May 27, 2015

Local teens to perform Gershwin with Michael Feinstein at RPO

While so many young vocalists dream of one day performing onstage with a symphony orchestra, two area teens are already living that dream. This weekend, Syracuse-area teens Julia Goodwin and Nick Ziobro will join five-time Grammy nominee, two-time Emmy nominee and multi-platinum recording artist Michael Feinstein for two concerts celebrating the music of George and Ira Gershwin.

Feinstein has received national recognition for his commitment to celebrating the American songbook and preserving its legacy for the next generation. Goodwin and Ziobro are both previous winners of Feinstein’s annual “Great American Songbook High School Vocal Competition,” that draws top high school vocalists from across the country to a two-week summer intensive program in Indiana. While the top honor award achieved by Goodwin (winner in 2013) and Ziobro (winner in 2012) allows one performance with Feinstein, the pair have performed with Feinstein numerous times in venues across the country, thanks to the encouragement of Feinstein himself.

We caught up with Goodwin and Ziobro to learn more about Feinstein’s influence on their careers and why they are passionate about preserving the great American pop standards.

Julia Goodwin, 17 of Baldwinsville, N.Y. Entering her senior year of high school this fall.
Nick Ziobro, 18 of Manlius, N.Y. Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in musical theatre at Rider University (N.J.).
Julia Goodwin
Credit: Rebecca McManus

When did you start performing?
Julia: I always loved singing. My dad introduced me to music when I was young. He would play piano and I would sing along with him.

I’ve been onstage for as long as I can remember. I started singing jazz standards when I was 11. I was supposed to be taking piano lessons, but my piano teacher found out that I could sing so I started singing along while he played!

How do you define the great American songbook?
Nick: It’s constantly growing and changing. People think it’s just a certain time period, but any song that people still connect with generations after it’s been written can be a part of it. It’s not just the standards of the 40s and 50s; artists like Billy Joel and Barry Manilow can be considered part of the American songbook.

It’s music that will stand the test of time and it’s still growing today.
Nick Ziobro

How does Michael Feinstein inspire you as an artist?
Julia: Michael is such a genuine and friendly person. He is always looking to inspire audiences. He inspires me through his interpretation of this music; he is a talented individual and I am always learning from him.

Nick: He is very passionate about this music; as an artist it is amazing to see someone live and breathe this music. He wants it to survive and to put it into the hands of the next generation. He is also an incredible resource for me and we have this great mentor/student relationship. He is an amazing performer to watch and I have learned so much just from being at his shows.

Who are your favorite artists to perform?

Julia: I love all different genres of music, from pop and jazz standards to country and hip hop. Two of my favorite artists are Ella Fitzgerald and Ariana Grande.

Nick: George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and Jimmy Van Heusen (also from Syracuse!) are my favorites. I like to listen to the music of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr. and Doris Day.

What: Michael Feinstein performs Gershwin songs in the RPO Pops season finale.
When: 8 p.m. May 29 and 30.
Where: Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St., Rochester.
Tickets: $23-95, available in person at the Eastman Theatre Box Office (433 E. Main St.), at all Wegmans That's T.H.E. Ticket! locations, by phone at (585) 454-2100, or online at

May 19, 2015

Music Educators to be honored by RPO on Thursday

On Thursday night, the RPO Musicians will honor five local teachers for their achievements as music educators. Now in its 27th year, the RPO Musicians' Awards for Music Educators works to strengthen the relationship between area music educators and the musicians of the RPO.

“Every musician in the Rochester Philharmonic has had someone in their life who was that spark, that educator, so this is our way to give back by honoring the educators in our area,” said Herb Smith, RPO trumpet player and co-chair of the 2015 Music Educators Awards Committee. Smith’s co-chair is Anna Steltenpohl, RPO English horn and oboe player.

The 2015 awards winners are: Kim Fink (Greece Central School District); Shawn Halquist (Brockport Central School District), Jennifer Lewis (Victor Central School District), Debbie Parker (Brighton Central School District), and Linda Rosebrough (Rush-Henrietta Central School District).

The music educators will be honored during the RPO’s concert in Kodak Hall in a presentation immediately following intermission. This week’s concert features a program that includes Dvořák's “New World” Symphony and RPO Concertmaster Juliana Athayde on Sibelius’ Violin Concerto.

Every fall, the RPO Musicians invite school administrators, teachers, parents, and students to nominate an outstanding music educator. The winners are selected by a committee of RPO Musicians and community educators. The 2015 RPO Musicians' Awards for Music Educators are sponsored by Jeff Reimer Piano Service and Bernunzio Uptown Music.

For more information on the RPO Musicians' Awards for Music Educators , visit and select “RPO Musicians’ Award for Outstanding Music Educators."

May 15, 2015

Seuss at the RPO this Sunday!

