October 24, 2017

RPO Principal Conductor Michael Butterman marks his final season in 2017-18

Michael Butterman
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) and Michael Butterman announce today that Butterman has decided to conclude his tenure as Principal Conductor for Education and Community Engagement (The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Chair) at the end of his current contract, which expires on August 31, 2018. Maestro Butterman will continue to serve in his current RPO position through the 2017/18 season.

“We are grateful for Michael’s years of service and dedication to the RPO,” says RPO President & CEO Curt Long. “As creator, conductor, and host of hundreds of concerts for young people and adults over the past 17 years, Michael has deepened our commitment to inspire, educate, and engage our community through music. The RPO is privileged to have had the substantial contributions that Michael has made to the Orchestra and the Rochester community.”

Butterman was named RPO Principal Conductor for Education and Outreach – the first endowed position of its kind in the country – in 2000, following a two-year search. During his tenure, the Orchestra has refined its approach to education, specifically emphasizing interactive programming that complements classroom curricula. It has also expanded its audience and reach, impacting more than 20,000 students annually.

"Michael has made a tremendous contribution to the RPO family and to our community during his remarkable tenure, passionately sharing his love of music and enriching the lives of audiences of all ages throughout Rochester,” adds RPO Music Director Ward Stare. “We are especially grateful for the standard of excellence Michael has set for our education programs and know that many thousands of students and families will continue to benefit from his incredible work."

Butterman’s role has included planning and conducting Sunday Matinee, OrKIDStra, Primary Education, Intermediate Education, Tiny Tots, Around the Town, and City and County concerts. He has also appeared on the Philharmonics and Pops Series, and has conducted the RPO’s annual performances of The Nutcracker with Rochester City Ballet. In 2011, he conducted the RPO on a recording of The Story of Babar featuring actor John Lithgow. In 2013, he received the Monroe County Music Educators’ Award for his contributions to area school music programs.

“Michael has been deeply committed to the idea that orchestra music is an essential part – not a frivolous extra – in the education of children,” states former RPO Principal Percussionist Bill Cahn, who is also a passionate music educator. “His concerts for Rochester’s children have been everything that an educational program by a symphony orchestra should be: centered on some of the world’s most inspiring classical music; focused and well-thought-out narrations with universal subjects; and interactive experiences that enable students to participate.”

In addition to his RPO position, Butterman is the music director of the Boulder Philharmonic, Shreveport Symphony, and Pennsylvania Philharmonic Orchestras. He just completed a 15-year tenure with the Jacksonville Symphony, first as associate, and then as resident conductor. A sought-after guest conductor, he’s also led many of the country’s preeminent ensembles, including the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras.

“As my professional responsibilities expand, and in particular, as our daughter prepares to enter high school in the fall of 2018, I feel it important to make adjustments to reduce my travel schedule and workload in general. I do so only after a great deal of reflection, since my work with the RPO has been among the most fulfilling experiences of my life,” says Butterman. “Our primary responsibilities as professional musicians are to communicate the joy of music and to help connect ever more people to its life-enriching power. The RPO embraces these goals, and it has been a privilege to work with my extraordinary colleagues in the Orchestra in the service of this vision.”

Butterman’s conducting highlights in the current season include the following Sunday Matinees: Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” (Nov. 19), Anderson & Roe (April 15), and Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 (June3). He will also conduct The Nutcracker (Nov. 22-26) as well as this season’s OrKIDStra finale: Beethoven Lives Upstairs (May 20). Although his official tenure will conclude at the end of the 2017/18 season, he will return to lead several performances in the 2018/19 season, including some OrKIDStra, Sunday Matinee, and Primary Education concerts.

“Michael has been a part of the RPO family for my entire tenure and it has been a joy to work with him on wide-ranging projects that have benefited our community,” says RPO Concertmaster Juliana Athayde. “He never fails to brings an inspiring level of commitment to the music and communicates effortlessly with audiences. I always look forward to his educations concerts especially, as he finds dynamic ways to connect students to symphonic music, and their reactions as they experience much of this music for the first time are thrilling. We are sad to see Michael go, but look forward to his return as a guest in the coming seasons.”

