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.”