December 3, 2015

Greece teen sings at Gala Pops

Mark Mitrano
Mark Mitrano plans to pursue a career as a performer. A sophomore at Greece Athena High School, Mitrano has been performing as a singer since he was five years old. Now 16, Mitrano is preparing to perform with the 200-voice Festival High School Chorale at the RPO's Gala Holiday Pops December 18-20.

"My experience with the RPO will open up many opportunities for me, as well as prepare me for the future," said Mitrano. "The raw professionalism that is taught is an invaluable asset I will use in my future endeavors."

For more than 20 years, Gala Holiday Pops has included a performance by the Festival High School Chorale. The Chorale is the brainchild of Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik, who dreamed of a large chorus onstage with the RPO that celebrates gifted young vocalists. Participation is open to all high school vocal students in a seven-county region, and students are recommended to the choir by their teachers. This is Mitrano's second year performing with the Chorale; he was recommended by his teacher Kathryn Dyer, vocal music director at Greece Athena High School.

"I had heard rave reviews from other students in my school who had participated and I was eager to experience it for myself," said Mitrano. "What I love about performing with the RPO is the overall experience---meeting other students, actual orchestra members, and working with their fabulous conductor. It’s just a pleasure to be with people who have as much of a drive and passion for music as I do!"

The Chorale is co-directed by educators Harold McAulliffe and Amy Story, who have a combined 85 years of experience as music educators in our area! While the Chorale will sing approximately half of this month's Gala Pops program, Mitrano is most looking forward to singing Jeff Tyzik's arrangement of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus.

"It's upbeat and energetic and it encourages people to be filled with joy and feel what Christmas is really about." he said. "My favorite memory from last year’s Gala Holiday Pops performance was the choir rehearsals. Ms. Story and Mr. McAulliffe were so friendly and supportive with their welcoming teaching style--especially Ms. Story’s beautiful Silent Night a capella piece."

If you go:
Gala Holiday Pops
Friday, December 18, 8 PM
Saturday, December 19, 2 & 8 PM
Sunday, December 20, 2 PM
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Tickets start at $22

December 2, 2015

Conductors choose their favorite holiday songs

Are you one of those people that starts listening to Christmas music after Labor Day? Or maybe you prefer to wait until December 1 to cue up the sounds of the season. No matter when you are ready to get into the holiday spirit, we know it’s annoying when the radio plays the same arrangements over and over. Even if you have your favorite holiday CDs or MP3s, we at the RPO make it our mission to expose you to a wide range of wonderful music! Enjoy these playlists of holiday favorites handpicked by RPO Music Director Ward Stare, Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik, and Michael Butterman, principal conductor for education and community engagement.

Please note you may have to sign up for a free Spotify account in order to enjoy these playlists. Spotify is a free music streaming site.

Ward Stare’s Holiday Playlist

1) Silent Night
y all-time favorite Christmas carol. I used to sing it in church

    with my grandfather at Christmas Eve services. I always get 
    sentimental no matter what version I hear!

2) “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
      from A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra (1957)

3) I’ll Be Home for Christmas performed by Bing Crosby
   There are many great versions out there, but Bing Crosby was the

   first to record it in 1943.

4) White Christmas performed by Bing Crosby
    A true standard from the good ‘ol days!

5) “Jingle Bells” from Christmas by Michael Bublé (2011)
    I really like Michael Bublé’s recent version on his Christmas album. It’s very upbeat and 

    fun with great playing and vocals, including the Puppini Sisters, a trio of vocalists whose  
    sound is reminiscent of The Andrews Sisters.

Jeff Tyzik’s Holiday Playlist 

I have produced several holiday CDs over the past 20 years so I like to listen to some of them at the holidays!

1) Stylistics Christmas CD (1992)
    Lots of good traditional tunes performed by one of the most    

    famous Motown groups.

2)  Every year I have to watch It's A Wonderful Life
     (We included a version of “Auld Lang Syne” in the playlist)

3) Tony Bennett's Holiday albums. Some songs are jazzy and some are 
    just plain beautiful! (We included several selections from Tony Bennett’s Snowfall (1968) 
    and A Swingin’ Christmas (2008) )

4) The RPO Holiday CDs. They bring me right back to the wonderful concerts we do.

Purchase a RPO holiday CD

5. I always catch WXXI Classical 91.5 FM’s broadcast of the previous season’s
   RPO Gala Pops.

WXXI's RPO Holiday Concert broadcast schedule

Michael Butterman’s Holiday Playlist

1) Ave Maria performed by Chanticleer
    When it comes to just plain gorgeous harmonies, it’s hard to 

    beat Franz Biebl's piece. I’ve sung and conducted it  
    innumerable times, and nearly every performance is associated 
    with a strong memory.

