February 18, 2016

RPO's Annual Meeting: Reviewing 2014-15

At its annual meeting with membership today, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) looked back at its 2014-15 fiscal year (September 1, 2014 – August 31, 2015), reviewing highlights – including Music Director Ward Stare’s first season, audience growth and record-setting ticket sales – as well as challenges that include an ongoing deficit.

Artistically, the year began with last season’s Philharmonics Season opener conducted by Stare featuring superstar violinist Midori, and ended with his conducting the RPO’s entire summer season of 11 community concerts that took the orchestra over 600 miles – from downtown Rochester to the Adirondacks. In between, the 33-year old Rochester native hosted the RPO’s first-ever, free, season-announcement concert in Kodak Hall to preview his current inaugural season.

“There’s no doubt that Ward’s appointment and subsequent hard work with the orchestra and within the community is being embraced by both groups,” said RPO Board Chair Jules L. Smith. “He’s enticing a new generation of music lovers with his willingness to engage with the community in new ways while delighting our regular patrons with his thoughtful mix of programming.”

Other season highlights included:
  • Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik’s 2012 commission to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Memorial Art Gallery, Images: Musical Impressions of an Art Museum, was brought to life with world-premiere choreography by Rochester City Ballet’s Jamey Leverett. 
  • Conductor Laureate Christopher Seaman returned to Rochester to lead the RPO in the music of Elgar and Stravinsky, with pianist Jon Nakamatsu performing Saint-Saëns’ second concerto. 
  • Carl Orff’s epic Carmina Burana closed last season, with the Rochester Oratorio Society, the Bach Children’s Chorus, and vocal soloists. The Democrat and Chronicle called the performance “overflowing with musical skill and emotional relevance – a fine conclusion to the season.”
The orchestra also began to experiment with different types of Special Concert programming to reach new audiences, including Video Games LiveTM and six-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald. And, audience numbers continued to rise for the 2014-15 season, with an approximate attendance total of 172,300 at 146 concerts and broadcasts, compared to the previous season’s 168,300.

Education and community engagement have been at the core of the RPO’s mission since its founding in 1922, and Principal Conductor for Education and Community Engagement Michael Butterman (The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Chair) has been directing these activities since 2000. Last season, the orchestra performed six OrKIDStra family concerts for more than 4,500 attendees, and nearly 12,000 school children in grades K-6 came to concerts in Kodak Hall. Every third and fifth grader from the Rochester City School District attended educational concerts in Eastman Theatre free of charge, and more than 2,500 children ages three to six saw free Tiny Tots concerts.

Additionally, students in grades eight through twelve representing a seven-county region and 27 schools make up the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (RPYO), which has RPO musicians as mentors and plays an annual side-by-side concert with the RPO. After a year-long search, Ithaca College Assistant Professor of Music Education Dr. James Mick succeeded Dr. David Harman, who retired after 21 years of service, as music director.

As in previous seasons, the RPO presented nearly 40 community concerts, many of them free of charge. More than 2,000 people from surrounding urban, suburban and rural communities attended the RPO’s free Around the Town series. RPO ensembles performed at locations including Camp Good Days and Special Times, Wilmot Cancer Center at URMC, a pop-up concert at the Rochester Regional Transit Center, and four City-sponsored outdoor neighborhoods concerts in July.

Community participation also includes performing with the RPO. The RPO’s annual production of The Nutcracker, with Rochester City Ballet and the Bach Children’s Chorus, featured 175 local children. And Gala Holiday Pops concerts featured 184 area students from 34 different schools in the Festival High School Chorale.

In terms of its financial health, the RPO achieved record-setting single ticket sales and total earned revenue growth for the first time since its 2010-11 season. Single ticket revenue increased 19% over the previous main season, attributed in large part to the popularity of non-subscription Special Concerts. That affected total earned revenues from ticket sales as well, which grew by 6% during the regular 2014-15 season, due also to the appointment of Ward Stare and the implementation of ticketing/patron growth strategies from arts and entertainment consultant, TRG Arts.

In fiscal 2015 ending on August 31, the RPO’s financial results indicate an operating surplus of $234,000. However, this is the result of a series of one-time, non-repeatable events: bequests in the amount of $817,000, and $850,000 of supplemental draws from the unrestricted endowment fund. Without these one-time events that increased operating revenue, the RPO’s deficit would have been $1.433 million.

“Obviously, we have been struggling with operating deficits for several years, and helping to reduce them is the reason I agreed to serve as Board treasurer,” reported Douglas W. Phillips. “We know that it is our responsibility to create a new business plan and that is the administration’s and board’s number one priority going forward.”