The RPO will celebrate Butterman’s 18 years of service with a special concert to be announced.

October 12, 2017

RPO reports balanced budget for first time in six years

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) closed its books on a highly successful 2016/17 season while opening its 95th season with a trio of outstanding programs that reflect its commitment to providing excellent symphonic music to the community: Itzhak Perlman on Tuesday, September 12; Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik’s A cELLAbration: The Music of Ella and More on Friday and Saturday, September 15 and 16; and Grieg’s Piano Concerto + Cinderella with Music Director Ward Stare on September 21 and 23.

On September 1, Orchestra management also transitioned smoothly to new President and Chief Executive Officer Curt Long from Ralph Craviso, who was appointed Interim President & CEO in 2015 (later dropping the "Interim" from his title) to assist the Orchestra in a financial turnaround.

The news about that turnaround is also exceptional: the RPO’s five-year financial plan has achieved a balanced budget for the fiscal year ending August 31, 2017 (the first year of that five-year plan, which was developed under Craviso’s leadership) for the first time in six years. The foundation of that plan included improvements in fundraising as well as in expanded programming – including concerts involving films, video games, etc. – to bring in new audiences. It also relied on ongoing contract concessions by the RPO musicians themselves.

The results are extremely encouraging. This past season’s ticket sales were up by 20%, reflecting an increase of 10% more subscribers and 30% more individual concert patrons. Public support followed suit: the RPO saw an increase of 25% in fundraising during 2016/17, including a season-ending, matching-gift Summer Challenge campaign that exceeded its $200,000 goal.

“This is the first step of a journey that will hopefully take this world-class orchestra to long-term financial stability,” explains Ingrid Stanlis, newly voted chairperson of the RPO Board of Directors.
“We owe a great debt to Ralph Craviso and outgoing Board Chair Jules Smith for their exceptional work through this process. With the excellent artistic leadership provided by Music Director Ward Stare as well as Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik, and the recent appointment of Curt Long with his 24 years of success managing symphony orchestras, the Board is confident that we will continue to advance that five-year plan.”

This upward trajectory – along with the stellar reputation of the RPO – is what drew Long from his post as president of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra (ASO), where he increased ticket revenues by more than 70 percent. During his tenure there, he also oversaw the ASO make its Carnegie Hall debut, release a limited-pressing recording of commissioned works, engage Carlos Izcaray as new Music Director, expand education programs both in Greater Birmingham and in underserved rural communities throughout Alabama, and successfully launch the Sound Edge Festival.

“I am excited to assume this leadership role and my family and I look forward to becoming part of the Rochester community,” says Long. “Even as we celebrate the start of a wonderful turnaround for the RPO, we also need to remember that there is much work yet to be done as we enter the second year of our five-year plan. We need to continue to grow audiences and – like most orchestras around the country, which generate more than half their revenue from contributions – to continue to rely upon the generosity of this supportive community in order to serve Greater Rochester with excellent and ever-evolving programs that engage, entertain, and educate.”

September 25, 2017

Meet Karl Vilcins, new bassoon and contra-bassoon

A Long Island native, bassoonist Karl Vilcins is a graduate of Ohio State University and the Manhattan School of Music. From 2005-2011, he served as principal bassoon with the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra. For the past five years, he has worked as a New York City freelance musician, playing with many groups including the Orchestra of St. Lukes, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, American Ballet Theater, and the American Composers Orchestra.

Personal: Married to Aimee, daughter Ava (5), son Jacob (4), Shelby, black lab

On choosing bassoon: I started clarinet in fourth grade. One night I was watching a PBS broadcast of an orchestra concert with my grandmother. I don’t remember the piece they were playing, but it featured the bassoon section and I immediately fell in love with it! I went up to my band director the next day and told him I had to play bassoon. He then tried to discourage me from playing it, saying “You seriously want to play this thing?!?!” Look at all the thumb keys!!!” The rest is history!

How would I describe myself:
Easy going, with very frequent spells of silliness I have two small kids!

