March 6, 2014

Reflections from RPYO Musicians

The Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra performs its annual side-by-side concert with the RPO Sunday, March 9 in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. In addition to music by Holst, Rachmaninoff, and John Williams, the concert will feature performances by the five winners of the RPYO's December Concerto Competition. When auditioning for Concerto Competitions, RPYO Musicians are asked to express their thoughts on performing as soloists with the RPYO. Our thanks to the five winners for sharing the following reflections.

Ethan Hasiuk, timpani
Brighton High School

I almost abandoned my plan to audition to solo with the RPYO. After returning from a six week summer program at Cornell University, I was hesitant to even resume practice on the concerto for I knew that my performance would not meet my standards. Fortunately, my teacher, RPO Principal Timpanist Chip Ross, reassured me, telling me for the first time that he took a five year break from timpani while focusing on other areas of his life but eventually returned to the instrument with renewed focus and determination. He reminded me of the value of diverse experiences. Not only did I change my mind about the concerto, but I have since made it my mission to pursue opportunities even when they are initially disguised as roadblocks. To demonstrate to my RPYO colleagues and audience the capabilities and stylistic range of the timpani as a solo instrument is an important part of fulfilling my new mission.

Philip Glick, trombone
Victor Senior High School

It is hard for me to believe that this is my fifth year as a member of the RPYO, considering how quickly the past few years have gone by. Even after five seasons and two tours with the orchestra, it still seems as though my involvement with the RPYO is coming to an end far too soon. Performing a solo with my peers and for the audience in front of these amazing RPYO musicians has been something I have dreamed of even since I joined the orchestra back in 2009. Playing with an orchestra is one thing, but performing in front of one is an entirely different experience!

David Steinhardt, guitar
Pittsford Mendon High School

Concierto de Aranjuez, composed by Joaquin Rodrigo, is undoubtedly one of the most famous works in the classical guitar repertory. The second movement, the composer’s lament for the death of his newborn child, is extremely moving, emotional, and powerful. At its climax, nearly in tears while listening to a live performance by the renowned guitarist Pepe Romero, I realized the true power of music. I felt the emotional pain/anger that Rodrigo was expressing and could only imagine how terrible a time he had endured. Performing this piece allows me to share not only this wonderful music but also the beauty and complexity of the classical guitar, which is all too often under-represented among the string instruments in the world of classical music.

James Guo, violin
Brighton High School

As a member of such an accomplished, distinguished, and passionate group of young musicians, I have been infinitely blessed and am forever grateful for the extraordinary friends, memories, and music I have been exposed to in the RPYO over the past four years. The RPYO has taught me that hard work and dedication to a passion bears fruits of success and satisfaction. To me, each Sunday’s gathering does not constitute a three-hour rehearsal, but rather a three-hour celebration--a celebration of the unique and awe-inspiring power of music to bring exceptional students into a beautifully unified state of mind. 

Martine Thomas, viola
Wilson High School

Considering a career in music, I have experienced many aspects of the music profession—chamber music, orchestras, solo recitals, competitions, group and private teaching, and masterclasses. However, I have never had the opportunity to solo with an orchestra. I had been hoping to experience this first with the RPYO, since the group consists of many musicians with whom I feel connected on a personal and musical level. Additionally, soloing on the stage of Kodak Hall has always been a dream of mine. The theatre holds such personal significance for me, as a symbol of my musical aspirations and as a representation of the musical spirit of my hometown of Rochester. 

Hear these talented young musicians perform alongside the wonderful musicians of the RPYO this Sunday, March 9 at 3 PM in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.
The RPO joins the RPYO for the program's second half, performing music by Holst and Rachmaninoff.


February 5, 2014

About Howard Hanson’s "Merry Mount"

One of the most revered figures in American music of the twentieth century, Howard Hanson earned enormous acclaim as composer, conductor, and educator, serving for 40 years as director of the Eastman School of Music. He was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to write the music for Merry Mount, setting it to a libretto by Richard L. Stokes.

Loosely based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Maypole of Merry Mount,” this lushly romantic opera is set in Massachusetts in 1625 during a conflict between the Puritans and the pleasure-seeking Cavaliers. The full opera Merry Mount premiered at the Met in February 1934, and Hanson dedicated it to the recently deceased George Eastman.

Despite the fiscal frugality imposed by the Great Depression, the production was a lavish one, receiving over 50 curtain calls and its share of critical acclaim as well. The front page of the New York Times read, “A stirring ovation … reception of Hanson/Stokes opera most enthusiastic of 10 years at the Metropolitan.”

