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

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