.

"Jennifor Higdon's compositions I find very well put together and extremely musical in scope. Christopher Seaman brought her Blue Cathedral to the orchestra while he was the music director.

"The Bartók Concerto for Orchestra is one of the finest works for orchestra. The RPO has done it many times and it is always welcomed back by the orchestra. It has beautiful solo passages for all the instruments and wonderfully contrasting movements."
--Kenny Grant, Principal Clarinet

Brahms and Bartók
Oct. 17 and 19; Bernhard Gueller, guest conductor; Jonathan Biss, piano

JENNIFER HIGDON  City Scape: Skyline
BRAHMS  Piano Concerto No. 1
BARTÓK  Concerto for Orchestra

Watch a conversation with Jonathan Biss on PBS's News Hour:

Béla Bartók
"The title of [Concerto for Orchestra] is explained by its tendency to treat the single orchestral instruments in a concertant or soloistic manner. The 'virtuoso' treatment appears, for instance, in the fugato sections of the development of the first movement (brass instruments) ... and especially in the second movement, in which pairs of instruments consecutively appear with brilliant passages." --Béla Bartók
"[Concerto for Orchestra] makes tremendous demands on the players' dexterity. Also, the atmosphere sometimes changes very drastically and very unexpectedly. That is what makes it interesting."
--Pierre Boulez
Listen to this NPR clip for more on Concerto for Orchestra, including an excerpt performed by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony:

2013–14 Season: Peter Kurau & Geoffrey Sanford Recommend

"I'm looking forward to the return next season of Maestro Campestrini and Maestro Rachleff, both of whom provided wonderful, memorable concerts in recent seasons with the RPO."
--Peter Kurau, Principal Horn
"I'm looking forward to working with Larry Rachleff again.  I played for him during my Master's at Rice University and learned an incredible amount from him."
--Geoffrey Sanford, Oboe

“There is nothing like being present at a live classical music concert … Going to hear classical music is a window into one’s own feelings. These composers lived in the depths of the human condition … Classical music asks us, demands us, and brings us down into the richness of who we really are.”

--Larry Rachleff
Larry Rachleff is Music Director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic; he joins the RPO Oct. 24 and 26 for music by Barber, Copland, Piazzolla, and de Falla. Watch the video below for Rachleff's views on a conductor's role, why classical music is better live, and more:

"Music always has to say something to me, it has to speak to me as a human being. Only afterwards I will analyze other aspects of it."

--Christoph Campestrini
Austrian conductor Christoph Campestrini has conducted more than 100 orchestras on 5 different continents, and is also in demand as an opera conductor. Campestrini studied music at Juilliard and Yale, and also studied philosophy at Columbia University. He joins the RPO Nov. 7 and 9 for Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, plus music by Mozart and Stravinsky.

August 22, 2013

2013–14 Season: Stephen Laifer Recommends

"I'm definitely looking forward to Beethoven's 9th Symphony in January.

As the RPO's 4th Horn, I don't get the chance to play very many solos--but in the 3rd movement of his 9th symphony, Beethoven wrote a solo for the 4th Horn player in his orchestra that is an entire page long. It's one of the most challenging and rewarding pieces in the repertoire."
--Stephen Laifer, Fourth Horn

Beethoven's Ninth

Jan. 16, 18, and 19; Hugh Wolff, guest conductor; Rochester Oratorio Society, Eric Townell, director

BEETHOVEN  Symphony No. 9, “Choral”

Listen to the horn solo from the third movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, and hear it performed by the RPO's Stephen Laifer in January, 2014.

August 21, 2013

2013–14 Season: Rebecca Gilbert Recommends

"Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Stravinsky's Firebird Suite: lusciously sensual music that will take your imagination to a warm, exotic fantasy world far away from our cold Rochester winter! Oh yeah...those two pieces have fabulous flute solos!"

--Rebecca Gilbert, Principal Flute

An Evening in Paris
Jan. 30 and Feb. 1
; Fabien Gabel, guest conductor; Philippe Quint, violin

DEBUSSY  Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun  
SAINT-SAËNS  Violin Concerto No. 3      
RAVEL  Une barque sur l’océan (A Boat on the Ocean)
RAVEL  Tzigane
STRAVINSKY  Firebird Suite (1919)

Watch an analysis of Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, hosted by Leonard Bernstein. 