That plan will be in place this spring, and will focus on: 
  1. Building an organization that has the capacity to generate increased ticketed and contributed revenue.
  2. Reducing and eliminating the deficit and positioning the RPO for the future.
The first part of the financial recovery plan is already being addressed with recent restructuring and new hires in marketing and development areas that will expand capabilities to grow revenue. Vice President of Finance and Administration Ronald L. Steinmiller has been promoted to the newly created role of Chief Operating Officer. A Direct Sales position (vacant for several years) will focus on group sales, and two new fundraising positions (Annual Campaign and Development Assistant) as well as an Interim VP of Development will boost efforts to gain funding.

Another important step in generating more revenue is programming, and the RPO’s just-announced 2016/17 season offers events and programming that will appeal to Rochester audiences, generating excitement and ticket sales. That trend continues into the current season with, for example, Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy, and into next – as revealed at last week’s 2016/17 season announcement concert – with Yo-Yo Ma and more.

Additionally, the musicians/board mutual ratification in October 2015 of a two-year extension to the 2014/15 Collective Bargaining Agreement includes a salary freeze for the 2015/16 season, marking the fifth season in a row with weekly salary levels at the same rate. The musicians’ willingness to once again invest in the RPO’s future provides an exact knowledge of their costs over the next three years, allowing the RPO to create a workable financial plan.

“RPO administration and staff – like its Music Director, conductors and musicians – are investing in the future of this world-class orchestra to ensure its ability to continue contributing to our community,” said Interim President & CEO Ralph P. Craviso, who has been leading the organization since October 1, 2015, while a nationally recognized executive search firm looks for his permanent replacement. “We ask the community to continue to invest in our future as well, by attending our wonderful concerts and seeing and hearing first-hand what a vibrant, cultural gem we all have in the RPO.”

Also during the Annual Meeting, the RPO announced the election by the RPO membership of eight members of the Board of Directors, for the class of 2019:

Steven E. Feldon, M.D., MBA, is currently Chair of Ophthalmology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry and Founding Director of the David and Ilene Flaum Eye Institute. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from UCLA, a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the USC Marshall School of Business, and his Medical Degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Dr. Feldon has served on the board of the University of Rochester Medical Center and is currently on the boards of the Doheny Eye Institute and the RPO. He also has served on the board and executive committee of the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired – Goodwill Industries of Rochester, and on the board of Goodwill Industries of the Finger Lakes.

Marjorie L. Goldstein holds an undergraduate degree in Economics from SUNY at Buffalo and an MBA in Marketing and Management from RIT. She was formerly a Vice President with Fleet Bank and, prior to that, an Account Representative at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, where she supported all activities associated with the management, sales and delivery of 401(k) Plan services to corporate clients. She is active with the Jewish Community Federation of Rochester and the Lions of Judah, and is involved with the Brighton Central School District PTSA, Gilda’s Club of Rochester (event co-chair), Rochester City Ballet (Marketing Committee member); and Hillel of Rochester Area Colleges (Board member). Marjorie and her husband are avid supporters of the arts in Rochester.

Dr. Sandra S. Johnson has been Senior Vice President for Student Affairs at RIT since 2014, after having served in a variety of leadership positions at Barnard College, Columbia University, and Hofstra University. She holds a doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Master of Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Johnson has served in a leadership capacity with the International Parent Advisory Council for Spence-Chapin Services for Children, The Riverside Park Fund, President of the Parent Board at the Red Balloon Childcare Center, and Representative to the Parent Board at the School at Columbia. Her interest in the RPO was sparked after attending a number of performances last year as a new resident of the Rochester community.

Mark Siwiec is a local real estate agent and investor. Originally from Buffalo, he graduated from the University of Rochester and enthusiastically adopted Rochester as his home. Mr. Siwiec currently sits on the RPO Board, the board of the MCC Foundation and serves on the Board of Directors of COMIDA (County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency). Along with his partner Duffy Palmer, he is committed to making Rochester a better community for all. His interest in philanthropy has benefited Young Women’s College Prep, Garth Fagan Dance, Memorial Art Gallery, Willow Center for Domestic Violence, Flower City Habitat for Humanity, and Hillside Children’s Center, among others.

Ingrid A. Stanlis is a retired partner of the global audit and consulting firm of KPMG. She was the managing partner of KPMG for Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, and a former chair of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. She also chaired the Music Director search committee which resulted in Ward Stare joining the RPO. In addition to her Board position with the RPO, Ms. Stanlis has served on the boards and as an officer of numerous other not-for-profit organizations. She is a graduate of Middlebury College with a degree in English, and received her accounting training at the University of Vermont.