I enjoy carpentry and furniture making; I don’t see it as being that different to reed making. I do fair amount of carpentry as a hobby and a small side business

What I’m reading: Anything by Mo Willems (children’s books). The life of a father with two kids! Also, I love my Woodsmith Magazine.

Favorite concerts this season: I’m looking forward to Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. It has a very fun contra-bassoon solo. Also, Harry Potter. Is there an explanation needed?

Look for Karl onstage this fall, and read more about him on rpo.org!  

September 22, 2017

Meet David Bruestle, new principal trombone

A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, David Bruestle joined the RPO in May 2017 as principal trombone (The Austin E. Hildebrandt Chair), after serving as acting principal trombone since October 2016. Prior to joining the RPO, Bruestle served as second trombone with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and principal trombone with the Erie Philharmonic. Bruestle completed a Doctor of Musical Arts from the Eastman School of Music in May 2015 under the tutelage of Mark Kellogg, his predecessor as principal trombone of the RPO. Bruestle also earned his bachelor’s degree at Eastman and a master’s from the Manhattan School of Music.

David Bruestle
Personal: My wife Katie is an Eastman School of Music graduate in horn performance currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of Rochester. We have two cats, Harry and Gus.

What are you reading right now?
I recently received a book of letters from Edvard Grieg to his friends and colleagues. I find it interesting to learn about the connections between composers and other important figures of their time through their correspondence.

How would you describe yourself?
  • Organized and tidy: I have been told I have an eye for detail.
  •  Proactive and efficient: You know the saying, “never leave a room without something for another,” although sometimes you can only carry so much, especially when lugging around a trombone case.
  • Conscientious and diplomatic: I try not to ruffle many feathers.
When and why did you choose your instrument?
My parents initially aspired to be music teachers and they had a collection of different instruments. My siblings and I took piano lessons from an early age and when we started in a school with a band program, each of us picked up another instrument. The summer before starting sixth grade, I examined my parents’ collection of instruments and pulled out an old silver trombone. I have always thought I might turn that instrument into a side table or lamp someday!

What advice would you give to young musicians?
No journey to an orchestral career is the same. Keep driving ahead. Take every opportunity you can
and be prepared to excel in each one. You never know which connection or experience along the way
will create the next opportunity for you to advance.

Favorite piece you are looking forward to playing this season at the RPO?
I guess as a trombonist I have to pick Ravel’s Boléro for the big solo, but I am also looking forward to Bartok’s Miraculous Mandarin Suite since it will be a first for me and it has a couple of exciting passages for the trombone section.

Look for David onstage this fall, and read more about him on rpo.org! 

September 21, 2017

Meet Cory Palmer, new principal bass

Cory Palmer
c Nadine Photography
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Cory Palmer joins the RPO this season as principal bass (The Anne Hayden McQuay Chair). Prior to joining the RPO, he was principal bass of the Canton Symphony Orchestra from 2012−16. He also has held positions with the Sarasota Opera and the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra. While growing up in Atlanta, Palmer was a member of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra and studied with Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Principal Bassist Ralph Jones. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music performance from Michigan State University, master’s degrees from John Hopkins University and Manhattan School of Music, and attended a performance residency program at Carnegie Mellon University.

Personal: My wife’s name is Kate. We got married last November in Nashville, Tennessee. We have one dog that we think is a Chihuahua/terrier mix. Her name is Ryder and she is about 12 years old.

When and why did you choose your instrument?

I chose the bass in fifth grade when my class went to visit the middle school and we saw the orchestra, band, and chorus perform. The bass player played the Jaws theme and I was hooked. I started playing bass the next year!

What app can’t you live without?
Spotify, Facebook, and Candy Crush. I have an on-again, off-again relationship with Candy Crush—I
delete it when it starts taking up too much of my time.

What fascinates you besides music?
Food. I love cooking and going out to great restaurants. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hole in the wall or a
super fancy restaurant. If it has delicious food, I’ll be there. I’m especially partial to a good brunch.

Favorite piece you are looking forward to playing this season at the RPO?