2) Christmas Lullaby performed by Cary Grant (1967)
    I must admit that I just heard Cy Coleman's piece for the first 

    time last year. For me, it’s not so much the song, as the
    performance delivered by Cary Grant in his recording. He really 
    just speaks most of the time, with musical underscoring, but it is 
    just about the most touching thing one could imagine.
    His love for his daughter comes through in such an earnest and genuine way.

Listen to Cary Grant's Christmas Lullaby

The Secret of Christmas performed by Ella Fitzgerald
    Bing Crosby recorded it, but my favorite version of this carol written by Sammy Cahn and 

    Jimmy Van Heusen is Ella Fitzgerald's version. Again, very simple and mellow, but  
    incredibly affecting, remind us to carry the spirit of Christmas with us 
    throughout the year.

4) The 12 Gifts of Christmas arranged by Jeff Tyzik
    I absolutely love Jeff’s original adaptation of the famous carol. It’s so clever and

    entertaining, with lots of “musical insider” types of references. I’ve conducted it now   
    many times and in many cities, and it never fails to bring the house down.

Listen to Jeff Tyzik's arrangement performed by the RPO

5) This Christmastide (Jessye’s Carol) written by Donald Fraser
    Gorgeous work written for Jessye Norman and chorus.
    Simple, expressive, and heartwarming.

December 1, 2015

Cancer survivor and musician gives back

For community musician Steve Whitman, the opportunity to play tuba at the Wilmot Cancer Institute with the RPO's brass quintet on Monday, December 14 is so much more than an exciting gig.  It’s a chance to give thanks to the medical team who have treated him for the last five years.
Steve Whitman shows his arrangement of "Santa Baby"

“I’m so grateful to Wilmot for what they have done for me,” said Whitman, a retired teacher who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010. “People don’t realize what a wonderful asset we have in this community—I don’t know if there is anywhere in the world where I would get better treatment.”

Whitman played euphonium (a brass instrument that resembles a small tuba) as a young man at Fairport High School and later in community bands. He turned to tuba five years ago for the New Horizons Band, a community orchestra comprised of mostly senior musicians at all levels of ability. His connection to the RPO came when he started to take lessons from Principal Tuba Craig Sutherland. This will be Whitman’s fourth year playing with the brass quintet at Wilmot. The group will debut Whitman’s original arrangement of Santa Baby for two solo tubas with brass accompaniment.

"We look forward to playing with Steve because his love of playing the tuba as an amateur musician is a great reminder to us of why we do what we do," said Sutherland. "It was Steve's idea to start doing arrangements for the quintet, specifically for the Wilmot concert. They are fun, because they are a bit tongue in cheek; I suppose anything with two tubas is going to be somewhat amusing in one way or another!"

The RPO brass quintet at Wilmot
To write his own arrangements, Whitman starts by finding sheet music of the song for piano, and then uses a special app called iWriteMusic to transpose for tuba. Then he adds his own flair, like an arrangement for Rubber Ducky that involved the group squeaking rubber ducks for "percussion."

“This concert is a nice way of providing the patients at Wilmot with some casual entertainment during the holiday season” said Dr. John Bennett, professor emeritus at URMC and RPO board member who sponsors the annual concert with his wife, Carol. “I have received very positive feedback over the years both from patients and staff over how exciting it was to be present.”

The RPO brass quintet includes Sutherland, Mark Kellogg (principal trombone), Doug Prosser (principal trumpet), Wes Nance (trumpet), and Dave Angus (horn). Approximately 100 people attend the free concert in the Wilmot Atrium each year, including staff, patients, and their families.

"It's a real thrill to play with some of the best musicians in the world," said Whitman, who also played in a side-by-side concert with the orchestra two years ago. "The RPO has given me so many 'bucket-list' opportunities."

November 5, 2015

Nutcracker by the Numbers

Do you consider yourself a Nutcracker "nut?" Even if you think you know everything about the RPO and Rochester City Ballet's annual production of this magical holiday favorite, we bet we can still surprise and delight you with these fun facts! The Nutcracker returns to historic Eastman Theatre November 25, 27, 28 and 29. Kids' tickets start at $12.

Nutcracker by the Numbers

The RPO, Rochester City Ballet, and the Bach Children’s Chorus have collaborated every year together since 1999 to create Rochester’s longest running production of The Nutcracker.

credit Erich Camping
About 9,000 people attend The Nutcracker in historic Eastman Theatre every holiday season!
credit Erich Camping

The orchestra pit is located 10 feet below the stage, where 58 RPO musicians will perform.

