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Two Compositional Giants Paired with Powerful Onstage Performers

January 29, 2008

Guest Conductor Semkow Returns with Guest Pianist William Wolfram

Rochester, NY – Two towering masterpieces by compositional giants Beethoven (Piano Concerto No. 1) and Shostakovich (Symphony No. 6) will be paired with the talents of one of Rochester’s favorite guest conductors Jerzy Semkow, matched with the pianistic power of William Wolfram and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra at 8 p.m. on Thursday, February 21 and Saturday, February 23, 2008 at Eastman Theatre.  RPO trumpeter Herb Smith hosts the pre-concert chat at 7 p.m.

Beethoven’s Concerto No. 1 debuted in Vienna in 1795 as a benefit concert in support of Haydn with the composer as soloist.  The first movement unfolds with unhurried grace and charm. The second movement presents a gentle reverie with an unusual texture due to the exclusion of flutes, oboes, trumpets and timpani from the orchestra.  The composer’s mature style is manifested in the Finale; his gruff good humor is felt in this expansive, genial Rondo.  A quasi-Turkish/Hungarian/Gypsy episode adds an exotic splash, much in fashion with the Viennese at the time.

Jerzy Semkow has a special connection with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6.  In his long and illustrious career, Semkow was the assistant conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic under the great conductor Evgeny Mravinsky, who premiered this symphony in 1939.  According to RPO Music Director Christopher Seaman, “we can expect a truly authentic and powerful rendering of this great work.”  Shostakovich spent many of his most productive years under the oppressive regime of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.  The symphony is a little unusual, as it starts with a slow movement, somewhat reflective in character.  The second and third movements gradually affirm a more optimistic view of life, with a triumphant and exhilarating finish.

Jerzy Semkow’s international reputation has included tenures as Music Director of the Saint Louis Symphony, Principal Conductor of the Royal Danish Opera and the Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen, Music Advisor and Principal Conductor of the RPO (1985-1989), Principal Conductor of the Orchestra of Radio-Televisione Italiana (RAI) in Rome and Artistic Director of the National Opera in Warsaw.  Maestro Semkow has conducted all the prominent orchestras in Europe, the U.S. and Australia and has appeared as an opera conductor at the Theatres La Scala, San Carlo, Covent Garden and others.  He also conducted Haydn’s Creation at the Vatican in the presence of Pope John Paul II, telecast by Eurovision throughout Europe.  Maestro Semkow’s discography includes the first complete original version of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov for EMI, receiving a Grammy Award nomination. Jerzy Semkow was awarded the French Order of Arts and Letters. He received the highest distinction of Doctor honoris causa at the Academy Frederic Chopin in Warsaw, and in 2005, was decorated with Poland’s Order Gloria Artis.

American pianist William Wolfram won the silver medal in both the William Kapell and the Naumburg International Piano Competitions and the bronze medal in the prestigious Tchaikovsky Piano Competition.  A versatile performing artist, his concerto debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony under Leonard Slatkin was the first in a long succession of appearances and career relationships with numerous American conductors and orchestras.  Overseas, Mr. Wolfram has appeared with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the Moscow Philharmonic, the Budapest Philharmonic, the Capetown and Johannesburg symphonies and the National Symphony of Peru.  As a recording artist, he has released two CDs as part of a long-term project with Naxos records featuring the solo piano music of Franz Liszt.

Tickets for these performances are $20-$55, available online 24/7 at www.rpo.org, by phone (454-2100); in person from the RPO Box Office, Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (non-concert Saturdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.); and seven days a week at area Wegmans.  A convenience fee may apply.  Students and senior citizens are entitled to a 20% discount on advance single ticket purchases; half-price rush tickets are available beginning at 10 a.m. on the concert day.

Jerzy Semkow’s appearance is made possible by Mrs. Dawn and Dr. Jacques Lipson.  The Philharmonics Series is sponsored by The Eastman Kodak Company and Bausch & Lomb.  The RPO gratefully acknowledges PAETEC Communications Inc. for the PAETEC Philharmonic Partners program, which offers $5 Philharmonics Series tickets to local college students with valid ID. 

Celebrating its 85th season in 2007-08, 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 and the City of Rochester. 
Note:  Photos of Mssrs. Wolfram and Semkow are available upon request.


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