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Memories of the Eastman Theatre and the RPO

Eastman_exterior_1930s.jpgWhen I was an ESM student, I had a scary experience when an audience member attempted to take a picture of the soloist, Oscar Levant. Mr. Levant went ballistic – pointing his finger, screaming at the top of his voice, leaning over the edge of the stage to be near the “picture taker,” who was seated near me in the Orchestra – about the third row from the stage. Levant finally calmed down but only after a very inflammatory situation.

- Yvonne Tolliver (member of the Rochester Philharmonic League)

Two memories –

Dave Brubeck – I’ve followed his career since 1962 and finally saw him for the first time here. I was in the front row – I shouted, “I love you, Dave!” He looked at me and smiled – I had finally connected with my musical hero.

July 2006 – Jeff Tyzik announced that the RPO was recording Rhapsody in Blue. “Great,” I thought, “just what we need – another recording of Rhapsody in Blue.” My God – when I heard it. It was nothing like I’d ever heard before – so fresh, so new, so vibrant. This was the RPO at its very best.

- Ed Fiandach (RPO board member)

My first experience in the Eastman Theatre: I remember sitting in the Loges with my father at my first RPO concert. I was about 4 years old. My feet stuck straight out in the large Loges seats – I see my white socks with patent leather shoes. And I could not take my eyes off the chandelier.

- Diane Smith (member of the RPO flute section)

My second date with Jay was here at an RPO concert. After being wined & dined at the Town House (Elmwood and Mount Hope) and regaled with stories of Africa and then romanced by the RPO, I knew this was a guy I wanted to get to know better. The rest is history.

- Betsy Friedman (RPO volunteer)

I remember being present when Rachmaninoff played at the Eastman – probably the gloomiest face I had ever seen in my 12 years. Also, I remember hearing Paderewski play at the Eastman in the ‘40s. He was old and walked hesitatingly from behind a curtain at center stage to the piano, rather than from the wings. I also remember Koussevitzky conducting the Boston Symphony at the Eastman in the ‘40s with his minimalist style, conducting often with only his fingers.

- Bill Pulsifer

Mary Gooley had the idea to decorate the lobby and theatre for the first few Christmas Pops concerts with Jeff. And so, with help from me and a few other volunteers, we designed, created, and installed seasonal decorations for several seasons. It was a lot of fun, and the decorations helped the theatre look more festive.

- Bob Wilcox (RPO volunteer)

I was in the audience in the 1950s when the RPO performed Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. As the timpani and bass drum built to a climax, I noticed something unusual floating down from the ceiling panels in front. Along with others, I gasped, realizing that pillow feathers were floating onto the stage, some of the instruments, people in the front row. A night to remember!

- Judy Gordon

My grandfather was the first Principal Second Violinist of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, so I have always felt a deep personal attachment to the Eastman Theatre: the smell, the artwork, those nubbly seats in the Mezzanine. One summer, I had a job in the offices of the RPO; at the time the offices were in the same building as the theater. At lunch on those hot summer days, I would take my yogurt and iced tea, slip into the cool confines of the mezzanine, and watch whatever was being rehearsed that day. And it felt, for that brief half-hour, like my own personal place--grand, yet intimate all at the same time.

Of all the many concerts I've seen, the one that left the deepest imprint was without a doubt, Friends and Love. I was 15, and my father took me as a gift. All gussied up in my best dress, feeling every bit the princess, I nestled into my balcony seat next to Dad and witnessed that most extraordinary event. We all knew Chuck Mangione--my sister played in his high school jazz band, and I had dinner with my father and sister at the Shakespeare while the Chuck Mangione Quartet played--but this was bigger, better, the breakthrough. This was IMPORTANT. There was a real buzz in the Eastman Theatre that evening; we all knew we were about to see something New and Special. And from the moment the first notes from Stanley Watson's guitar began, we all realized this was far greater than anything we could have anticipated. And I, the starry-eyed teen, was swept away, enchanted. How wonderful, those many years later (myself now the mother of a 15-year-old), to nestle into my seat in the orchestra of the Eastman, next to my husband, to see Friends and Love once again. And once again, we saw something that was big, and beautiful, and still very special. With regrets, we couldn't bring our girls to that concert, but we have taken them several other times (and will several times more), hoping that they too will be touched by the magic (and those nubbly seats) of that beautiful gem on Gibbs Street.

- Julia Figueras, Irondequoit

In my 43 years as timpanist for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra I have seen some rather interesting things.

1) I  witnessed the feathers coming from the ceiling at the end of the 1812 Overture - Eric Leinsdorf, Conductor
2) I witnessed the pin balls coming from the ceiling during  a Haydn Symphony - Laslo Smogyi, Conductor
3) As a student at Eastman School of Music, I witnessed the ceiling falling down during a Bach B Minor Mass rehearsal - Hermann Genhardt, Conductor

- John Beck, South Bristol

When I was a little girl living in Geneva, my Mother, who was a violinist, bought tickets for us to hear Fritz Kreisler at the Eastman Theatre. We drove to Rochester accompanied by a friend of hers and her little boy. On the way, my Mother's friend tried to open the window from the back seat. Unfortunately, the ancient LaSalle car's back doors were hinged in the center and instead of opening the window, she opened the door which caught the wind and the hinges sprung. My Mother, being determined to get to the concert, pushed the door closed and said we would not use it when we got to Rochester.