Watch an excerpt from the Firebird Suite performed by Michael Tilson Thomas and the YouTube Symphony Orchestra:

July 1, 2013

Beethoven on the Big Screen

Beethoven's Seventh Symphony has resonated with audiences of all kind since its premiere. As these program notes describe, the symphony's early performances were met with multiple encores and rapturous applause that "rose to the point of ecstasy," according to one newspaper account.

The symphony is equally popular with modern audiences. In particular, the symphony's slow second movement (Allegretto) has enjoyed mass appeal, and has been a popular choice for filmmakers. Listen to how it's used in this scene from Mr. Holland's Opus (1995):

Most recently, the second movement was featured in 2010 Academy Award–winner The King's Speech. Here it is, providing the perfect accompaniment to the film's climactic moment:

Beethoven's Allegretto is a great musical choice for this scene, mirroring what's taking place. The king's tentative start is accompanied by the quiet opening chord (which is actually played twice, reinforcing the king's hesitance). As George VI becomes more self-assured, the music grows louder and more regal, punctuating the king's personal triumph, but also reflecting the bittersweet nature of what he's saying.

It is, of course, a different listening experience when the music is left to stand on its own. While the pairing of King George's speech and Beethoven's Allegretto enhances the scene, and expresses some specific things to the audience, the music--when left on its own--expresses an infinite variety of things to each listener. You can hear the RPO perform this wonderful symphony live and in its entirety, July 19.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra performs Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 July 19, 2013, at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, under the direction of Ward Stare. The program also includes Wagner's Overture to The Flying Dutchman, and Mozart's Clarinet Concerto (Kenneth Grant, clarinet).

PS The Seventh Symphony is not the only Beethoven symphony to be used on the big screen. The Ninth has been used in several films, including Dead Poet's Society, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and, of course, Die HardThe RPO performs Beethoven's Ninth Symphony next season.

June 24, 2013

Performer's Perspective: Kenny Grant on Mozart's Clarinet Concerto

Thanks to RPO Principal Clarinetist Kenny Grant for sharing thoughts, background, and insight on Mozart's Clarinet Concerto; Grant performs the concerto with the RPO July 19, 2013.

About the concerto:
Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto was one of his last compositions, K. 622. It was written for Mozart's friend Anton Stadler, who performed it on a special instrument, the basset clarinet in A.

About the basset clarinet:
The basset clarinet is a cousin of the modern day A clarinet. Mozart used it in some of his operas, but the instrument never really survived out the classical era. It's longer than the modern clarinet, and a major third lower. I'll be performing the work on the basset clarinet, which I have done twice before with the orchestra.

The basset clarinet has a very deep mellow tone and is a lighter quality sound compared to the modern day A clarinet. The use of the basset clarinet allows the performer to have an extended range past the normal A clarinet, allowing certain passages not to be broken up by an octave displacement. 

Manuscript mystery
The original manuscript of the concerto was lost and has never been found. Mozart gave it to Stadler, who either lost it or sold it for money. Mozart's wife, Constanze, believed the  latter, writing "Stadler declares that while he was in Germany his portmanteau was stolen, with these pieces in it. Others, however, assure me that the said portmanteau was pawned there for 73 ducats."

What makes it great?
The concerto is for sure one of the most popular works by Mozart and is performed frequently. The slow movement is probably one of the most beautiful moments of the three-movement work. For clarinetists, the concerto is a work that we perform for an entire lifetime. It grows in depth and scope as we constantly re-open it time and time again to draw out the beauty of this composition written by a true genius.

Hear Mozart's Clarinet Concerto performed by Kenny Grant and the RPO, July 19, 2013 at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. The program also includes Wagner's Overture to The Flying Dutchman and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.

May 28, 2013

Guest artist spotlight: Leonardo Colafelice

Colafelice with The Cleveland Orchestra and
guest conductor Jahja Ling
Italian pianist Leonardo Colafelice has won numerous international piano competitions in the past year, including the Thomas and  Evon Cooper International Competition (Oberlin College / Cleveland Orchestra) and the Eastman Young Artists International Piano Competition (Eastman School of Music).

The seventeen-year-old's diverse repertoire includes Rachmaninoff's technically daunting Piano Concerto No. 3, which he performed last summer with The Cleveland Orchestra.

Watch Colafelice perform two short pieces by Rachmaninoff and Schumann below:

Leonardo Colafelice performs Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the RPO May 30 and June 1.