"Do you like green eggs and ham? I do not like them, Sam-I-am."
- Dr. Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham (1960)
Born Theodor Seuss Geisel in 1904, Dr. Seuss was a celebrated writer and cartoonist whose children’s books remain a staple on bookshelves today. On Sunday at Hochstein Performance Hall, the RPO will close the 2014-15 OrKIDStra Family Concert Series with “Two by Seuss!” an ode to two of the author’s most beloved tales: Green Eggs and Ham and Gertrude McFuzz. The afternoon will include free pre-concert Seuss-themed crafts and activities and talented guest actors from Really Inventive Stuff, a traveling performance group who specializes in performing with symphony orchestras. In celebration of Seuss at the RPO, we asked members of our staff to share their favorite Dr. Seuss book and why.

What’s your favorite Dr. Seuss book? Sound off in the comments below!

Concert details: Two By Seuss!
Sunday, May 17 at Hochstein Performance Hall, 2 PM
$15 adults, $10 kids
Purchase tickets at, call 454-2100, or visit any Rochester-area Wegmans

"The Lorax! I grew up in an area with great natural beauty, so the story of the abuse of nature struck a chord with me. It reminded me to not take my surroundings for granted."

- Kara Aymerich, Office Administrator
"I’ve always liked Bartholomew and the Oobleck. It’s a really fun, beautifully-illustrated story, and I have great memories of reading it with my mom when I was little. Close runners-up: The Cat in the Hat and Horton Hears a Who." 
- Katy Judd, Marketing Manager

"My favorite Dr. Seuss book is Oh, the Places You’ll Go! I have always loved this book because it inspires you to pursue your dreams, but also is realistic about the fact there will be bumps along the road. One of my favorite quotes as silly as it may be is, “You have brains in your head, You have feet in your shoes, You can steer yourself, any direction you choose.” In such simple language, Dr. Seuss encourages us all to realize our own potential and to embrace the power we have over our lives."

- Jason Polasek, Major Gifts Officer

"The Sneetches and Other Stories.While this book has several Dr. Seuss tales, my favorite was the the story of The Sneetches, who learned to treat one another fairly and embrace everyone as equal members of the same community. It taught me an invaluable lesson at an early age!

- Michelle Shippers, Communications Manager

May 8, 2015

Meet the (cover) artist: Shana Sundstrom

Our April/May Bravo cover was designed by Shana Sundstrom, art teacher and co-owner of Hidden Talent Art Studio in San Jose, California!
Shana Sundstrom

Sundstrom is a winner of the RPO Bravo Award, granted to eight artists whose work was displayed at the Rochester Contemporary Art Center 6X6X2014 Exhibition. The 2014-15 Bravo program covers were selected anonymously by RPO staff from RoCo's display of almost 7,000 small artworks. Congratulations to Shana, and come check out her artwork on the Bravo program covers through May 23!

Personal: Shana Sundstrom, 43, of San Jose, Calif.
Occupation: Art teacher and Co-Owner of Hidden Talent Art Studio in San Jose

As an artist, what are your favorite things to create?
I love painting cityscapes and I also enjoy creating mixed-media collages. I started creating small works a few years ago because I wanted to create a sense of intimacy with the viewer and invite them to step closer. The 6x6 show has been a perfect venue for the size of my work!

How did you hear about the RoCo 6X6 exhibit? 
A good friend of mine, Diane Irwin, who lives in the Rochester, N.Y. area, told me about the show roughly 5-6 years ago. She often participates and I’ve participated every year since.
Shana Sundstrom's art on our April/May cover

How did you develop the concept for your art?
I found an older painting of birdhouses and the concept came out of that. I added collage materials to the painting to create an image about “freedom”. Honestly, the piece took about an hour to complete and it just “came out” of me. Sometimes magical things happen when you don’t think too hard about a piece.

What medium did you use in your artwork?
I used collage materials, starting with the painting I had done on Masonite board, acrylic paint, tissue paper with the bird scene, ink and musical note stamp. I used these media because of their symbolic references, and because I love the idea of re-purposing and recycling materials. I save everything (from tissue paper, little toys, keys, buttons, old tags, books, etc.), because I “might” be able to use it in a painting someday. I’m a collage hoarder.

What inspires your creativity?
So many things! Music, visiting galleries and talking with fellow artists about ideas, books, pictures from my travels, fashion magazines, nature, walks around large cities, and TV shows such as Project Runway and HGTV design shows.

What theme(s) are you trying to convey through your 6X6 piece?
I started with the idea of “Freedom” and then other themes transpired as I worked. For me, birds represent ultimate freedom. The musical notes represent his happiness of being free by singing. The overall image reminded me of spring, thus the title. It’s the time of year when everything comes to life again and there’s a feeling of joy and lightness in the air after a long, gloomy winter.

May 4, 2015

Local Boys Make Good: Ward Stare, Jeff Tyzik, and the RPO

While many orchestras recruit leaders from outside their city, the RPO is fortunate to have two
home-grown musical prodigies at the forefront.