Jason Thomas is currently a Vice President in the Commercial Segment Finance Team at M&T Bank. Prior to that, he worked at Deloitte and several other major financial firms, including Morgan Stanley and Citigroup. Jason graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a B.S. in Accounting, and holds a master’s degree in Business Administration from the Simon School at the University of Rochester. He relocated from Hoboken, N.J. in 2011 and currently lives in Brighton. Although he does not play an instrument, Jason is a music lover with diverse tastes. Being an avid James Bond fan, his interest in the RPO was sparked when he attended the Classic Bond pops in 2013. He counts Rochester extremely lucky to have a professional orchestra that provides a broad spectrum of programming and works to be accessible to the community.

Steven H. Whitman, a Fairport native, received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University, and has a master’s degree in Physics Education from SUNY Geneseo. He taught physics at Brighton High School for 32 years, and was Science Department Coordinator for 12 of those years. Steve was also an adjunct physics faculty member at SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Brockport, serving as a faculty member of the CMST Institute. A former member of the Board of Trustees at Nazareth College, he is presently a member of the Wilmot Cancer Center Advisory Board. An active musician throughout his life, Steve plays tuba with four different local groups, volunteers in the RCSD as an instrumental music tutor, and recently established the Grove Place Jazz Project.

Robert A. Woodhouse is the current Chairman of the Board of G.W. Lisk Company, Inc., where he was formerly Chief Financial Officer. He attended Notre Dame High School in Utica, N.Y. and graduated from Boston College before beginning his career in public accounting with one of the “Big Eight” accounting firms. Bob has served on numerous not for profit boards, including the RPO Board as well as the Clifton Springs Hospital and Clinic (treasurer), the Clifton Springs Library (treasurer), and the Clifton Springs Rotary Club (treasurer and president). He currently serves on the board of the Ontario Trumansburg Telephone Companies.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) 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 22-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.

View the RPO's 2014-15 Annual Report online

February 4, 2016

Bass trombone in the spotlight

When you think of a solo concerto at the orchestra, images of strings, piano or woodwind instruments probably call to mind. However, this month at the RPO, the big, loud, brass will have its moment in the spotlight. On February 25 and 27, the RPO’s Jeffrey Gray will play the RPO premiere of Eric Ewazen’s Bass Trombone Concerto. Ewazen is a graduate of both The Eastman School of Music and The Juilliard School of Music, the latter of which he is now a professor of music theory.

Jeffrey Gray
“Concerto for bass trombone celebrates the rich sonorities of this very expressive instrument,” wrote Ewazen in the program notes for this piece. “It is a brass instrument, so of course it is capable of loud, dramatic sonorities associated with heroic fanfares, but it can also play lyrically and gently, having the sound of a baritone or bass singer.”

While Ewazen’s concerto has never been performed at the RPO, Gray first performed the work in 1999 with the Bowling Green Philharmonia. Gray and Ewazen also teamed up this past fall to perform the work (Ewazen on piano) at an RPO volunteer event.

“I’ve admired his work for many years,” said Gray. “It has that distinctive American sound—like Bernstein or Copland. The sound is recognizable even if you have never heard the piece.”

Ewazen's Bass Trombone Concerto fits on the RPO program bookended by two classical masterpieces: Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 and Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 “Rhenish.”

“The other two pieces are staples of the repertoire,” said Gray. “I am looking forward to this concerto because it will give the audience something new and different—we’re not just playing the same pieces you’ve heard before.”

If you go:
Mozart 29, featuring the RPO premiere of Eric Ewazen's Bass Trombone Concerto

Thu. Feb. 25 at 7:30 PM
Sat. Feb. 27 at 8 PM

Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Tickets start at $22

Preview of Eric Ewazen's Bass Trombone Concerto, performed by Charles Vernon, bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

February 3, 2016

From the Stage: RPO Principal Trumpet Douglas Prosser

We caught up with RPO Principal Trumpet Douglas Prosser (The Elaine P. Wilson Chair) to discuss his upcoming solo performances on the next Sunday Matinee Series concert at Hochstein Performance Hall on February 28 at 2 PM. Prosser and guest soprano Lianne Coble will be featured on a program that includes works by Handel, Bach, and Scarlatti. Of the five pieces planned for this concert, three of them (including Bach’s Cantata No. 51) are RPO first performances! RPO program annotator Don Anderson wrote this of Cantata No. 51: “It is a sacred piece, intended for performance on the 15th Sunday after Trinity. Both the soprano soloist and the orchestra’s trumpet player are called upon to perform great feats of virtuosity.”