May 21, 2013

"Parisians Hiss New Ballet"

'And that is all we get,' added M. Stravinsky, 'after a hundred rehearsals and one year's hard work.' --Igor Stravinsky's comment to the press, following The Rite of Spring's premiere

Igor Stravinsky, 1921
The Rite of Spring turns 100 on May 29, a milestone which the RPO commemorates almost to the day, on May 30 and June 1.

Rite of Spring has come to be appreciated by audiences all over the world in the 100 years since its premiere, but got off to a famously tumultuous start. This New York Times article from 1913 chronicles the “storm of hissing” unleashed by the Paris audience, and includes a prophetic quote from Stravinsky on the piece's reception from future audiences:
No doubt it will be understood one day that I sprang a surprise on Paris, and Paris was disconcerted. But it will soon forget its bad temper.

The RPO pays tribute to the Rite's enduring legacy with an anniversary-weekend performance, May 30 and June 1.

May 6, 2013

Reflections: From me flows what you call Time

The RPO performs Toru Takemitsu's From me flows what you call Time with NEXUS and guest conductor Peter Bay on May 9 and 11. NEXUS and Bay performed this piece together in 2011 with the Austin Symphony, where Bay is Music Director. In the weeks preceding the performance, Bay and NEXUS's Bill Cahn traded emails about the piece; thanks to Bill Cahn for sharing this email conversation with us.

Peter Bay: Is there an English translation to the Makoto Ooka poem "Clear Blue Water" from which Takemitsu got his inspiration?

NEXUS outside Carnegie Hall,
with poster for sold-out premiere of
From me flows
... (1990)
Bill Cahn:
“Clear Blue Water”  by  Makoto Ooka

    Summer trip to Switzerland:
    in our bellies, sausages
    eaten on the Zermatt terrace,
    foot of the Matterhorn,
    slowly turns into
    heat: 1000 calories each.

    As we climb up and up
    the Furka Pass, my eyes
    suddenly are perforated
    by a billion particles
    of heavenly blue:
    across the valley a giant
    mountain rampart:
    The Glacier.

    Swinging up its snow-
    crowned sky-blue fist,
    that ancient water spirit

   "From me
    what you
    call Time."

    Down from that colossal
    mass of shining ice
    flows the majestic
    River Rhone.

Bay: What do the section titles in the score refer to?

Cahn: There are lots of levels of ideas and connections going on in this piece--here are some of them:
      1) the number 5: Five members of NEXUS, five-note motif, 5 colors of the Tibetan universe
      2) time: 100-years of Carnegie Hall, timeless nomad life, musical time
      3) colors: The colors of the Tibetan universe (red, green, blue, yellow, white) are depicted in the Tibetan "windhorse" (5-colored flags), which correspond to the five colors of shirts worn by the percussionists. The percussionists become, in effect, a kind of musical windhorse.

Bill Cahn on the end of From me flows...
For me, the final moments in the piece are really magical and unique. The experience of listening to the chimes decay is directly comparable to a technique used by Buddhist monks when they strike a long-sounding bell and consciously follow the sound's decay into silence, at which point, if done attentively, 'nowness' becomes revealed--the listener becomes immersed in now. Our experience in NEXUS is that, rather than making audiences uncomfortable, the long-sounding decay of the wind chimes at the end of Takemitsu's piece is totally embraced by audiences. In a profound way, the windchimes sounding at the end of the piece are the hall (Carnegie Hall or any concert hall) itself speaking, as the orchestra is silent. Symbolically, it's the hall itself announcing "From me flows . . ."

February 11, 2013

A Busy Month for Education

There is a lot of discussion in the media about the direction of the RPO, but what gets lost is the work the orchestra does now to inspire young people in our community. It's an essential component of the RPO, one that helps us fulfill our mission and reach new audiences for the future.

Today, 1,800 students from the Rochester area joined the RPO and Principal Conductor for Education Michael Butterman for an interactive concert exploring how music tells tales and sparks imaginations. It's the first of four education concerts this week that will reach 8,000 children aged 9 to 12, and one of a number of education and community events that reach over 30,000 people each year. Later in March, the RPO welcomes roughly 3,000 primary-school children for two performances. 

The Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, whose music director David Harman is celebrating his 20th anniversary, will be heading to Carnegie Hall on February 17. On March 11, the young musicians of the RPYO will join members of the RPO in a side-by-side concert in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. 

The RPYO, a key part of the RPO's community activities, allows young musicians to more deeply explore the music they love. Evidence of the RPYO's success was on display just this past weekend, when alumnus Ward Stare led the RPO in two concerts that critics and audience members alike raved about. 