175 local kids play pages, holly sprites, angels, party children and more. In fact, many RCB dancers got their start in the annual RPO/RCB Nutcracker!
credit Erich Camping
50 pounds of shredded polyethylene snow is dropped onstage each performance for the “land of snow” scene.

credit Erich Camping

The Bach Children’s Chorus includes up to 50 young voices every year. The chorus includes kids age 8 to 15!

39 handmade tutus adorn RCB dancers, and the cast wears 258 total costumes!

51 pairs of ballet slippers are hand painted to match certain costumes, most of which are the green ballet slippers worn by the Holly Sprites in Act II.

credit Erich Camping

29 painted drops making up the scenery for The Nutcracker.

460 stage lighting fixtures make up The Nutcracker, which require a total of 250 lighting cues!

credit Erich Camping
Special thank to the Rochester City Ballet's production and wardrobe team and the Bach Children's Chorus for sharing some of these numbers with us!

November 4, 2015

RPYO's first concert of the season with new Music Director James Mick

For many budding young musicians, there is a moment when a piece of music becomes a catalyst for something greater.
RPYO Music Director James Mick, Ph.D.

For James Mick, Ph.D., that piece of music was Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony. Though he played violin and piano as a child, the Kansas native was ready to quit music altogether in middle school when his teacher encouraged him to join the school orchestra on double bass. Not only did he fall in love with the instrument, but it was a performance of Tchaik. 4 in the Wichita Youth Symphony that solidified Mick’s desire for a career in music. And that’s why Mick, recently appointed music director of the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, chose this piece as the cornerstone for the first RPYO concert under his leadership on Sunday, November 22 at Hochstein Performance Hall.

“There are just certain pieces that I believe student musicians should be able to play by the time they graduate high school,” said Mick. “Because of the monumental aspect Tchaikovsky 4 had in my life, I knew that was the piece I wanted to start the year off.”

Mick is no stranger to teaching and inspiring young musicians. Last spring, he served as guest conductor of the RPYO’s season finale concert. He is on faculty at Ithaca College School of Music and holds degrees in music education from Texas Christian University, Ithaca College, and Florida State University. He also continues to play double bass, periodically performing with ensembles such as Symphoria (Syracuse), Binghamton Philharmonic, and the Orchestra of the Southern Fingerlakes.

“As a music educator, my biggest goal is to keep students involved in music for the rest of their lives—whether they go on to professional careers as musicians, play in community groups, or become season ticket holders to their local symphony,” said Mick. “I look forward to programming a broad range of repertoire, from baroque to 20th century composers, to continue to reach as many students as possible.”

“James Mick is everything we were looking for in a music director,” said David Lane, board chair of the RPYO and the RPO’s Education Committee. RPYO Manager Susan Basu echoed his sentiments. “Under his inspirational leadership, the RPYO will continue to provide young musicians with excellent, educationally rich, and personally rewarding musical experiences.” Mick follows former music director David Harman, who retired in 2014 after 21 years of service. Harman continues to serve as a mentor to Mick.

This year’s RPYO is comprised of nearly 100 middle and high school students from surrounding schools; students are admitted to the orchestra through an audition process each fall. Founded in 1970, many RPYO alumni—including current RPO Music Director Ward Stare—have gone on to successful careers as performers and music educators. RPYO musicians also benefit from proximity to the RPO; many of the students take privates lessons with musicians and the RPYO performs in an annual “side-by-side” concert with the RPO in Kodak Hall. Additionally, every RPYO concert features young musicians as soloists.

“The caliber of this orchestra is just incredible,” said Mick. “They are fantastic musicians but also excellent kids. I never dreamed that I would get to work with a group like this so early in my career.”

If you go:
RPYO presents “Musical Genius: Mozart to Tchaikovsky”
Sun, November 22 at 7:30 PM
Performance Hall at Hochstein
$: $10, available at or by calling 585-454-2100. Tickets also available at the door.
The RPYO's 2015-16 season

November 3, 2015

Meet the Artist: Simone Porter, violin

At just 19 years old, violinist Simone Porter has already made a name for herself. Since making her professional debut in her native city with the Seattle Symphony at age 10, Porter has given performances in some of the most prestigious concert halls around the world. She also is a recent winner of the coveted Avery Fisher Career Grant for promising young musicians (alums include violinist Joshua Bell).
Simone Porter
credit Jeff Fasono Photography

Next up, Porter will perform Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto with the RPO and conductor Ward Stare on Thursday, November 19, and Saturday, November 21 at Kodak Hall. In an interview with The Seattle Times, her teacher Robert Lipsett (LA’s Colburn Conservatory) said “one of her gifts is nerves of steel. It’s not pressure the way most people would feel it. It’s food that nurtures her soul.” Lipsett also said that her 2014 performance of the same Barber Concerto for 10,000 at the Hollywood Bowl moved the audience to tears.