Douglas Prosser, trumpet
The Elaine P. Wilson Chair
Douglass Prosser
“I'm really looking forward to revisiting these three diverse works by Scarlatti, Handel, and Bach, composers whose genius and vision helped propel the trumpet into what is now commonly referred to as its Golden Age. While still grounded in heroic signaling traditions, these works feature fanfares whose soaring lines suddenly morph into beautiful vocal styles; the domesticated trumpeter now merges and dovetails seamlessly with all the expression of the soprano voice.

Bach’s Cantata No. 51 in particular will be a nice opportunity to showcase the piccolo trumpet, whose sound captured my imagination at age 14, listening to the brilliant recordings of the famous French trumpeter Maurice André. I count his playing, as do many others for sure, as the inspiration for countless thousands of hours in the practice room as a young trumpeter!”

If you go:
Royal Fireworks Music
Sunday February 28 at 2 PM
Hochstein Performance Hall
Tickets are $25
Visit rpo.org for more details

A sample of Bach's Cantata No. 51

February 2, 2016

Meet the Artist: American Idol's Michael Lynche

American Idol season nine finalist Michael Lynche comes to the RPO on Valentine’s Day weekend for an all-new show celebrating classic R&B with Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik.

Following the release of his debut album in 2012, The Tampa Bay Times said Lynche “follows in the tradition of husky crooners Luther Vandross and Barry White, big men with big voices, big smiles, big hearts.” We caught up with the Florida native for the inside scoop on his career (including what it’s really like to be on Idol!), and the hype for the world premiere of Heart and Soul.
Michael Lynche

When did you start singing/performing?
I got my first guitar when I was three. I grew up in a performing family and we would perform at church. As long as you could make noise, you were in the band!

Who are your favorite artists and musical influence?
Al Green is my number one. I also love Luther Vandross, James Brown, The Beatles, and Bonnie Raitt. It all goes back to my mom. She was the one who showed us everything from 2Pac and Biggie to Bonnie Raitt and The Stylistics. She always had a new CD in the car and I just fell in love with all the music we listened to growing up.

Tell us about Heart and Soul. It’s going to debut in Rochester, right?
Yes! I met Jeff in 2012 when I performed in a show called “Let’s Dance” with The Florida Orchestra. He is such a young spirit and I am an old soul. We started creating this show in 2014.
You don’t hear this kind of music with a full symphony. I have always loved the legends of R&B. I’ve never been to a show where you can experience these soul artists, like Al Green, Luther Vandross, and James Brown, all these guys who have impacted my life and who I want to be like. The show is going to have a specific vibe to it that I have been working on forever. I think any of these artists would love to have their songs done by a symphony. It’s definitely unique!

Who’s your favorite artist today?
My soul is a little older than the kind of music they are making today. I don’t believe the
music being made right now has a long lasting feeling to it. It’s really about classic soul music for me. However, two of my favorite artists right now are Maxwell and D’Angelo.

How did your time on American Idol prepare you for the life you lead now?
I was living as a professional musician in New York City before the show. I decided to audition for American Idol to take my career up a notch--and it went well!

It doesn’t get much bigger than American Idol. Everyone who is dealing with Idol is the top in that industry. To watch how to be a professional was incredible. The show is high-stakes and high-intensity. Nothing is as nerve-wracking as performing on a show for millions of people on a weekly basis! To stay calm, I always tried to focus on what I was doing and perform for the people in the room.

You got a second chance on American Idol thanks to a judges’ save, right?
I was in the bottom and it was a crazy week on the show. I had to sing to save my spot. I sang Maxwell’s “This Woman’s Work” and was fortunate to be able to continue on my journey.

What do you like about playing with a symphony orchestra?
When you find other people who are on this level--it helps you raise your game. It’s going to be fun to see the symphony playing something else besides the standard classical rep; we hope people will accept the creative leap of faith we are taking here with the music and enjoy!

Favorite song on the program?
We are doing a song I wrote called “There Will be Love.” It’s a positive song of love, hope, moving forward, and always knowing that love is out there and it conquers all. This will only be the second time I get to perform it in a large venue. It’s got an old soul vibe to it.

If you go:
Heart and Soul with vocalist Michael Lynche
Fri. Feb. 12 at 8 PM
Sat. Feb. 13 at 8 PM

Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Tickets start at $22

See Michael Lynche's American Idol performance that famously saved him in the competition!