As always, we thank you for your continued support of the RPO, which makes programs such as these possible. Follow us on Facebook to keep up with our education and community activities.   

Fifty Years of James Bond: revisiting Jeff Tyzik's Nov. 2012 blog

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 in the U.S. in theatres on November 9, 2012 (and on DVD February 12, 2003), 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:

January 31, 2013

The RPO Exceeds Goals, Optimistic About Future

We wanted to share the following essay by Elizabeth Rice and Charles Owens, published in the Democrat and Chronicle on January 27, 2013.

The RPO Exceeds Goals, Optimistic About Future

By Elizabeth Rice, Board Chair
Charles Owens, President and CEO

The core purpose of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra is to inspire, educate, and engage our community through the art of music, and central to achieving that purpose is the dedicated work of our most valued asset, the musicians. We are proud to report that, despite the turmoil of the past several months, the musicians and our RPO staff have stayed the course and maintained their focus on meeting—even exceeding—the goals that are central to the core purpose. We are confident that the future of the RPO is a bright one as we strive to bring joy and beauty, solace and spirited entertainment into the lives of thousands of concertgoers in the Rochester region every year.

There are a number of factors that support our confidence. First, and most important, the RPO and the orchestra’s musicians have agreed on a new, four-year, agreement. To their great credit, the musicians have agreed to make significant sacrifices in the first two years of the contract. We thank them for that support, which will permit the RPO to address our financial challenges successfully. While we experienced a substantial deficit in 2011–2012, we are planning for a balanced budget in fiscal 2012–2013.

Thanks to the support of our subscribers, donors, and single-ticket buyers, more than 180,000 people experienced the RPO in concert last season. That includes nearly 14,000 young people who attended our education concerts in Eastman Theatre at Kodak Hall, offered at low cost to young people from throughout the area. For our 14 holiday concerts, single-ticket revenue ranged from 101% to 116% of goal, producing revenue just under $590,000. Over 27,000 enthusiastic patrons enjoyed those performances.

Also, we are encouraged that the RPO’s annual campaign for the 2012–2013 fiscal year already stands at $1.6 million as of January 11—over $201,000 ahead of the 2011–2012 campaign at the same time last year. Yet another reason for optimism.

We are proud and excited by this week’s announcement that an RPO concert will be a part of the 2014 Spring for Music Festival at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The program will showcase both the RPO and the Eastman School of Music, making a bold statement for music in the Rochester area. Funding for that performance is secure.

Additionally, we have appointed a search committee to seek a new music director for RPO, and the work of that committee has begun.

In short, we have good reason to be optimistic about our future. We hope you will continue to support the dedicated and talented musicians in our orchestra.

January 29, 2013

Recommended Recordings for Phils 8 by Gil French, Concert Editor for American Record Guide

Still: Symphony No. 1 (“Afro-American”)
Neemi Jarvi, Detroit Symphony
Chandos 9154

So it turns out after all that Jessie Jackson didn’t single-handedly invent the term “Afro-American” in 1988; William Grant Still used it 57 years earlier as the sub-title for his Symphony No. 1. In describing the music, Howard Hanson, who led the world premiere with the RPO in 1931, said, “Still’s music speaks of the common man. Listeners need no analytical table, seismographic chart, nor digital computer to understand it, only a sensitive ear, a mind, and a heart.”

Neemi Jarvi’s gorgeously engineered recording confirms that. True, the work is shy on counterpoint and “involution”, but it’s rich in melody, styles (plural), and superb orchestration. Still has a special gift for playing the woodwinds against the strings. Whether the style is jazz, spiritual, jig (with banjo!), or heat-withered laconic, Jarvi makes the music flow so naturally you’ll be humming, tapping a foot, or pausing in a contemplative, melancholic mood.

The other work on the album, by the way, is a suite from “The River” by Duke Ellington.

Lowry, Douglas: Commissioned Work
No recordings available.

Hindemith: Mathis der Maler Symphony
Eugene Ormandy, Philadelphia Orchestra
Sony 53258

To this day, 33 years after Ormandy ended his 44-year reign with the Philadelphia Orchestra, even when tuning the car radio into the middle of a piece, I can quickly exclaim “That’s Ormandy’s Philadelphia Orchestra” just by the sound.  Their recordings in the 1950s and 1960s were sometimes headed with the slogan, “The World’s Greatest Orchestra,” a nickname given by none other than Sergei Rachmaninoff.  This is one of their recordings that tells you why.

