For its 99th season, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra will offer a welcome blend of old and new
If the forthcoming programming for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2022-23 season is any indication, the organization has a secure musical identity as it looks toward its 99th year of existence.
In lieu of its customary annual preview concert, the RPO revealed next season’s slate of Philharmonics and Pops concerts Thursday morning, with the help of a digital video of Music Director Andreas Delfs and Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik highlighting some of the programs they’re most greatly anticipating.
The 2022-23 season is filled with elements that will be familiar and comfortable for RPO fans — cherished composers, returning soloists, and less frequently heard works — with just enough of the new, novel, or unexpected to keep things interesting.
Delfs says the goal is to create concerts that are engaging for the musicians and accessible to listeners simultaneously. “What I try in every season — and this season is no exception — is to have a very good balance between pieces that will sell the evening, that sell the program, that are recognizable, and beloved by the audience,” he explains. “Where my challenge as a conductor is to get the orchestra a fresh new approach, something in terms of interpretation that might keep them on their toes and might keep them interested.”
Here are some of the highlights:
There is no composer more recognizable than Ludwig van Beethoven, so it's fitting that the Philharmonics series opens on Sept. 8 and 10, 2022, with an all-Beethoven program featuring soloist Gil Shaham performing the Violin Concerto in D Major, alongside the composer’s towering Fifth Symphony.
On Nov. 11 and 12, the RPO’s Pops audience once again has the opportunity to experience the original music of Jeff Tyzik, but with the added visual element of the Cirque-style dance and acrobatics group Troupe Vertigo.
Tyzik says these kinds of groups tend to utilize movement to interpret the works of classical Russian composers such as Reinhold Glière. But two years ago, Troupe Vertigo’s Artistic Director Aloysia Gavre heard Tyzik’s “Three Latin Dances,” and was compelled to create one half of a program set to Tyzik’s music, inspired by Turner Classic Movies and film noir.
After a recent successful premiere of that performance in Detroit, Gavre and Turner have decided to dedicate an entire evening to this collaboration. Tyzik says he may write new work for the performance, or include recent compositions such as a dance suite for oboe and string orchestra or a piece for string quartet and piano.
Among the more intriguing Philharmonics programs occurs on Nov. 17 and 19, when Delfs pairs Romantic-era composer Johannes Brahms’s “A German Requiem” with the world premiere of a newly commissioned work by contemporary Black composer Derrick Skye.
Delfs says Brahms’s definitive choral work is an anomaly among requiem masses, and as such doesn’t follow the conventional Latin mass. “He picked the texts for the different movements himself because he wanted to make a statement about love and grieving,” the RPO conductor says of Brahms. “And in his particular case, it was his mother who had passed away. He wanted to kind of set up a monument to the love that he had for her.”
Delfs discussed the tricky aspects of interpreting Brahms’s requiem with Skye, including the need for an excellent soprano to sing for merely five minutes. Skye responded with the idea for a companion composition that would draw from Brahms’s very personal theme of a mother’s love for a child, and explore it using a soprano solo of his own.
“Derrick Skye strikes me as a composer with a very, very personal signature,” says Delfs. “I find his style not easy to explain, but what I like about his music is that it’s very specific to the man.”
Delfs and Tyzik aren’t merely staying in their own lanes. Each conductor will lead a concert in the other’s series. On Feb. 9 and 11, 2023, Tyzik will present the Philharmonics concert “A Celebration of Black Composers,” in which each work on the program has Rochester ties of some sort. “An American Fanfare” was written by the Rochester-born Adolphus Hailstork; the Rochester-based soprano Kearstin Piper Brown (who is also an announcer on WXXI's Classical 91.5) will sing songs from Nkeiru Okoye’s opera “Harriet Tubman”; William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1, nicknamed “Afro-American,” was premiered in 1931 by conductor Howard Hanson and the RPO; James Lee III’s new work, “Freedom’s Genuine Dawn,” incorporates a speech by famous Rochester abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Tyzik cites this concert as an example of the kind of concert he wouldn’t have the opportunity to put together elsewhere. “I’ve never been held back here from doing anything,” he says. “Anything that I could conceive of, people were behind it.”
On March 16 and 18, Delfs will draw a connection between two composers who aren’t often associated with one another, even though they were contemporaries. Claude Debussy’s music is considered the epitome of picturesque Impressionism, while Arnold Schoenberg is generally remembered as a thorny composer of more atonal music.
But Delfs is eager to stress the similarities between certain works — in this case, Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” from 1894 and Schoenberg’s 1899 work “Verklärte Nacht.”
“They were both looking for the same thing,” Delfs says. “They had both come to the conclusion — at the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century — that the expansion of the harmonic language, in the way that Wagner had done it, had hit a brick wall.”
Both composers experimented with augmented and layered chords in ways that challenged traditional harmony, and they were doing so at the same time. Delfs says he wants to demonstrate this on an orchestral scale. “It’s always a good way, I find, to get people a little less scared of Schoenberg,” he says.
On April 7 and 8, Tyzik diverts from the standard Pops fare of jazz, Broadway, and Motown when he leads the orchestra in “Decades: Back to the ’80s.” Admittedly, the ‘80s is not Tyzik’s favorite musical era. But along with his daughter and the program’s co-producer, Jami Greenberg (of the production company Greenberg Artists), Tyzik recognized the music’s popularity. The more he looked for music that resonated with him, the more hitmakers he was able to draw from — including Tears for Fears, Elton John, Steve Winwood, and Hall & Oates.
“The interesting thing about the ’80s that I found is they tried to simulate the sounds of an orchestra,” Tyzik says. “So synthesizers were in at that point. But what were the synthesizers playing? Well, they were playing string sounds, they were playing brass sounds. So it was really easy for me to take those synthesized sounds, which really should have been orchestra, and to make it work for orchestra. So it actually makes the music even better.”
For complete concert listings for the RPO’s 2022-23 season and for subscription renewals, go to rpo.org/renew.
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