This important American work has been under-performed since its premiere. In 1955, Hanson staged a student production of Merry Mount for capacity audiences at the Eastman Theatre during the 25th annual Festival of American Music. There were also performances by the San Antonio Opera (with Beverly Sills as Lady Marigold) in 1964, Rochester’s Opera Under the Stars in 1976, and a concert version by the Seattle Symphony in 1996 (listen to excerpts). This project will mark a notable revival of the piece on a national stage.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra performs Merry Mount at the Spring For Music Festival at Carnegie Hall in New York City on May 7, 2014, with guest conductor Michael Christie; four acclaimed soloists; talented area singers; the Eastman-Rochester Chorus, directed by Dr. William Weinert; and Bach Children’s Chorus of Nazareth College, directed by Karla Krogstad.

Click here to read biographies of the conductor and soloists. For more information on Merry Mount and to read the synopsis, click here.


January 17, 2014

Timing is Everything

by Alan Lowne

Violinist Alan Lowne will join the musicians of the RPO on January 22, 2014, for the first-ever RPO / Community Orchestra concert. Read Alan's thoughts on the experience below:

Getting an email a couple of weeks ago telling me I’d made it into the RPO Side-by-Side Orchestra was a wonderful surprise--especially since my oboe-playing wife Carol had already gotten her acceptance letter. Then I checked the music to be played--Liszt's Les Preludes, full of fast-moving arpeggios--and realized this meant some hard work was needed. I re-read the email and noticed that it said “First Desk,” which meant that I’d be placed next to the illustrious Juliana Athayde (don’t panic!) So, some serious “woodshedding” occurred. But I needn’t have been nervous. Juliana and the other RPO musicians were so welcoming and friendly to us fresh-faced amateurs.

Playing alongside these world-class musicians is a marvelous opportunity, and the rehearsal last week went wonderfully. Paul Shewan is a very clear conductor who knows what sound he wants and clearly defines it.

In ‘real life’ I’m an electronics engineer and a small business owner (5’1” actually – I was downsized from Kodak; I used to be 6’3”). I am also Assistant Concertmaster of the Penfield Symphony Orchestra and Concertmaster of the Greece Symphony, but playing alongside the RPO performers instead of watching from the audience is a rare experience. The concert itself will be very exciting!

I realize that my most important task, however, is to turn the music pages at the right time for Juliana. Timing is everything. Make sure you are there to see if I get it right ...

"A dream only dies if you let it ..."

by Carol Lowne

Carol Lowne will perform alongside the musicians of the RPO for the first-ever RPO / Community Orchestra side-by-side, January 22, 2014. Our thanks to Carol for sharing the following reflections on her musical journey.

In kindergarten, they gave me a triangle for my concert debut in the nativity play. But I didn’t want to play the triangle ... and my parents didn’t want me to play anything ... ever! So, the doors to my musical education quickly and firmly, closed ... for the next 23 years.

At 27 and now married to a musically talented (violin-playing) husband, those doors swung open again for me when my husband stated bluntly that he thought I needed to learn to play an instrument. He picked the oboe for me, and it was to become my other soulmate. Until then, the sound of beeping monitors in an Intensive Care Unit of the famous London Hospital where I worked was the music that played in my ears.

Within a year, we had relocated to the US from our home in England, and I discovered the Eastman School of Music's Community Education Division, where I began to take lessons. Years and several excellent former RPO teachers later, I joined some community orchestras and was hooked on live music ... forever.

Then came the announcement that the RPO would host it’s first ever Community Musician side-by-side concert. Would we care to throw our hats in the ring for a chance to play alongside those musicians? My initial excitement and enthusiasm to complete the application was rapidly followed by panic. 

Imagine my surprise when I received an acceptance note, instructing me and all the participants when and where to show up for two rehearsals and the performance. Almost immediately, the thrill of an acceptance letter gave way to the overwhelming fear that I would fail to produce a single playable reed! I soon felt a strong desire to apologize and withdraw my name. Then I had a conversation with myself: "Remember the times you have wondered what it would be like to sit among musicians you’ve admired for years and play music that you love? Well, a dream only dies if you let it ..."

With my assignment and place in the section confirmed, I was determined to learn everything I could from Erik Behr (the RPO’s Principal Oboe) and from Anna Steltenpohl (the RPO’s wonderful English Hornist). Wedged between the two of them as part of the section for one performance, I was bound to learn something by osmosis ... right? 

With one rehearsal down and just one to go before the much anticipated performance next week, here is what I have learned:
    1. That waiting for one’s appointed rehearsal time in Eastman Theatre is a bit like waiting for a root canal experience in a rather plush dentist’s office.
    2. That greeting and rehearsing with Erik and Anna and the RPO members was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and the butterflies in my stomach dissipated at the first downbeat from conductor Paul Shewan.
    3. That it was worth investing many hours of private practice over years for the excitement of this opportunity. And ...
    4. That regardless of our designation in life--that of a professional musician or community musician--the thrill of making music is always there and for me, at least...the dream lives.