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A Hero's Life Portrayed in Music by RPO and Guest Pianist Kovacevich

April 13, 2007

Local music educator “heroes” also honored at Thursday night concert

Rochester, NY – A heroic theme infuses the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concerts on Thursday, May 3 and Saturday, May 5 at 8 p.m. at the Eastman Theatre, as Music Director Christopher Seaman conducts the great Beethoven interpreter and personal friend, pianist Stephen Kovacevich in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2.  The work is bookended by that composer’s famous Leonore Overture No. 3 which opens the concert, and the orchestral tour-de-force Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life) by Richard Strauss on the closing end.  Christopher Seaman hosts the pre-concert chat at 7 p.m.  After intermission, three real-life heroes from the world of music education will be honored as the 2007 winners of the 19th Annual RPO Musicians’ Awards for Outstanding Music Educators.

Beethoven’s Leonore Overture was written with the intention of it being a suitable overture for his only opera Fidelio, but due to the work’s ultimate length and breadth, it is now performed most often in the concert hall as a symphonic poem.  A tribute to the strength of the human spirit, a faithful and heroic wife Leonore, disguised as a boy, frees her hero-husband Florestan after his unjust imprisonment. 

The RPO is thrilled to have the artistry of Stephen Kovacevich performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Known as one of the great interpreters of Beethoven and other German composers of that era, Mr. Kovacevich’s appearances are renowned for their thoughtfulness and re-creative intensity, as described by a critic for The New York Observer: “When it was all over, my companion, a poet who had kept his eyes shut throughout the performance, made a remark that summed up Mr. Kovacevich’s extraordinary playing: ‘There was nothing between us and the music. It’s as if he wasn’t even there.’ ”  An appealing and well-crafted work, the concerto pays a musical debt to Haydn and Mozart, but bears Beethoven’s strikingly original stamp.  The finale of the three-movement piece is a bright, witty romp, with a cuckoo-like interval in the main theme.  Intervening episodes include a zesty excursion into Hungarian/Gypsy territory. 

Born in Los Angeles, Stephen Kovacevich made his recital debut at age 11.  At 18, he moved to England to study with Dame Myra Hess, ultimately creating a career that – since 1984 – also has included success as a conductor with some of the world’s great orchestras.  Last month, Kovacevich concluded a major new project with the London Mozart Players, touring with a complete cycle of Beethoven’s piano concertos and symphonies.  Kovacevich has enjoyed two long-term relationships with recording companies Philips and EMI, resulting in a Grammy nomination, a Gramophone Award, and Stereo Review Record of the Year, among other accolades.  His latest CD is a prize-winning disc of Chopin and Ravel (EMI). 

The winners of this year’s RPO Musicians’ Awards for Outstanding Music Educators are: Amy Story, Canandaigua Academy (Choral Award); John Viavattine, Spencerport High School (Band Award); and Donna Fox, Eastman School of Music (Special Award).  The awards commend those teachers who have shown both educational and musical excellence, and recognize the positive influence they have on the musicians and audiences of the future.

The concert’s second half features the mastery of a young 34-year old Richard Strauss in his orchestral blockbuster, Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life).  Through the medley of quotations from Strauss’ earlier compositions, he suggests to some degree that he himself is the protagonist of A Hero’s Life.  Presenting himself as the embodiment of the innovative, individualist artist, persecuted for daring to meddle with the established order, he strikes back against his enemies, the music critics, portrayed according to Maestro Seaman, “with devastating disdain as irrelevant nitpickers.”  The composer’s wife, Pauline, portrayed by solo violin, will be performed by concertmaster Juliana Athayde (The Caroline W. Gannett and Clayla Ward Chair).  After a huge brass section trounces the hero’s adversaries, the hero’s life concludes not with a final showdown, but with vast and thoughtful contentment.

Tickets for these performances are $20-$54, available online 24/7 at www.rpo.org, by phone (454-2100) and in person from the RPO Box Office, as well as at any Wegmans.  RPO Box Office hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (non-concert Saturdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.). Wegmans is open seven days a week.  A convenience fee may apply.

The Philharmonics Series is sponsored by Eastman Kodak Company and Bausch & Lomb. This concert is sponsored by Messenger Post Newspapers.  The RPO gratefully acknowledges PAETEC Communications Inc. for the PAETEC Philharmonic Partners program, which offers discounted Philharmonics Series tickets to local college students. 

Now in its 84th season, the RPO inspires and enriches the community through the art of music.  The Orchestra is passionately dedicated to outstanding musical performance at the highest artistic levels, and has a unique tradition of
musical versatility, commitment to music education in the broadest sense and a deep and enduring engagement with the community.  The RPO has been honored with the New York State Governor’s Arts Award, and two recent ASCAP awards for adventurous programming.

RPO performances are made possible in part with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency; the State of New York; Monroe County; the City of Rochester; and American Airlines, the official airline of the RPO. 

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