This is a very tough question so I’m going to cheat and pick three.
  • Don Juan from our season opener because this was the first piece on the first concert I played when I started college at Michigan State University and it’s the first piece on the first concert I’m playing with the RPO.
  • Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 because this is a huge piece for orchestra auditions and I somehow haven’t performed it before this season.
  • Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9—it’s just an incredible piece.
What advice would you give to young musicians?
  •  Take advantage of all the resources out there these days. There are so many great resources online for finding local concerts, listening to great performances, connecting with fellow musicians, finding sheet music, and so much more. Expose yourself to as much as you can.
  • Record yourself regularly. It’s important to know what you sound like.
  • Perform regularly. Play for anybody that will listen whether it’s a teacher, colleague, family member, or total stranger. 
Look for Cory onstage this fall, and read more about him on rpo.org! 

May 30, 2017

Billboard chart-topper to perform with RPO

Internationally acclaimed American pianist Simone Dinnerstein brings her talents to Hochstein Performance Hall this Sunday, June 4 to close out the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s Sunday Matinee series.
Simone Dinnerstein

Dinnerstein recently reached No. 2 on the Billboard Classical Chart for her new album Mozart in Havana, but she first rose to prominence with her self-funded recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, another Billboard chart topper released in 2007. Described as an “utterly distinctive voice in the forest of Bach interpretation” by the New York Times, Dinnerstein will play two of the great composer’s lesser known piano concerti with the RPO: Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D Minor and Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F Minor. Although she appreciates all of the Bach keyboard concerti, she considers these two to be his most profound.

She singled out the slow, second movement of the F Minor concerto as one of the most beautiful things she’s ever heard. “Playing it is the closest I get to singing,” she said. She describes a singing-like quality, too, in the D Minor concerto, which she explains is the result of its origins as part of a cantata Bach wrote for an organ accompanied by a choir. While it’s “much weightier,” than the concerto in F Minor, she notes the interactive and intimate feel both works convey. That intimacy will be ideal for performance at Hochstein, a much smaller venue than the cavernous Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, where the RPO plays the majority of its concerts.

Apart from her first performance with the RPO, Dinnerstein has a lot going on in 2017. Mozart in Havana was recorded in Cuba with the Havana Lyceum Orchestra and features Mozart’s Piano Concerto Nos. 21 and 23. This summer, the HLO will travel to the United States to tour with Dinnerstein up and down the East Coast. It will be the first time an orchestra from Cuba has toured the U.S. since the Cuban Revolution. Also this year, Dinnerstein will debut a new piano concerto written for her by Philip Glass and co-commissioned by twelve orchestras around the country. She will also collaborate with choreographer Pam Tanowitz on New Work for Goldberg Variations, a piece for piano and six dancers. The collaboration translates the rhythms and structures of Bach’s Goldberg Variations into movement, and will debut at Duke University in the fall of 2017.

If you go
Bach & Stravinsky
Sunday, June 4 at 2 PM
Hochstein Performance Hall
Tickets $27 available at rpo.org. or by calling 454-2100

Written by Mary Rice, RPO marketing assistant

Hear Simone Dinnertein perform the two Bach concerti and other works by Bach in this playlist from her 2011 album Bach: A Strange Beauty recorded with the Staatskapelle Berlin.

May 24, 2017

Bohème behind-the-scenes: a chorus perspective

The following essay was written by Brenda Tremblay, morning host on Classical 91.5* and 90.3 FM, streaming at classical915.org. Tremblay will perform in the RPO's production of La Bohème with Madrigalia Chorus. We asked her to write about her experience preparing for the concerts!

Brenda Tremblay (far right) backstage at rehearsal

Rehearsal at La Bohème
"Rain glistens on new leaves. The scent of lilacs fills the air. Dogs bark. My neighbors think I’m weird. And who could blame them? For weeks, they’ve seen me prowling the tree-lined streets, muttering like a madwoman -clutching a book, chanting, and singing fragments of songs. They don’t know I’ve been preparing for this week’s semi-staged production of La Bohème.

"La Bohème is Giocomo Puccini’s four act opera based on a book about the lives of poor bohemians in 1840’s Paris. Arturo Toscanini conducted the world premiere in Turin in 1896, and though the first audience left puzzled, the story and its sensuous music soon enraptured listeners all over the world.