By 1962, when this recording was made, Ormandy had been music director for 24 years. Having hand-picked most of the players by that time, and having conducted between 100 and 180 concerts each year, he did indeed create his own sound. The string sound that the violin-trained conductor created is sumptuously rich and deep.  In fact, it’s awesome, unlike any other!  But so is the rich, firm, highly nuanced, richly lyrical playing of each of the principal woodwinds.  And so is the distinctively bright, firmly supported, deep sound of the amassed brass section, all enhanced on this recording by superb full-range engineering.

But it’s more than that.  Interpretation is what counts the most, and here Ormandy is at his best.  He balances all those amassed sounds by going primarily for the lyrical line and for phrasing that sustains long arches of sound; he gives the melody line primacy, while the chords and instrumental colors give it context.  Ormandy also conveys Hindemith’s strong characterizations here—the differing textures in “The Angels’ Concert”; the longing, yearning, surging of emotions, and almost “trying to hold on to a memory” in “The Entombment”. And in “The Temptation of St. Anthony” Ormandy makes the motifs worm their way into our psyche, like kernels of temptation screwing themselves into St. Anthony’s inner core. Even if Hindemith isn’t normally your cup of tea, this recording is enough to make you addicted to at least this one work.

The other works on this album are Hindemith’s most accessible one, “Symphonic Metamorphases on Themes of Weber” and William Walton’s “Variations on a Theme of Hindemith”, both with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra.  The Walton too is a classic recording.

Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
Earl Wild; Arthur Fiedler, Boston Pops

Michael Tilson Thomas, Los Angeles Philharmonic
CBS 39699

Andrew Litton, Dallas Symphony
Delos 3216

“Rhapsody in Blue” comes in three versions, all orchestrated by Ferde Grofe: the original one for jazz band (with eight violins, reeds, brass, piano, percussion, banjo, and a string bass player who also played the tuba), one for a pit-sized ensemble, and the famous one for full symphony orchestra arranged after Gershwin died.

In the full symphonic version, no one compares with the Earl Wild-Arthur Fiedler recording, made way back in 1959.  Here the Rhapsody is no chunky, loosely organized pops piece. Boy, does Earl Wild always know precisely where he’s going, and so does Fiedler in one of his moments of pure panache! Amidst the supreme musicality and style, listen to Wild’s phenomenal technique—how he accents, prioritizes, and articulates even subsidiary notes amidst thickets of notes. Fiedler too is on fire—the orchestra is crazy, riotious. This is not just high energy; it’s a portrayal of wild 1920s NYC. As one critic wrote at the time, “Gershwin expresses us. He is the present, with all its audacity, impertinence, its feverish delight in its motion, its lapses into rhythmically exotic melancholy.” What a treat—to have lived at a time when impertinence was king instead of the bland pertinence so in style today.

This recording is available on two CDs. The older one includes the Piano Concerto in F (another over-the-top performance), “An American in Paris”, and “I Got Rhythm Variations”; the later “Living Stereo” release also includes the “Cuban Overture”. 

The other two recordings use Ferde Grofe’s original instrumentation for jazz band. Michael Tilson Thomas as both pianist and conductor is hot too—really hot. In fact, his pacing pretty much matches that of Wild and Fiedler, that is, the piece comes across as a unified whole. But crisp, taut, and rhythmically dazzling as both piano and orchestra are, for me the performance lacks that final touch of panache; others will find it perfect.

Panache is what Andrew Litton conveys as conductor; whenever the orchestra enters after the many piano solo passages, it’s as if you know exactly where Litton as soloist has been aiming. And what panache the players have—rhythms, balanced colors, accents so pungent they even made me jump a few times. They’re as riotous as the Boston Pops.

What’s different here is that Litton as pianist has far looser tempos in the solo passages; he treats them as cadenzas, virtuoso opportunities where one can be spontaneous. That’s why his recording is 75 seconds longer than Thomas’. But I feel that he too always knows where he’s headed, though his approach may not be to every listener’s taste. Also, good as the engineering is on the other two recordings, the sound on this album is truly exceptional, right down to the piano’s rich bass notes and the orchestral impact.

Both Tilson Thomas’ and Litton’s recordings contain world premieres of works each artist discovered combing the Library of Congress’ Gershwin archives (MTT with Ira Gershwin himself).   