We arrived for the concert just as many people were walking along Gibbs Street to enter the Theatre. My Mother pulled the car up to the sidewalk on Gibbs where there was a magnificently tall and stately attendant waiting to greet us. He was in a dark uniform with crimson trim and a fortune in gold braid, complete with white gloves. In a grand sweeping gesture, he opened the car door which then fell from his hands and went splat on the Gibbs Street sidewalk in full view of the many concertgoers. Of course, the window shattered on the sidewalk. The expression on his face was priceless.

Except for my Mother, we all exited the car while she asked him to slide the door in behind the front seat. She then drove the car, with the dome light on, of course, out East Main to the family's favorite mechanic and he drove her back to the Eastman for the concert. 

Kreisler was phenomenal and I saw the Theatre and the chandelier for the first time. The mechanic fixed the hinge (I don't remember about the window) and was waiting for us at the Subscribers entrance when the concert was over. It was a night to remember!

- Margaret-Anne Milne, Rochester

I have three special memories of the RPO, as follows:

Grosswirth_clipping_sm.jpgIn February of 1965, RPO conductor Laszlo Somogyi  held a conducting competition for young people. I was 15 at the time and won the competition. My prize was conducting the RPO during a concert in the Eastman Theatre. The work I conducted was Haydn’s Toy Symphony.

One year later, Maestro Somogyi  asked me if I  wanted to meet famous guest-conductor Leopold Stokowski, following an RPO concert. I was honored and asked Somogyi if I could bring a classmate with me. (Somogyi said yes.) So, here I was, face to face with the world-famous Leopold Stokowski. Somogyi told Stokowski that I hoped to be a conductor someday, and Stokowski wished me luck. Then came the embarrassing moment: My classmate told Stokowski that he was a better conductor than his high school band director. (I wanted to crawl under a table, but Stokowski was very kind and thanked my friend for the compliment.)

It is rumored that I was one of the Eastman students who dropped ping pong balls on top of the RPO during a concert.  (This was done from the ceiling rafters.)  I will never tell, but let’s just say that I was present for the event.

- Ray Grosswirth, Rochester

This is the third year in a row that I and two of my friends have bought a series of tickets to the RPO. We always look forward to RPO season!

Some of my favorite memories have to do with the people we have met through attending the performances. For the past two years we have sat in front of another group of three women, it wasn't long before we were comfortable with each other, laughing, joking etc. We all agreed that after the last performance we had to go out for coffee and dessert, I get a kick out of that because we don't know each other at all outside of the RPO concert hall. Well needless to say that after the last concert performance of the season, we forgot to go out and get coffee. We were bummed, but we knew that we would all be at Yo-Yo Ma and so we decided to go out after that concert, with Yo-Yo, old friends and new and coffee --it was a spectacular night!

Another great memory is when a lady sitting next to us, who had purchased two tickets for the Gershwin concert only, asked if we had a friend we wanted to call and invite because her friend couldn't make it. We immediately called our friend that we knew would love to come and she said "I'll be right there!” She had 15 minutes to get dressed and arrive at the concert hall in time for the concert, she lives on Norton and Goodman and she made it with time to spare and that includes finding a parking space! We thought that was amazing!

Thanks for inviting us to share.

- Amanda C. Rayburn, Rochester

Laura_Viau.JPGI heard Ferrante & Teicher and Roger Williams as a teen/preteen in the 1970s. Our family friend Connie would take me with her. My dad would drop us off and pick us up at the end. I was so impressed and worked harder on my piano lessons. I became a member of Crescendo and continue to help with special events like the bagels at the Casual Sunday matinees. The RPO and the Eastman Theatre are so awesome!

- Laura J. Viau, Rochester

Ma_Yo-Yo_SM.jpgThere are so many memories woven within the Eastman. When I think of my favorites I consider two moments in time. Of course, I remember my high school graduation... my mother arrived with a camera, a videocamera... and no film for either instrument. So, there are no pictures!

My favorite RPO/Eastman memory actually comes from this past season. When Yo-Yo Ma came out for an encore performance of the Appalachia Waltz after he performed with the RPO, it was as if the world around me disappeared. Any worries I had about anything went away. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. It was such a happy experience, it's actually hard to even describe it.

- Nancy Goldsmith Zawacki, Pittsford

My grandmother, a trained opera singer, felt all children should have classical music training and brought myself (and four siblings) to our first RPO concert in 1962, then again in 1963 and 1964 with complementary tickets my grandfather got via sponsorship of Eastman Kodak nights at the RPO. My eyes were in awe of the chandelier, my heart and soul filled with wonder of hearing such music I had never heard before. It was my first exposure to the violin family of instruments. In 1973 I returned to the RPO concerts when I could as a student, and in 1989 began bringing my own children. The theatre has been the location of graduations for our children and one has performed as a soloist on the stage!

- Terry Baker Grissing

I witnessed the graduations of my brothers before me and finally in 1967 it was my turn. The first “expensive” tickets I ever purchased were for an RPO performance of Messiah which was a Christmas gift for my mother. Then I was privileged to see my daughter perform on stage with the orchestra. The theatre holds bits of my heart kept forever in my memory.

- Anonymous

 I have a vivid memory of hearing the RPO perform Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 in 2003, not long after we moved to Rochester. I wasn’t very familiar with Shostakovich’s music, but sitting there in the Eastman Theatre, I wanted to stand up and cheer – the music was so thrilling!

I also had the pleasure of sitting in George Eastman’s seat (and yes, there is a hat rack underneath) at a free concert by with Maria Schneider during the Rochester International Jazz Festival. Another instance where I didn’t know her music, but liked it so much, I bought a CD. We’re so lucky to have so many opportunities for musical discovery here in Rochester.

- Janice Hanson, Rochester


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