"It is one of the most-performed operas in history. Why? First, the music is gorgeous. Second, the themes are universal. We respond to a simple story of people falling in and out of love. We see that the smallest objects – a hat, a key, a candle - can glow with meaning, especially in the face of death. We know that chance encounters shape our lives.

"With my friends in Madrigalia, I’m in the chorus in the Latin Quarter scene, appearing in Act II as a generic Parisian woman and then in Act III as a tired milk-woman trudging to work with an invisible donkey. I don’t actually speak Italian, so committing about twenty minutes of music in that language to memory pushed me to invent a system of pattern recognition using emojis. My score is puckered and coffee-stained.
Brenda Tremblay explains Act II scene
via emoji on Twitter

"What’s it like onstage? It’s a completely immersive experience, like diving into a deep, warm pool. The music swirls to the back of the hall. Have you seen the documentary film 20 Feet from Stardom? It popped into my head last night when I was literally standing two feet from soprano Jacqueline Echols as she sang “Musetta’s Waltz” with full-throated glory. My real-life teenage son Gavin is a street sweeper in the chorus, and when we’re onstage together I’m buzzed with delight that we’ll share this experience. But I have to concentrate.

"I concentrate on everything our excellent chorus master Cary Ratcliff has taught us: breathe early, lift the soft palate, purse lips, sing without vibrato to produce a pure, rich unified sound free of operatic warbling. I try to remember all these things. I try not to trip. I try to remember where I am.

"Snow sparkles on the streets of Paris. The smells of butter and cinnamon and toasted almonds fill the marketplace. See the heaps of oranges and hot-roasted chestnuts? Is your mouth watering? Here comes a noisy crowd in a cacophony of joy and chaos. They have very little money but an unquenchable zest for life. Their kids are squirrely. And who can blame them?

It’s Christmas Eve in Paris!"

*The RPO’s semi-staged La Boheme is scheduled to air on WXXI-FM on July 3 and October 2 at 8 p.m. 

If you go
Puccini's La Bohème in Concert
Thursday, May 25 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, May 27 at 8 PM
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Tickets start at $23

May 23, 2017

RPO's "La Bohème" is "intimate storytelling at its finest"

The following note was written by Grant Preisser, stage director for the RPO's semi-staged concert producion of Puccini 's La Bohème. Preisser is general manager and stage director for Angels & Demons Entertainment (ADE), a full-service production company focused on producing concert and semi-staged works for symphony orchestras. This is his RPO debut.
Grant Preisser

"Opera as an art form is known for its larger-than-life characters presented on a grand stage. It is the marriage of incredible music, stellar singing, and spectacular production that keeps audiences enraptured and rouses them to their feet in thunderous applause. However, more and more concert and semi-staged productions of opera are being presented by opera companies and symphony orchestras alike. This type of presentation is the full opera with reduced production elements: limited to no set, the orchestra on stage, and limited staging opportunities for the singers. On the surface this sounds static and not representative of the composer’s envisioning of the work, but with the right piece this can create a heightened and perhaps more intense dramatic experience for an audience.

"La Bohème is just such a piece that lends itself well to a semi-staged treatment. Puccini eschewed the tradition of operas being about gods and goddesses, kings and queens, focusing much of his work on more relatable characters. His self-professed intent in his compositions was to express “great sorrows in little souls.” In this semi-staged presentation, “great sorrows” are expressed by the RPO onstage and the “little souls” are brought to life by a sensitive and nuanced cast. Puccini puts real people onstage, emphasizing human relationships and the tender, tenuous route they take. This works well within the more intimate and evocative setting that a semi-staged production creates.

"Based on the Henri Murger novel and subsequent play, Puccini, with librettists Luigi Illica
and Giuseppe Giacosa, structured his La Bohème into four acts, which Puccini conceptualized
as “images.” Each image is a vignette of the bohemian life, with the plot centering around
the relationship of Rodolfo and Mimì. The idea of images works well within the limitations
of a semi-staged approach in that each scene is presentational without the need for scenic
elements to aid the drama. Some strategic props and simple costume elements set the tableau,
and the audience is left to become immersed in the drama unfolding before them.