We caught up with Porter to learn more about her career and advice to young musicians.

How did you get introduced to the violin?
I started when I was 3 years old. I was introduced because I fell in love with opera. My parents had this one CD of Puccini arias that I just became obsessed with, so they started taking me to orchestra concerts and ballets. [From these concerts] I became infatuated with the violin and pestered them until they let me start!

Tell us about the Barber Concerto you will perform at the RPO
I adore Barber; it’s one of my favorites to perform because it's gorgeous and unique. The first and second movements are quite lyrical. The first movement is very contemplative; it crescendos into this incredibly dramatic and sensuous climax. The second movement is my favorite; it’s the soul of the concerto. It starts with this oboe solo. Barber finds this breadth and depth in the most private place of one’s self. The third movement hits the ground running and never stops. It’s perpetual motion and ends the concerto with quite the bang!

What do you like about performing with an orchestra?
The collective energy, onstage and in the hall, is at its maximum when performing with an orchestra. The conversation and the collaboration onstage is just so massive, being onstage and experiencing all that, you really feel like you are a part of something so much bigger than yourself. You feel like you are more than the sum of your parts. It’s overwhelming and incredible.

What has been your proudest moment thus far?
Last March when I became the recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant and then the next day I signed my first major management deal with Opus 3 Artists. There are so many past recipients of this grant that I have looked up to, so to be included in that list is humbling and inspiring because I want to get to that level. It just spurs me onward.

You were 11 years old the first time you appeared on NPR’s From the Top Live with host Christopher O’Riley (coming to the RPO January 17!) How did that experience set you up for this life?
I think From the Top changes the life of anyone who goes on it. Not only does it introduce you to other likeminded young people, but it emphasizes the importance of music outside the concert hall. They do a lot of programs to take music to schools and in untraditional venues. I think I have an obligation as a classical musician in the 21st century to introduce this incredible art form to people who aren’t familiar with it or don’t have the privilege of benefitting from it in terms of its incredible transformative power. I love talking about classical music with young people, especially elementary level. They are a great audience!

What are your favorite bands/composers?
Classical- favorite composer of all time is Beethoven. Also, one of my favorite violinists to listen to is Lisa Batiashvili. Outside the classic sphere, I have very eclectic tastes. I listen to everything from Snarky Puppy to Queen to Ella Fitzgerald and everything in between!

What’s your advice to young musicians?
Love the process more than the goal.

If you go:
Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, plus Simone Porter plays Barber
Thu. Nov 19 at 7:30PM
Sat. Nov. 21 at 8PM
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Tickets start at $22; student tickets $10 with a valid full time student id

See samples of Porter's three performances on NPR's From the Top

October 30, 2015

From the Stage: RPO Principal Bass Colin Corner

Colin Corner
credit Roger Mastroianni
RPO Principal Bassist Colin Corner shares an interesting story about the historical bass on which he will play Koussevitzky's Bass Concerto on Sunday, November 8, which is also Ward Stare’s conducting debut on the Sunday Matinee series. Corner returns to Rochester for this special performance; he was recently named principal bass of the Atlanta Symphony and has been playing with the ASO since September 2015.

Colin Corner, bass
The Anne Hayden McQuay Chair

"I am thrilled to be coming back to Rochester to play Serge Koussevitzky's Bass Concerto. This is a piece I have had a long history with. I've been playing it off and on for auditions and such since high school, so I know it very well. But the bass I will be playing it on has an even longer history with the piece: it once belonged to Koussevitzky, from 1901 until his death in 1951. [Koussevitzky is probably best known as the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1924 to 1949.] According to his wife, he used to practice on it every day. She then gave the bass to Gary Karr, legendary bass soloist and founder of the International Society of Bassists. Mr. Karr, in an act of amazing generosity, then gave the bass to the ISB after playing on it for over 40 years. The instrument was once thought to be an Amati made in 1611, but further research found it to be a bass of French origin, c. 1800. Nevertheless it is an incredible bass, and now bassists and audiences for generations to come can hear the splendor of tone that is in it. Recordings of Koussevitzky and Karr playing the Concerto on that bass will reveal that the bass has the same sound that can be heard on those recordings- rich, warm and singing. It is a small bass, and is incredibly easy to play. As for the concerto, the piece was written in late romantic bel canto Russian style, with soaring, lyrical melodies reminiscent of Tchaikovsky. I look forward to joining the RPO and Maestro Ward Stare on November 8th, and cannot wait to share the stage again with my colleagues. Hope to see you there!"

