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Art and Music Intertwine with RPO's Pictures at an Exhibition: Young Pianist Jonathan Biss Shares Mozart's Gifts

April 20, 2007

Art work from Rochester Contemporary on display at Eastman Theatre

Rochester, NY – Art and music intertwine and a young pianist makes a big splash for the final concerts in this season’s RPO Philharmonics Series.  On Thursday, May 10 and Saturday, May 12 at 8 p.m. at the Eastman Theatre, Music Director Christopher Seaman conducts the Orchestra in Gunther Schuller’s Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee, Mussorgsky’s orchestral spectacular, Pictures at an Exhibition, and gives Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto over to the sensitive hands of 26-year old pianist Jonathan Biss. Christopher Seaman hosts the pre-concert chat at 7 p.m.  In keeping with the evening’s theme, a free exhibit of approximately a dozen pieces of art from Rochester Contemporary art gallery will be displayed in the Theatre’s second floor balcony lobby before each concert and during intermission.

Composer Gunther Schuller wrote Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee – his most frequently performed orchestral work – in 1959.  A musician himself until the age of 19, Klee was a Swiss painter and graphic artist whose personal, often gently humorous works are filled with allusions to dreams, music and poetry.  In writing about Klee, Schuller has said, “There is perhaps no other artist whose work bears such a close relationship to music.”  Schuller goes on to say that “each of the seven pieces bears a slightly different relationship to the original Klee painting from which it stems.  Some relate to the actual design, shape or color of the painting, while others take the general mood of the picture or its title as a point of departure.”  The seven Klee pieces use such imaginative titles as Antique Harmonies, Abstract Trio, Little Blue Devil, Twittering Machine, Arab Village, An Eerie Moment and Pastorale.

Performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 – regarded by many as Mozart’s greatest – is the gifted young pianist Jonathan Biss, who has drawn particular attention for his Mozart interpretations.  This concerto has, according to Christopher Seaman, “all the architecture of the symphonies, the wide emotion and drama of the operas, and of course, Mozart’s own piano virtuosity all perfectly blended together.”

One of the newest, most promising young pianists, Biss’ music-making is, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “based on thoughtful, penetrating artistry.”  Since his New York Philharmonic debut six years ago, Biss has appeared with prominent orchestras throughout the United States and Europe.  He is a frequent performer at leading international music festivals and gives recitals in major music capitals both here and abroad.  In April 2006, EMI Classics signed Mr. Biss to a two-year exclusive recording contract.  His first CD under this contract – an all-Schumann recital – was released in January 2007.  Mr. Biss represents the third generation in a family of professional musicians that includes his grandmother, cellist Raya Garbousova, for whom Samuel Barber composed his Cello Concerto, and his parents, violinist Miriam Fried and violinist/violist Paul Biss.

Closing the concert will be the orchestral spectacular Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  As in the Schuller, Mussorgsky was inspired by the work of an artist, in this case, Victor Hartmann, with whom the composer had a personal friendship.  The year following Hartmann’s untimely death, a memorial exhibition was held in St. Petersberg, displaying over 400 of the artist’s paintings, costumes, architectural designs and sketches.  It was Mussorgsky’s visit to that exhibit, combined with his desire to compose a piece in Hartmann’s memory that led to the creation of the original piano suite, Pictures at an Exhibition.  The most popular setting of the work is the orchestration by Maurice Ravel.  The colorful and highly characteristic depictions portray visitors strolling between displays, visiting scary, nostalgic, sinister and humorous exhibits.  The suite concludes with The Great Gate of Kiev, a stirring evocation of Hartmann’s plan for an immense stone gate intended for the city of Kiev but never built.  The Rochester Contemporary exhibit recreates a modern experience of Mussorgsky’s opening Promenade, but on a much smaller scale.  It features the art work of Anne Havens, Maria Friske, Colleen Buzzard and musician Gregory Paul.

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.  Concert tickets for RoCo members with identification will be discounted by 20%.

Rochester Contemporary fosters and promotes diverse ideas through contemporary art in all forms. RoCo uses its programs and its facility to encourage artists, audiences and community partners in the process of multi-disciplinary discovery. 

The Philharmonics Series is sponsored by Eastman Kodak Company and Bausch & Lomb. This concert is sponsored by The Mozart Performance Fund and Nixon Peabody LLP.  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. 

Note: Digital photos of Mr. Biss are available on request, as are interviews.

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