"Semi-staged productions, however, are not simply putting the singers in front of the orchestra and giving them appropriate entrances and exits. The onus in communicating Puccini’s story now rests solely on the power of each singer’s performance and the ensemble dynamic created between the characters. This is intimate storytelling at its finest as the singers must connect and emotionally engage the audience who aren’t distracted by the typical sweeping Parisian backdrop associated with other iconic productions of this work.

"What evokes the sweeping landscape intended for this band of Bohemians instead is the ability to have an expanded orchestra and chorus. Not being limited to a pit or the confines of a stage, the orchestra and chorus become characters in the piece as opposed to simple accompaniment. For Puccini this creates a glorious opportunity for the audience to bask in his lush melodic lines and rich orchestral texture, getting swept away on an emotional journey to the tearful conclusion of Rodolfo and Mimì’s relationship."

If you go
Puccini's La Bohème in Concert
Thursday, May 25 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, May 27 at 8 PM
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Tickets start at $23

May 19, 2017

Music comes to life for kids at RPO Tiny Tots concert

This essay was written by guest blogger Maggie Symington, a Brighton resident and RPO subscriber who frequently writes about the arts and culture in Rochester for her personal blog.

The RPO's Tiny Tots concert at Browncroft Community Church
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra understands that a child who is exposed to classical music is much more likely to understand and appreciate it later. So they’ve developed a program of Tiny Tots Concerts to introduce the Orchestra to preschoolers and kindergartners in a fun and creative way. I had the privilege to attend one of these concerts, which thoughtfully paired pieces by Elgar, Strauss, and Bizet with humorous and educational compositions by the RPO’s own Jeff Tyzik, among others. Naturally, the program ended with selections from Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.

More than 600 kids (and their supervisors) attended the performance Wednesday morning at the Browncroft Community Church, and it was refreshing to be among the oldest in the audience for a change! The first piece entailed three musicians playing as they walked down the aisles to the stage, waving to the kids as they danced in their seats to the beat.

Sesame Street-like signs dotted the stage (Percussion Pl., String St., Woodwind Way, and Brass Blvd.), and Principal Conductor for Education and Community Engagement Michael Butterman, in a touching analogy, described the orchestra as a neighborhood, with all of the sections working together, just as they do in society. The presentation included almost as much entertaining instruction as music. Before the Elgar’s piece for strings, violinist Shannon Nance, a “String St. resident,” explained how the violin is played, and introduced her viola “cousins,” other street neighbors -- the cellos, and the bass “grandfathers.”

The kids were generally attentive, although there was naturally a lot of fidgeting. The RPO cleverly tapped that energy by inviting the audience to participate in the music, and to engage with it, instead of sitting passively. For example, in one piece, Butterman got the kids to their feet to march and clap in time with the music. Later in the program, he invited them to stand and help the orchestra “take a bus to Percussion Place” by singing The Wheels on the Bus (“the strings on the bus go ‘plunk plunk plunk’…”).

One of the brass musicians and a percussionists came out with some homemade instruments and it was amusing and educational to hear the lovely sounds they produced. The kids were also getting a lesson in the music of physics, as the musicians explained the relationship between length and pitch (e.g., the longer the string, the lower the note).

It was delightful to watch some of the kids mimic conducting or instrument playing, and to watch them actively listening to pieces they were probably hearing for the first time. I chatted with one of the musicians on my way out, and we both remarked that, if programs like Tiny Tots are successful, these youngsters will become the RPO audience of the future. And who knows, one of them might end up in the orchestra! Kudos to the RPO and Michael Butterman for making classical music fun, approachable, and engaging to kids in our Rochester neighborhood.

Video: Watch Concertmaster Juliana Athayde, principal flute Rebecca Gilbert, and acting principal trombone David Bruestle make music come alive for little ones at Tiny Tots- playing a fun rendition of the Sesame Street theme!