Note: MTT has three recordings that use the original jazz band instrumentation; the other two are with the New World Symphony and Columbia Jazz Band. The cover of the Los Angeles Philharmonic one has MTT at a grand piano against a backdrop of NYC at night—not to be confused with the Sony “Classic Gershwin” album with the Columbia Jazz Band (it has a black cover).

January 1, 2013

Recommended Recordings for Phils 7 by Gil French, Concert Editor for American Record Guide

Higdon, Jennifer: Machine
No recordings available.

Beethoven: Symphony No. 1
David Zinman, Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra
Arte Nova 63645

Right from the 12-bar introduction to the first movement, Zinman makes us hear everything—every marked articulation, even instrument (even the bassoon line).  Yet everything is perfectly blended, balanced, so wide-eyed and expectant.  In fact, I’m even aware how he doesn’t elide notes that everyone else does.  Why?  Because they’re not in the score! 

So why is this important?  First, these are all the elements out of which Zinman creates such infectious rhythms, the life blood of this symphony.  Once past the introduction, the strings’ strokes are buoyant with quick lifts at the end of notes.  The rapid-fire 1/16th notes in the lower strings make for a really tight pulse. And because Zinman creates such transparent textures, he makes us hear two and three levels of activity simultaneously.  I never before realized what a “classical era” work Beethoven’s first symphony is.  To really have its effect, it must be played as cleanly and precisely as Mozart or Haydn.

After the can’t-sit-still first movement, Zinman makes the second a genuine “Singing Andante with Motion” (as Beethoven calls it).  Does he ever!  It’s easily paced, lyrical, and, baby, does it flow—all three elements.  Same for the third-movement Minuet: not forced, but what flow and life it has, and what pungent timpani!  Where Zinman’s articulation at quick tempos really pays off is in the Finale—what bounce, rhythm, and infectiousness, all abetted by transparent, warm, resonant engineering.

The other work on this album is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, given an equally stirring performance (recommended last season).  Bonus: Arte Nova is a super-budget label.

Larsson, Lars-Erik: Concertino for Trombone
Christian Lindberg; Okku Kamu, New Stockholm Chamber Orchestra
BIS 348 or BIS (2-CD) 473

No one can match Lindberg as soloist in this work. It’s not just his ultra-velvet Tommy Dorsey tone quality with a lovely vibrato touch, but his supreme lyricism, depth of expression, and musicality that set him apart.  In the Aria (second movement) just listen to the degree of legato he gets, remarkable given the slide nature of the instrument and the need to take breaths.  Then listen the way he captures the quick snap and pinpoint rhythms of the Finale.  It’s a pity Okku Kamu makes the strings of the orchestra (new in 1987) sound so flatlined, monotone, and unarticulated. Still, this is the best recording of the few available. 

If you still want it, BIS 348 is called “The Winter Trombone” with Lindberg as soloist in ‘Winter’ from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, Milhaud’s “Winter Concertino”, the Larsson, and a Telemann concerto originally for oboe.  BIS 473 contains all 12 Concertinos that Larsson wrote between 1953 and 1957 for 12 different solo instruments with string orchestra.

Mozart: Symphony No. 40
Marc Minkowski, Les Musiciens du Louvre
Deutsche Grammphon Archiv 6506

This is probably the most beautiful and most perfect Mozart recording I own (yes, beauty and perfection do go together when appreciating Mozart, don’t they).

Not only is this period-instrument orchestra brightly tuned and in tune (early instrument tuning can easily come up sour), but the timbre of the strings and winds is warm, mellow, and smooth.  What an invigorating contrast then are Minkowski’s snappy tempos and sparkling articulation in the first and last movements, let alone the contrasts between double forte and pianissimo, between strings and winds, and even between different woodwinds such as the velvet bassoons and resonant wood flutes.

The slow second movement is utterly serene, the most beautiful performance of it I’ve ever heard.  To Minkowski it’s love music, as three different lines intertwine around each other.  And when he repeats the opening exposition section, he does so “sotto voce”—so hushed its beauty veritably makes one ache with longing.  And the third movement Minuet is simply the most exquisite on record.

Each movement flows perfectly with an alert but unforced pace.  As a result, Minkowski turns four perfect wholes into one overall whole, an esthetic experience of abstract beauty.  It’s the closest I’ve ever come to understanding what mathematicians mean when they describe the beauty of working out a perfect formula.  Warm, balanced, utterly transparent sound enables us to hear everything.  The other works on the album are Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 and the final ballet from “Idomeneo”.