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RPO resets concert season with livestreamed shows

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
Kurt Brownell
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
Credit Kurt Brownell

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra confirmed Tuesday that it is postponing or canceling all of its September, October and November traditional programming. In place of the performances: Five livestreamed concerts, without an audience, from Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.

The affected shows include all philharmonic, Pops, Sunday Matinee and orKIDStra Series performances, as well as a series of specials that are being rescheduled for next summer. Events scheduled for December and beyond remain in place while the RPO awaits further word from the state.

In making the announcement, RPO President and CEO Curt Long cited current New York state guidelines that prohibit indoor concerts and limiting outdoor concerts to no more than 50 people.

“We’re certainly paying attention to what some of our peer orchestras are starting to do in terms of streaming events,” Long said. “Obviously social distancing onstage is really critical, and there’s been a ton of research done on aerosols and droplets and especially around wind and brass players, and what’s safe and not safe, to keep our musicians safe.”

The RPO is developing a set of live chamber-music performances for smaller venues, as well as socially distanced events in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, including the December concerts. Events scheduled for January and beyond remain in place while the RPO awaits further word from the state.

Encouraged by the success of its 22-week-long summer Living Room Concerts series -- musicians performing from their homes, and broadcast on Facebook and YouTube -- the RPO’s five streaming concerts open 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24 with Music Director Ward Stare directing Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite and Mozart’s Symphony No. 29. Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik presents “Ragtime Kings” at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24. The performances will be by scaled-down versions of the RPO, allowing the musicians to be socially distanced while onstage.

Tickets for the concerts are $10 per household and will be available for purchase Sept. 8.

“We’re working hard to make sure we can bring a compelling experience to our audiences by livestream for that three-month period,” Long said. “And hoping, at some point, that we’ll get back to doing live concerts in front of audiences, but not entirely sure when that might become possible.”

This season of uncertainty comes as Stare concludes his time with the RPO. He has announced that he will be leaving after the 2021 season.

“We had planned some fantastic projects that are near and dear to his heart,” Long said, “including a Beethoven cycle as well as Mahler’s 8th Symphony and one of his signature operas, and there are a lot of things this season that were really priorities for Ward. And unfortunately right now, certainly much of it is in doubt, and at this point we’re assuming there will be no performances with choruses the entire year, so that impacts several of the projects we were hoping to do.”

The RPO will announce its holiday programming on Nov. 2 and its plans for the remainder of the current season on Dec. 1.

“The world will evolve, and over the coming months, maybe things will get better than we’re expecting,” Long said. “But at the moment, we’re anticipating all season long we’ll have to have reduced forces and reprogrammed concerts and be able to social distancing in one format or another.”

Specials from the end of the 2019-20 season and start of the 2020-21 season are being moved to an expanded 2021 outdoor season. They include National Geographic’s “Symphony for our World,” “The Little Mermaid in Concert,” Eastman and RPO Present Ben Folds, The Music of John Williams and “Coco in Concert.”

Two shows featuring Harry Potter films and music have also been rescheduled. September’s “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in Concert” has been rescheduled for March 12 and 13 at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in Concert” will be rescheduled for the summer of 2021.

Tickets for the concert specials will be honored for the new concert dates.

Subscribers and single-ticket patrons are being asked to either donate the remaining balance from the March through June 2020 season to the RPO’s Annual Fund, or to place the balance on an electronic gift certificate to be used toward concerts and subscriptions.

Subscribers to the 2020-21 season will receive the prorated value of their subscription as an electronic gift certificate; it can be donated to the RPO’s Annual Fund, used toward streaming performances, future in-person concerts, or a 2021-22 season subscription.

The balance from both seasons will be placed on an electronic gift certificate as of Sept. 15 unless the Patron Services Center is informed otherwise. Patron Services is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call (585) 454-2100 or email patronservices@rpo.org.

Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts & Life editor and reporter. He can be reached at jspevak@wxxi.org.

Copyright 2020 WXXI News

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle. He has also been published in Musician and High Times magazines, contributed to WXXI, City newspaper and Post magazine, and occasionally performs spoken-word pieces around town. Some of his haikus written during the Rochester jazz festival were self-published in a book of sketches done by Scott Regan, the host of WRUR’s Open Tunings show. Spevak founded an award-winning barbecue team, The Smokin’ Dopes, and believes Bigfoot is real. His book on the life of a Lake Ontario sailor who survived the sinking of his ship during World War II will be published in April of 2019 by Lyons Press.