May 3, 2017

Gabel and Athayde Play Debussy and Bartók

Parisian conductor Fabien Gabel first met RPO Concertmaster Juliana Athayde in 2002, when they
were both students at the Aspen Musical Festival and School. More than a decade later, Gabel came to Rochester to guest-conduct the orchestra for the first time, and was taken completely by surprise to see his old friend in the concertmaster’s chair (Athayde became concertmaster in 2005).

Since reconnecting with Athayde, Gabel has become a regular guest conductor at the RPO and a Rochester favorite. This May marks his fourth season in a row performing with the RPO, when he returns to conduct Debussy’s La mer on May 11 and 13. He will also collaborate with Athayde on Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2.

“I have a deep affection for both the ensemble as a whole and the individual musicians that make it up,” said Gabel, who is music director of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, as well as a regular guest conductor at orchestras across Europe, North America, and Asia.l

In conducting Debussy’s La mer, Gabel will lend his distinctive interpretative touch to the French composer’s orchestral masterwork. Translated as “the sea,” La mer evokes the movement and moods of the restless waves. While composing it, Debussy turned to his own experience as inspiration: his childhood memories of the sea at Cannes; a frightful storm he endured in a tiny fishing boat; paintings by Romanticist Joseph Turner; and Japanese seascapes.

Gabel connects strongly with the composition’s Gallic roots as well as its extraordinary instrumental textures. Audiences can expect Gabel to bring out the full color of the orchestra as he leads this shimmering work.

In Bartók’s second concerto, Athayde will star in a piece that has long been on what she calls her “personal bucket list.” She remembers first hearing the concerto at a concert given by the San Francisco Symphony. At the time Athayde was concertmaster of the Symphony’s Youth Orchestra, and recalls being “immediately entranced” by Bartók No. 2.

“From the simple yet mystical combination of harp and pizzicati strings opening the first movement juxtaposed with the vibrant folk style of the first solo violin melody, to the rhapsodic moments and rhythmic play between soloist and orchestra, this piece had me hooked," said Athayde. "Bartók alternates effortlessly between technically dazzling passage work and expressively lyrical writing.

"I'm thrilled to finally perform this concerto with the RPO, so many years after I first fell in love with it, and I hope our audience will feel the same excitement and intrigue I felt as a young musician hearing this music for the first time.”

The rest of the concert program is filled out by Bernard Herrmann’s Suite from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, as well as “Fanfare” and “poème dansé” from La Péri by Paul Dukas.

If you go
Debussy's La Mer
Thursday, May 11 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, May 13 at 8 PM
Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre
Tickets start at $23

Written by Mary Rice, RPO marketing assistant

April 13, 2017

Musicians to honor local music educators'

On Thursday, April 20, the RPO musicians will honor local music teachers at the 29th annual Music Educators' Awards Night at Kodak Hall. Founded in 1988, the Awards program works to strengthen the relationship between area music educators and the musicians of the RPO.

"Music educators deserve to be commended as often as possible for deeply enriching others’ lives," said Maura McCune Corvington, a member of the RPO horn section and chair of the 2017 Awards committee.“I would not have pursued and succeeded in music without stellar classroom and private music instruction."

Administrators, educators, parents and students submit nominations that are then reviewed by a committee comprised of community educators and RPO musicians. Five outstanding local music educators' were chosen. Educators like Al Heary, who has taught vocal and general music at DeWitt Elementary School in Webster for 30 years.

"It’s rewarding to see former students in other performances or continuing in music knowing their first music experiences started in our school." said Heary. "I enjoy working with my students and creating musical experiences that will hopefully 'plant the seed' for them to continue enjoying music throughout life, whether that means singing, playing an instrument, performing on the stage, or by attending concerts and shows."

The educators will be honored prior to intermission at next Thursday's RPO concert featuring performances of Slatkin's Kinah and Mahler 5. Tickets start at $23 and are available at rpo.org or by calling 454-2100.

