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 BublĂ© (2011)
    I really like Michael BublĂ©’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."