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Musical Spring Comes Early to Rochester

January 02, 2007

Guest conductor James Gaffigan leads RPO in Appalachian Spring; RPO’s Peter Kurau is soloist in Strauss Horn Concerto

Rochester, NY – It may be cold and snowy in Rochester in mid-January, but on Thursday, January 18 and Saturday, January 20 at 8 p.m. in the Eastman Theatre, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra brings a taste of  spring – Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, that is. Twenty-seven year old guest conductor James Gaffigan will encourage warm winds to blow with the RPO’s Principal Horn W. Peter Kurau (The Cricket and Frank Luellen Chair) performing Richard Strauss’ heroic and lyrical Horn Concerto as well as Schubert’s sunny Fifth Symphony and Rossini’s brilliant and infectiously cheerful Overture to Semiramide

Premiered in 1944, Aaron Copland’s Suite from Appalachian Spring was composed as a score for choreographer Martha Graham and her company, although the title has no actual connection with the story of the ballet. At a Pennsylvania farmhouse, a soon-to-be-married couple enacts all the emotions of their upcoming domestic partnership. The music climaxes in a set of variations on Simple Gifts, the well-known Shaker tune. 

Richard Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 1 was inspired by the skill of the composer’s father Franz, Principal Horn in the Munich court orchestra. Completed in 1833 when the composer was just 19, the three compact movements are performed as a continuous whole, offering a bold yet appealing balance of heroic and lyrical elements.

Composed in 1816, Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 is “pure sunshine,” according to RPO Music Director Christopher Seaman. Considered the finest of Schubert’s first six symphonies, it is a genial and refreshing piece, although it contains just enough hints of darker emotions to lend it substance.  It vanished for 50 years until Sir Arthur Sullivan and Sir George Grove brought the symphony back to light for its second reading in 1873.

Rossini’s opera Semiramide was written in just 33 days, and received a triumphant debut in 1823 in Venice. The plot, based on a story by Voltaire, is an improbable variation on the Oedipus legend. Set in ancient Babylon, it tells of how queen Semiramide helps poison her husband, but later unwittingly falls in love with her long-lost son. Rossini introduces this bloodthirsty melodrama with music of contrasting good humor and brilliance. One of his most elaborate overtures, it is based on themes directly from the opera.

Well-known as a teacher and active as a soloist, chamber musician and clinician, Peter Kurau was appointed as RPO Principal Horn in September 2004, having held prior positions within the Orchestra’s horn section. In 1995, he was named Associate Professor of Horn, Director of the Eastman Horn Choir and hornist with the Eastman Brass at the Eastman School of Music, his alma mater. A prizewinner in the Heldenleben International Horn Competition and recipient of an I.T.T. International Fellowship, he and RPO Pianist Joseph Werner completed a recital and master class tour in 1997 as Artistic Ambassadors for the United States Information Agency. Mr. Kurau also has commissioned and premiered many new works for horn by American composers. 

“A conductor of real promise, combining muscular energy with unabashed lyricism” (The New York Observer), James Gaffigan already is making quite a name for himself. In 2000, Gaffigan was one of eight young conductors chosen by David Zinman to participate in the inaugural year of the American Academy of Conducting in Aspen, and two summers later received the Academy’s first Robert Harth Conducting Award and made his debut with the Cleveland Orchestra at the Blossom Music Festival. In 2004, Mr. Gaffigan was one of two first prize-winners at the Sir Georg Solti International Conducting Competition, resulting in a debut with the Frankfurt Gesellschaft Museum Orchestra.  Recent and upcoming European engagements include the Zurich Opera, Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra, Berlin’s Deutsche Symphony Orchestra, the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Rotterdam Philharmonic. Gaffigan was Assistant Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra and recently named Associate Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony.

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 all area Wegmans locations.  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.  James Gaffigan’s appearance is made possible by The Davenport-Hatch Foundation.  Mr. Kurau’s appearance is made possible by an anonymous member of the RPO’s Honorary Board of Directors. 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 ASCAP awards for adventurous programming in recent years.

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:  Interviews and hi-res photos of Mr. Gaffigan and Mr. Kurau are available on request.



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