2017 Music Educator Award Winners

Award: Instrumental Music - Band (K-12)
Jeanne Coonan of Spry Middle School in Webster

Award: Classroom Music Specialist (General Music K-12)
Al Heary of DeWitt Elementary School in Webster

Award: Instrumental Music - Band (K-12)
M. David Shemancik of Sutherland High School in Pittsford

Award: Special Award
Beverly Smoker, Professor and Department Chair at Nazareth College

Award: Choral Director (K-12)
Douglas Steves of Oliver Middle School in Brockport

April 10, 2017

From the Stage: Charles Wetherbee, guest violin

Musician and professor Charles Wetherbee will serve as guest artist on the RPO's Sunday Matinee program on April 30 at Hochstein Performance Hall. Wetherbee is first violinist of the esteemed Carpe Diem String Quartet, which plays to packed houses across the U.S. and is known for programming that includes elements of Gypsy, tango, folk, rock, pop and jazz-music alongside the classical repertoire. Wetherbee will perform a piece he commissioned himself by Carpe Diem violist/composer Korine Fujiwara called "The Storyteller."
Charles Wetherbee

"I have always loved performing that portion of the violin solo repertoire that was written by violinist/composers," said Wetherbee, who is also assistant professor of violin at the University of Colorado Boulder. "There is something exciting and fitting about a composer who plays the instrument that they are writing for, and this knowledge often translates into the way things get voiced, orchestrated, and expressed."

To compose "The Storyteller," Fujiwara drew inspiration from the beloved Japanese folk tales of her youth which were told by her father and grandfather.

"The traditions of storytelling exist in every culture, and for many families, it is a familiar bedtime ritual," said Fujiwara. "The concerto is inspired in part by the haunting sounds of Kangen, a type of instrumental Gagaku (Japanese court music), and populated by a motley cast of characters from Japanese folk tales."

So how does a violinist mimic the sounds of Japanese instruments?

“It's a challenge to get the right flavor, the right timbre, the right color of those instruments,” said Wetherbee. “At the same time all of these effects all of these characters in the stories ... it's all incorporated in a very melodic and romantic language.”

"The Storyteller" received its world premiere in 2012 by the National Gallery Orchestra.

"The work emerged as one with some very traditional elements, and some that are much more contemporary," added Wetherbee. "It is a pleasure to play, and it does also, I think, resurrect at times the use of the violin as an instrument that can mimic the qualities of the human voice."

If you go:
Ravel's Mother Goose Suite, also featuring "The Storyteller"
Sunday, April 30 at 2 PM
Hochstein Performance Hall
Tickets $27

February 24, 2017

Musicians to perform world-premiere by Eastman alum

composer Daniel Pesca
While you can’t catch an RPO concert this week, several RPO musicians will perform a world-premiere by composer and Eastman alumni Daniel Pesca on Sunday night as part of the First Muse concert series. Piano Trio will feature the RPO’s Liana Koteva Kirvan (violin), Lars Kirvan (cello), and Eastman staff pianist Chiao-Wen Chang.

"I wanted to write a piece that both reflected on the year 1967--the musical and cultural currents of that era--and also something that has something to say about what it means to be alive in 2017," said Pesca, who holds a doctorate in composition from the Eastman School of Music and has written new works for the University of Michigan Symphony Band and Eastman School among others.

Founded in 2007 by RPO Principal Violist Melissa Matson, First Muse performs chamber works ranging from the familiar to fresh at First Unitarian Church. Concerts feature RPO musicians as well as other talented musicians from the Rochester area. Piano Trio is the third work that Pesca has written for First Muse, and commissions are underwritten by generous donors.

To compose his work, Pesca drew poetic inspiration from the late songwriter Leonard Cohen, "the great exponant of the lament," according to Pesca. "As I watched the [political] events of late 2016 unfold, I decided my piece would consist of two large elegies, separated by a shorter interlude that would provide some relief. Both elegies have titles that reference Cohen--whose first album was released in 1967."

The concert also features chamber works by Schubert, Debussy, and Henri Duparc. 25 percent of ticket proceeds will benefit RAIHN (Rochester Area Interfaith Hospitality Network), a nonprofit that offers assistance to homeless families.

If you go
First Muse Chamber Music presents
Argos Trio: Music of Sevens
Sunday, February 26 at 7:30 PM
First Unitarian Church (220 Winton Road South, Rochester, 14610)
Tickets available online or at the door: $10 general/$5 student/ $20 family max