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Rhapsody in Blue Celebrates Black History Month

January 28, 2013

For Immediate Release:  January 28, 2013
Media Contact:  Sally Cohen, 585-749-1795, sally@sallycohenpr.com, @PR4Arts
RPO Info:  rpo.org, facebook.com/SuperRPO, twitter.com/SuperRPO, rpo-land.blogspot.com

Still’s Afro-American Symphony; Terrence Wilson plays Rhapsody in Blue
Rochester focus:  conductor Ward Stare; world premiere of The Freedom Zephyr

Rochester, NY – The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) presents Rhapsody in Blue on Thursday, February 7 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, February 9 at 8 p.m. in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.  Tickets range from $15-$82, and are available in person at the Eastman Theatre Box Office (433 East Main Street) or at area Wegmans; by phone at (585) 454-2100; or online at rpo.org.  $10 student tickets are now available to all Philharmonics Series concerts and selected Pops concerts at rpo.org/students. The RPO will also perform this program on Friday, February 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Ford Hall at Ithaca College. Tickets are $10 (students) and $25 (adults), and are available through the Eastman Theatre Box Office (in person or by phone), online at rpo.org, and at Ford Hall one hour prior to curtain.

The RPO celebrates Black History Month with a program that features William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1, Afro-American. Born in 1895, Still became the first African-American composer to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra when the RPO gave the premiere of his first symphony in 1931. The orchestra also recorded it in 1939, and Howard Hanson conducted on both occasions. Still was also the first African-American to have an opera produced by a major company (Troubled Island, New York City Opera, 1949); and the first to receive commissions and performances from top-level American orchestras, including New York, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

The Afro-American Symphony contains four movements, each with a subtitle: “Longings,” “Sorrows,” “Humor,” and “Aspirations.” Still wrote of his symphony: “I wanted to demonstrate how the blues, so often considered a lowly expression, could be elevated to the highest musical level.”

Performing George Gershwin’s beloved, jazz-flavored concerto, Rhapsody in Blue, will be pianist Terrence Wilson. Regarded as one of today's most gifted instrumentalists, Wilson has appeared with many symphony orchestras, including the RPO, Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Washington, DC (National Symphony), San Francisco, Cleveland, Minnesota and Philadelphia. A graduate of The Juilliard School, he’s also active as a recitalist and chamber musician and has received numerous awards and prizes. Wilson was awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1998, and was nominated for a 2010 Grammy Award for his recording of Michael Daugherty's Deus ex Machina for Piano and Orchestra with the Nashville Symphony.

The RPO’s Black History Month celebration focuses on Rochester with the world premiere of Douglas Lowry’s The Freedom Zephyr. Lowry, the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of the Eastman School of Music, holds degrees in composition, conducting and music performance from the University of Arizona and the University of Southern California. His recent commissions and premieres include works for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Louisville Orchestra, Cincinnati Playhouse, St. Louis Repertory Theater, the CCM Chamber Players and the Cincinnati Pops. The Underground Railroad inspired Lowry to write The Freedom Zephyr.

“Although the Underground Railroad was not a train, were it given a name like in the early days of the American railroad, it might appropriately be called ‘The Freedom Zephyr,’” explains Lowry. “History tells us that the Underground Railroad movement had a musical component in the form of spirituals, and that Rochester played a prominent role – not only as a stopping-off point on some of the routes to Canada – but also as a home to Frederick Douglass.”

The 14-minute piece uses portions of Douglass’ writings (from a speech given in Rochester in 1853 under the title “Claims of Our Common Cause”), a poem by Walt Whitman, an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the composer’s own words. Narration for The Freedom Zephyr will be provided by Rochester’s Dr. Paul J. Burgett, currently vice president, senior advisor to the president, and university dean at the University of Rochester. Burgett earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the Eastman School of Music, and is a former Eastman Dean of Students. As a faculty member in the University of Rochester’s music department, he teaches courses in the history of jazz, the music of Black Americans, and music appreciation.

“Doug Lowry’s Freedom Zephyr is a beautiful piece with rhythmic intensity that hearkens the railroad to freedom, over which are expressed rich chordal sonorities and elegiac moments of emotional passion,” says Burgett. “I look forward to lending my voice as narrator of texts of Douglass, Whitman, and Emerson as these illuminate the musical score.”

The local focus takes center stage in the form of guest conductor, Ward Stare. A native of Pittsford (and a 1999 graduate of Pittsford Mendon High School), Stare has been described as “a compelling figure on the podium” and “one of the hottest young conductors in America” by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Having recently completed his tenure as Resident Conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, he continues as the orchestra’s regular guest conductor for its Family, Special Event and Subscription Series, as well as guest conducting all over the world. Also a trombonist, Stare was appointed principal trombone of the Lyric Opera of Chicago at age 18. As a former Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (RPYO) member, he’ll be leading many of his former mentors in this RPO conducting debut. 

“This was the first great orchestra that I ever heard live, and coming back home to make music with them is a little surreal,” admits Stare. “Without the many devoted, passionate and generous musical mentors with whom I worked while in Rochester, my path certainly would have been very different! I'll always be grateful for having grown up in such a musically vibrant city.”

The Rhapsody in Blue program also includes Paul Hindemith’s symphony (based on his opera), Mathis der Maler (“Matthias the Painter”). Each of the three movements evokes a church altar panel of German painter Matthias Grünewald, entitled:  Angelic Concert, Entombment, and Temptation of St. Anthony.  Although its premiere in 1934 by the Berlin Philharmonic was well received, it faced severe criticism from the Nazi government for seeming to oppose party ideology. Hindemith fled to Switzerland in 1937 to escape Nazi persecution.   

Since its founding in 1922, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra has been committed to enriching and inspiring our community through the art of music. The RPO presents nearly 200 concerts a year, serving 250,000 people through ticketed events, education and community engagement activities, and concerts in schools and community centers throughout the region. Notable former music directors include Eugene Goossens, José Iturbi, Erich Leinsdorf, David Zinman, and Conductor Laureate Christopher Seaman; Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik has earned a national reputation for excellence in pops programming during his 19-year tenure with the RPO. With Michael Butterman as Principal Conductor for Education and Outreach (The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Chair) – the first position of its kind in the country – the RPO reaches 15,000 children through its specific programs for school-aged children. Media please note:  High-resolution photos are available upon request and for download at docs.google.com/folder.  Interviews, as well as photo/footage opportunities, can be arranged.


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