If you go

Stare conducts Sunday Matinee 2
Sunday, November 8 at 2 PM
Hochstein Performance Hall
Tickets are $25, full time students $10 with valid ID
Visit for more details

Hear composer Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951) perform the second movement of his Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra in F-sharp Minor, Op. 3.

October 26, 2015

RPO musicians invest in Orchestra's future

Contract extension enables solid financial planning 

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) and the Local 66 of the American Federation of Musicians announce that its musicians and board have ratified a two-year extension to the current four-year agreement, now in its final year. By providing an exact knowledge of musicians’ costs over the next three years, the agreement allows the RPO to create a workable financial plan in order to achieve a balanced budget and financial stability.

“Once again, the musicians have shown a willingness to invest in the future of this world-class orchestra by agreeing to extend the previous year’s concessions,” says Interim President and CEO Ralph P. Craviso, who began his appointment on October 1 and was not involved in the negotiations. “We have a responsibility to repay that good faith by creating a stable and financially sustainable future, and this agreement enables us to do that.”

The agreement includes a salary freeze for musicians in the 2015/16 season, marking the fifth season in a row with weekly salary levels at the same rate. It provides for a 2.6% increase in the weekly rate next season and remains flat in 2017/18. Contracted weeks, which have been at 37 since the 2013/14 season, will remain unchanged in 2015/16 and increase to 38 in 2016/17 and 38.5 (or possibly 39) in 2017/18. RPO administrative and staff salaries have also remained constant during the same period of time.

Federal Mediator Scott Montani of Syracuse participated in the last three negotiating sessions and facilitated the settlement after union and management agreed to his participation.

“By agreeing to a continuation of concessions, the musicians are investing in the long-term future of this organization and hope that this new agreement can mark the first steps toward financial stability for the RPO," states William Amsel, RPO clarinetist and chair of the Musicians’ Committee.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra has been committed to enriching and inspiring our community through the art of music since its founding in 1922. The RPO presents approximately 160 concerts and broadcasts a year, serving up to 170,000 people through ticketed events, education and community engagement activities, and concerts in schools and community centers throughout the region. Recently appointed 12th Music Director, Ward Stare joins the ranks of former notable RPO music directors, including Eugene Goossens, José Iturbi, Erich Leinsdorf, David Zinman and Conductor Laureate Christopher Seaman. Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik has earned a national reputation for excellence in pops programming during his 21-year tenure with the RPO. With Michael Butterman as Principal Conductor for Education and Community Engagement (The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Chair) – the first endowed position of its kind in the country – the RPO reaches more than 12,000 children through its specific programs for school-aged children.

October 23, 2015

RPO and The Strong collaborate for "Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy"

Following the success of "Video Games Live" last season, the RPO will present a symphonic concert on Thursday, October 29 that pays tribute to one of the bestselling video games series' of all time, Final Fantasy. A talk back panel of industry experts will immediately follow the concert, moderated by Shannon Symonds, associate curator of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games at The Strong. The talk back is free to all ticket holders and will explore the music and history of the Final Fantasy series.

Guest panelists:
  • Arnie Roth, conductor and music director of "Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy"
  • Susan Calloway, vocal soloist and familiar voice on the Final Fantasy franchise
  • Stephen Jacobs, assistant director of RIT’s MAGIC (Media Art Games Interaction Creativity) Center and associate professor of Interactive Games and Media

More info:
Shannon Symonds blogs about Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uetmasu, the "John Williams of the gaming world," and the significance of video game music on the ICHEG blog.

The Wall Street Journal's recent article on the phenomenon of video game music concerts and how they are "saving the symphony orchestra."

Tickets and more information for "Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy."

See the London Symphony perform "One-Winged Angel" from Distant World: music from Final Fantasy. The Strong's Shannon Symonds mentions this piece as a personal favorite in her blog!

October 1, 2015

Meet the artist: Christopher O’Riley

Acclaimed pianist Christopher O’Riley will perform Mozart’s 22nd Piano Concerto with the RPO on October 15 and 17 under the baton of Conductor Laureate Christopher Seaman. O’Riley is known not only as a classical musician, but also for his inventive arrangements of popular music. He is also known as the host of NPR’s From the Top (coming to the RPO in January!), the preeminent showcase for classically trained young musicians, now in its 15th year on air. We caught up with O’Riley to learn more about the Mozart Concerto, why he is looking forward to returning to play with the RPO, and why he is committed to bridging the gap between musical genres.

