October 3, 2016

Musical Melting Pot: A Preview of the RPO's American Music Festival

“If I had to sum up this season in one sentence, I’d say it’s a celebration of who we are as an Orchestra, who we are as a city, and who we are as a country.” – Ward Stare

What does “American Music” bring to mind for you? For many, it might be the ‘wide-open prairie’ sound often associated with Aaron Copland. Others might think of George Gershwin’s jazzy downtown swing, or, perhaps, of a favorite movie theme or musical theater song.

Of course, American music is all of this and so much more. In little more than 200 years, American composers have added a distinct and indelible note to the classical canon, one that both builds upon the European tradition and injects aspects of other styles, from jazz and folk to pop and electronic. This season, RPO audiences will get the unique chance to explore America’s vast and varied musical landscape as Ward Stare leads the Orchestra’s first-ever American Music Festival, October 23–November 5. This multi-week celebration will feature music by 20th century greats like Copland, Gershwin, Barber, and Bernstein, alongside some of the brightest musical voices of today, including Pulitzer Prize winners Christopher Rouse, John Adams, and Jennifer Higdon.

From familiar favorites to new discoveries, this special festival will be characterized by a spirit of musical excitement and adventure, and promises to be a concert experience that will be remembered for years to come. Join us!

Click here to get your American Music Festival tickets now, or call 585-454-2100.

Festival highlights

Here’s a closer look at what’s in store:

1. Celebrating Rochester: The RPO’s 2016 festival harkens back to the days of Rochester’s annual Festival of American Music, which took place from 1930–71. Initiated by former Eastman School of Music Director Howard Hanson, the festivals premiered over 200 American works and made Rochester a center for American Music. The RPO’s festival also salutes famed composer and Rochester native David Diamond, whose Rounds for String Orchestra kick off the whole event on October 23.

2. Movies and Musicals: In the festival's second concert (Oct. 27 & 29), we’ll pay homage to the music of Hollywood and Broadway. John Williams’ For New York takes up the well-known tunes of Bernstein’s “New York, New York” and “America.” Gershwin’s famous “I Got Rhythm” gets the virtuoso treatment as it’s woven into a series of dazzling piano variations, performed by Andrew Russo. And, we’ll dive into the gritty world of On the Waterfront with music from Bernstein’s powerful film score.

3. Modern Chaos, Age-Old Questions: Few works tackle as complex a topic as John Adams’ 2005 opera Dr. Atomic, which centers on “father of the atomic bomb” J. Robert Oppenheimer in the days leading up to the first test detonation. The opera, and its derivative symphony, explore the paradoxical atmosphere of scientific breakthrough and moral abhorrence experienced by those who worked on the bomb. The anarchy of Adams’ music is poignantly paired with Charles Ives’ haunting quest for meaning, The Unanswered Question.

4. “The world’s finest percussionist”: Scottish percussionist Colin Currie has been hailed as “the world’s finest and most daring percussionist” (The Spectator), and he’ll join the RPO November 3 & 5 for Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto, a piece which was composed specifically for him. The concerto won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition and traverses the spectrum of the percussion sound, including everything from marimba to Peking Opera gong.

5. A finale to remember: Few pieces are as soul-stirring as Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, and he incorporates fragments of this iconic theme throughout his Third Symphony, which the RPO will perform in the festival’s closing concerts (November 3 & 5). At the very end of the symphony, the entire Fanfare is played in all its brassy, unbridled glory. It’s as exciting as it gets, and the perfect way to end this festival.

RPO American Music Festival Details and Dates:

Diamond, Gershwin & CoplandSunday, Oct. 23 (2 PM)
Performance Hall at Hochstein
Ward Stare, conductor

DIAMOND  Rounds                      
CHRISTOPHER ROUSE  Iscariot                                              
ALAN FLETCHER  If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler                                    
COPLAND  The Tender Land Suite

American Music: Stage & ScreenThursday, Oct. 27, 7:30 PM & Saturday, Oct. 29, 8 PM
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Ward Stare, conductor | Andrew Russo, piano

JOHN WILLIAMS  For New York (Variations on Themes of Leonard Bernstein)
GERSHWIN  “I Got Rhythm” Variations                  
BERNSTEIN  Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront
IVES  The Unanswered Question                  
JOHN ADAMS  Dr. Atomic Symphony

Concert sponsor: Constellation Brands

Higdon, Copland & BarberThursday, Nov. 3 (7:30 PM) & Saturday, Nov. 5 (8 PM)
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Ward Stare, conductor | Colin Currie, percussion

BARBER  Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance
JENNIFER HIGDON  Percussion Concerto
COPLAND  Symphony No. 3

Volunteer Spotlight: Michele Bello

For many RPO volunteers, maintaining the positive social experience that the RPO provides is priority number one. Going to the orchestra is a wonderful way to connect with old friends and new through a shared love of music, and there’s no shortage of RPO volunteers helping to keep that atmosphere alive.
Michele Bello

RPO volunteer and Give-A-Lift Program founder Michele Bello, however, wanted to take this idea one step further. With the Give-A-Lift program, Bello is helping to bring people to and from the RPO who would otherwise have trouble getting there on their own.

“Simply put, the Give-A-Lift program brings patrons to and from concerts,” said Bello. “It enables people who are no longer able to drive themselves to continue to attend concerts. Many patrons have sat in the same seats, surrounded by the same people, for decades. Being able to attend concerts allows them to continue an important social and cultural activity.”

The idea for Give-A-Lift was born in 2007 and the organization’s first ride was given in 2008. Former RPO Manager of Volunteers and Special Events Marilyn Merrigan founded Give-A-Lift with help from Lifespan, another Monroe County-centered organization that gives rides to people unable to drive themselves.

“The program has been so effective because of the drivers,” said Bello. “They are a wonderful and dedicated group of people whose services are greatly valued by both the RPO and the patrons. We couldn't do it without them.”

Although the RPO and Give-A-Lift are Bello’s two main passions, she’s also an amateur violinist who plays in various groups. Bello also enjoys passing the time by knitting and reading, but Give-A-Lift is what she spends the most of her time on.

Overall, it’s been a terrific experience.

“I have met such wonderful people and been involved in so many interesting activities,” said Bello. “Seeing the orchestra and the workings of the organization has been great fun.”

For more information about volunteering for the RPO, visit rpo.org.

Written by Alexander Jones, a graduate of RIT's journalism program and recent marketing and communications intern at the RPO.