In April, Brighton Connections Magazine and its sister publication Pittsford Neighbors featured RPO Music Director Ward Stare and Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik on the cover. We transcribed that article into a digital format. Special thanks to writer Rob Price for this feature!

Local Boys Make Good
By Rob Price

One Saturday evening in February, Ward Stare, the new music director for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, mounted the conductor’s platform before a sold-out performance of La Traviata. Verdi's masterpiece may have some of the most romantic and compelling music in Italian opera, but the most compelling visual phenomenon in the Eastman Theatre that night was Stare himself. His dynamism sustained itself over the next three hours, guiding the combined talents of the orchestra, the Rochester Oratorio Society, and a stellar cast of singers. It was a thrilling night of opera, ending with whoops and cheers and even tears.

“It’s in his soul,” said Jeff Tyzik, principal pops conductor of the RPO, and a friend and close colleague of Stare's.

Tyzik is a veteran jazz musician, and also an award-winning arranger and composer. The RPO’s website salutes Tyzik “for his brilliant arrangements, original programming, and engaging rapport with audiences of all ages.” Stare is described in national media as “a rising star in the conducting firmament.”

Both Stare and Tyzik have joined in a musical collaboration to invigorate the orchestral tradition in the city. Stare joined the RPO in July 2014, becoming the youngest music director in the orchestra’s 92-year history. A musical prodigy, he has always been ahead of the learning curve in his own career, leaving high school a year early to attend the Juilliard School in Manhattan. At the age of 18, he was appointed principal trombonist of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and performed as an orchestral musician with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, among others, before transitioning into conducting.

“Ward Stare is the perfect man for the Rochester Philharmonic," said Tyzik.

While their lives intersect publicly in the Eastman Theatre, both men also intersect in a personal way--along the storied Erie Canal in Pittsford. Stare grew up in Pittsford; Tyzik and his wife Jill moved to Pittsford about 15 years ago after living next door in Brighton.

Stare recalls his own childhood in Pittsford as being immersed in music. He sang and danced in musical productions in the Pittsford public school system. He played trombone in the Brighton Fire Department’s marching band (“My first professional gig”); he joined the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, also as a trombonist.

While Stare was growing up in Pittsford, Jeff Tyzik was already a musical veteran of Rochester, having studied at the Eastman School of Music, where he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music. He was also a veteran of New York, having grown up in Hyde Park and learning the cornet as a young boy. Like Stare, Tyzik was a musical prodigy. He remembers playing "Taps" at a public ceremony in elementary school and then at the Roosevelt estate to a large audience.

At the Eastman School, Tyzik was trained not only in jazz--his professional forte--but also in classical music, and in composing, arranging, and conducting. The advice he gives young musicians today is to apply their talents in as many directions as possible.

“Don’t say, ‘I’m going to sing opera and go to the Met,” said Tyzik. “Learn how to write, and perform in every style and in every kind of musical group, from duets and trios to chamber and orchestra.”

Jazz and pops turned out to be Tyzik’s niche. At the Eastman School, he collaborated with trumpeter Chuck Mangione--then an Eastman professor--performing with and co-producing numerous Mangione albums. This led to a relationship with Doc Severinsen and a Grammy Award for their album The Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen, Vol. 1, and three more Grammy nominations for further collaborations with Severinsen.

In 1993, Tyzik began his career as the RPO’s principal pops conductor. Tyzik, like Stare, manages appointments with several other orchestras. As one of the premier pops music conductors in the country, he also serves as pops conductor for the Seattle Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, the Florida Orchestra and the Oregon Symphony.

He is also recognized as one of the country’s finest arrangers of pops compositions--a talent and skill he brings to the RPO.

“I get to break in new concerts here,” said Tyzik. “I can create something that’s not available anywhere else. When the RPO performs a pops concert, I’ve usually created about 50 percent of what we play.”

When Tyzik talks about living in Pittsford, it’s through the perspective of an adult who’s able to appreciate the town and village after choosing to live in the community. Ask Stare about Pittsford, and you’ll get a conversation that tends toward reminiscences. He loves to tell the story of his white-light moment when he discovered symphonic music, at the age of five, listening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

For both Tyzik and Stare, good memories and a good home life provide a refuge from their hectic professional lives. They also share a common mission. They agree the RPO is one of the crown jewels of Rochester’s cultural life. They relish their jobs directing the orchestra’s twin repertoires of pops and classical. They both are looking for ways to ensure the continuing vibrant role of orchestral music in Rochester’s culture.

“I’m trying to sell the concert performance to an age group that ranges from four to 104,” said Tyzik.

Stare echoes his sentiments.

“All I want is for people to have a chance to listen to a live orchestra," said Stare. "You can’t help but be moved by it.”

Published in April issue of Pittsford Neighbors & Brighton Connections
Colleen Farley, Publisher
Rob Price, Editor / Pittsford Neighbors
Terri Medina, Editor, Brighton Connections