Tell us more about the piece you will play with the RPO, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22, K. 482. What makes this particular work exciting to play?
It’s one of the most virtuosic of the Mozart concerti, but it’s also exciting because there are a lot of places where Mozart didn’t write out passages—it’s just one note per bar. There was a lot of improvisation in Mozart’s day and it’s up to the soloist to fill in those blanks. I don’t pretend to make up stuff on the spur of the moment; it deserves some thought. This is also a concerto where Mozart didn’t write his own cadenzas, so I have written my own for the first and last movement. There is a lot of opportunity for soloists to have our own input, so that makes it very exciting for me.

So it sounds like even if you have heard K.482 before, every performance will sound different because the soloist gets to add their own flair?
Yes, quite different!

You’re an accomplished solo artist in your own right, but what do you like about playing with an orchestra?
I like the chamber music aspect of playing with an orchestra, directly engaging with the players themselves. The RPO is a spectacular orchestra and they have been around forever. Last time I played with them was with Christopher Seaman. Christopher is an extraordinarily generous and gracious colleague as a conductor. I have fond memories of my work with him.

Speaking of that last RPO performance in 2000, I understand a Rochester blizzard led to both concerts being canceled.
We were supposed to perform the Schumann Concerto. We had a lovely rehearsal and then got 24 inches on the day of the concert. Then there was no snow on the day in between concerts, followed by 36 inches of snow on the second day we were scheduled to perform!

Well, we are making up for it by having you perform here twice this year! In January, you will return to the RPO for a recording of From The Top. What’s your advice to young musicians?
I think it’s important for kids to spend as much time as they can soaking up all the best music that they can. It’s important to be true to your passions. The more distinct and unique a musician’s personality, the more chance that they will resonate with a large audience.

You’ve certainly proven that with your own body of work. You’ve performed as a soloist with virtually all of the major American orchestras, but also have a keen interest in pop music. Your album of reimagined works by Radiohead earned a four-star review from Rolling Stone Magazine, and you are the only classical pianist to earn this accolade. Do you perform pop arrangements with hopes of bringing in new audiences to the classical world?
I’ve always been interested in all kinds of music. When I started out as a kid, I was playing classical piano exclusively. I don’t think girls were impressed with classical, so I started playing pop music. I had my own little rock band in junior high. When I started playing my new pop arrangements, it was because of my work with From the Top. It was a nice way of bridging the genre gap and playing music that I believed in. In my way of thinking, it’s just a matter of trust. A performer should be trusted to perform and prepare what they believe in, and an audience should allow their ears and hearts to tell them what is good, instead of some predisposition that you should only listen to classical music. It should be a matter of spontaneous interaction and reaction to what one is hearing. There is good music in lots of genres, and that’s why I continue to play pop music. It does help to bridge the gap between audiences with different tastes.

Will we get to hear Radiohead when you are here again in January?
I’m sure it will be whatever I am into at the time. Right now I am really into the composer Antón García Abril (a notable Spanish movie/TV composer) and the American rock group Sun Kil Moon!

If you go:
Seaman Conducts Brahms 4
Thu. Oct 15, 7:30 PM, and Sat. Oct 17, 8 PM
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Tickets start at $22
Student tickets $10

See Christopher again in January
From the Top Live with Host Christopher O’Riley
Sun Jan 17, 7:30 PM
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Tickets start at $15

See Christopher O'Riley perform his arrangement of Radiohead's "Karma Police."

September 30, 2015

Pittsford teen to perform with the RPO

It is an opportunity most classical musicians dream of achieving--the chance to appear as a spotlight artist with an orchestra. Pittsford’s Raymond Feng started playing piano at five years old; by nine he was winning competitions both on the national and international level. As a soloist, he has performed with the Ashdod Symphony in Perugia, Italy, and also performed at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. Now, the 13-year-old is preparing to make his RPO debut at three free community concerts October 8-10, under the baton of Principal Conductor for Education and Community Engagement Michael Butterman. Feng will perform the first movement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto on a program that also includes familiar favorites like Beethoven, Brahms, and John Williams.

Raymond Feng

“Raymond is a remarkable young pianist,” said Butterman. “The Grieg concerto is a great one—both flashy and lyrical. It will be exciting to hear Raymond in this work, and I hope that it might just inspire a young person or two to begin their own musical journeys.”

Feng’s parents started him on the piano as a young boy because he liked to play around with an old electric keyboard they had in the house. A pupil of Elier Suárez, Feng says he practices anywhere from 14-16 hours per week while balancing life as a full time student in ninth grade at Pittsford-Sutherland High School. He also plays violin under the tutelage of RPO violinist Nancy Hunt and is concertmaster of the Hochstein Youth Symphony Orchestra.

“The RPO is very high level,” said Feng, who was inspired to send his biography to the orchestra with encouragement from Nancy Hunt. “I’ve played this piece before with the Hochstein Youth Symphony Orchestra, and I’m excited to play it again with the RPO. It’s a big movement filled with lush expressiveness.”

While Feng’s resume seems indicative of a promising career in music, the young pianist hasn’t decided on future plans just yet. In the meantime, he is enjoying performing as much as he can and also performs solo recitals at senior living centers throughout the greater Rochester area.

“I like math and science a lot, too,” said Feng, who has placed first in various “mathlete” competitions over the last few years. “I know that being a musician is very competitive. I don’t know what I will be when I grow up, but I have a lot of interests to tap into when it’s time to choose a career. For now I just love the opportunity to play and share my music with the community.”

If you go
What: Around the Town Concerts
When/Where: Thursday, October 8; Rush-Henrietta High School
                         Friday, October 9; Churchville-Chili High School
                         Saturday, October 10; Webster-Schroeder High School
Time: All concerts at 7:30 PM
$$: Free, donations accepted

For more information, visit

September 14, 2015

RPO Opening Night event seeks to draw younger crowd

The RPO will roll out the red carpet this Thursday night for Music Director Ward Stare’s inaugural season at the RPO. Prior to the Philharmonics Series Opener Pines of Rome, the RPO will throw a pre-concert bash at Max of Eastman Place with Italian cuisine, cocktails, live jazz by The Kieran Hanlon Trio, and a meet-and-greet with the Maestro.

In keeping with the glitz and glamour of an opening night, guests will have the opportunity to pose for photos on the red carpet. While the RPO has always thrown a pre-concert event on opening night, this particular event is especially geared towards young professionals--an audience Stare is keenly interested in attracting to the RPO as a young professional himself. 

“I have always wanted to learn more about how to get involved with the RPO,” said Stephanie Layne, 27 of Rochester. “It’s such an institution in Rochester, and I’m excited to mix and mingle at the red carpet event with other young professionals with this nuanced interest.”

Although Stare was appointed to his position in July of 2014, this will be the first season that he has programmed and for which he will serve as main conductor for the Philharmonics Series. In February, we saw a glimpse of the Maestro’s ideas to engage new audiences with the season preview event, a free concert where Stare introduced the new season and the orchestra played samples of what’s to come. Stare also engaged the audience by taking questions live onstage through social media.

“I’d like to support the RPO however I can,” said Steve Tulgan, 34 of Pittsford, and also a member of the RPO’s Development and Season Opening Steering Committees. “I’m not in a position right now to become a subscriber, but I can support them by being a member of the committee for this fantastic opening event and by attending a few concerts a year. The RPO is one of the most gratifying and rewarding cultural experiences that Rochester has to offer. Watching so many fine musicians perform in unison, with such exacting standards, is quite awe-inspiring.”

Tickets are still available to the RPO’s red carpet opening night, and young professionals can enjoy the event and concert for a special price of $65. Following the event, red carpet event attendees are invited back to Max of Eastman Place for a dessert reception. Tickets to the red carpet event alone are $50. Tickets available online or by calling 585-454-2100.

If you go:
RPO Opening Night Celebration
Thursday, September 17, 5:30-7PM
Max of Eastman Place (25 Gibbs St., Rochester)
Tickets: Purchase online for the $65 young professional price, includes concert ticket to Pines of Rome that evening at Kodak Hall at 7:30 PM. Red carpet event tickets alone are $50, purchase by calling 585-454-2100.

September 3, 2015

Meet Maura McCune Corvington, new second horn at the RPO

Maura McCune Corvington joins the RPO this season as second horn. We caught up with the Chicago native and Eastman grad on returning to Rochester, reuniting with her former professor and mentor (RPO Principal Horn W. Peter Kurau), and what pieces she is most looking forward to playing at the RPO this season!
Maura McCune Corvington
credit: Kate Lemmon

Maura, you grew up in Illinois and were inspired to play after seeing the Chicago Symphony Brass. How old were you when you started attending symphonic concerts?

I vividly remember my first Chicago Symphony Orchestra holiday concert, and my parents, brother, and I never missed the annual performance of A Christmas Carol (which features a horn player) at Goodman Theatre. I have always equated music and horn with holidays and family!

Sounds like you found a love for horn at an early age. When was your “aha” moment as a musician?

My grandmother and great aunt, both professional musicians, patiently encouraged me as a budding young pianist refusing to learn to read bass clef. But my “aha!” moment was with my family in attendance at a CSO Ravinia summer performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. As a beginning band student I had no clue that the horns were instructed to “aufstehen” (stand up) in the finale. When the eight horn players stood in choreographed unison (and stole the show, of course) I was sold!

Before completing your master’s in horn performance at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, you completed your undergraduate at Eastman under the tutelage of RPO Principal Horn Peter Kurau. What’s it like to be returning to Rochester and what are you most looking forward to about working with your former teacher and mentor?

My husband and I relocated in the fall of 2013 from Houston to Honolulu where we performed with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra for two seasons. Patrick and I have definitely been ridiculed by friends, family, and even colleagues for parting with the sandy beaches of Oahu in favor of the snowy streets of Rochester! However, this vibrant musical community was my first home away from home!

As my mentor at Eastman, Peter Kurau encouraged me to make discoveries, to formulate plans, and to be relentless in achieving my dreams! I have great respect for him as well for his vast knowledge and innate musicality. I am most delighted that I will share a stage with him and our section mates to touch RPO audiences and to inspire the next generation of Eastman students as I was inspired!

You will also be mentoring freshmen studying horn at Eastman this spring. If you could give any advice to aspiring young musicians, what would it be?

Dream big! Dream really big!

What are you most looking forward to performing this season with the RPO?

I have an inextinguishable love for Beethoven, Mahler, and Strauss, but my musical tastes change daily! The breadth of repertoire to be performed during the 2015-16 RPO season is so exciting to me. Sunday Matinees will serve as intimate musical experiences for audiences and performers where we can see, feel, and hear every tiny detail. Nothing compares to interacting musically with kids, so the OrKIDStra concerts will be a breath of fresh air. I already imagine a snowy winter day on Gibbs Street and a cozy evening showing of Home Alone accompanied by John Williams’ score. I love John Williams’ music! And pops shows are just a blast! I could not ask for more!

Look for Maura onstage with the RPO this season, and learn more about her on!

September 2, 2015

Meet Ahrim Kim, new principal cellist of the RPO

Ahrim Kim
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra is pleased to welcome a new principal cellist to our ranks starting this season.

Ahrim Kim comes to the RPO fresh from an appointment as acting principal cellist for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. We caught up with Ahrim to learn more about her musical training and why she is looking forward to playing with the RPO!

You were born in Seoul, Korea, and started playing cello at the very young age of 6. How did you become interested in the cello at such a young age and what made you want to play professionally?

I started playing the piano first when I was 4 years old. My mom told me that she had listened to a lot of classical music when she was pregnant with me. So naturally I’ve always loved to sing and liked the soothing sound of the cello. I was particularly attracted to the fact that the cello is one of the closest instruments to the human voice.

In the 2014-15 season, you served as acting principal cellist for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and you also have played in the Grammy Award-winning Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (NYC). What do you think about being named principal cellist for the RPO?

I’m extremely excited and looking forward to playing with the RPO! I’m so honored to be named principal cellist of an orchestra with such a long tradition of amazing cellists.

Your husband, Robin Scott, was recently appointed first violin of The Ying Quartet, a Grammy Award-winning ensemble in residence at the Eastman School of Music. What are the two of you most looking forward to about coming to Rochester?

We’re thrilled that we will both be working in the same town. We’ve been waiting for this to happen since we got married four years ago. We are very blessed to be starting a new chapter in our lives together!

Looking ahead to this season at the RPO, what pieces are you really excited about playing?

I am personally looking forward to playing a few different pieces this season. Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet tells one of the most well-known stories in literature through music so vividly. I’ve never had the opportunity to play The Nutcracker—I heard the music so much growing up and have wanted to play it for years. I’m looking forward to Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Haydn because it’s fascinating to see how one composer can take the theme of another composer and make it his own. As for Mozart 40, it looks easy on the page, but it’s very challenging to make Mozart sound amazing unless you have clear ideas about everything. The simplest pieces can be the hardest to make convincing. Also, it’s one of the most special pieces by Mozart because minor keys are rare!

What's your favorite music to listen to?
I love listening to any kind of music. The Beatles are one of my favorites, and it never gets old. I always find myself coming back to J. S. Bach, as his music is personally very therapeutic and close to my heart. 

Look for Ahrim Kim in the first chair cello seat this fall, and read more about her on!