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CLASSICAL: 2012 Highlights 

Two years ago, Rochester's concert halls swelled with the depths of the Russians. It seemed every orchestra, group, and soloist in town had something by the great masters Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and Prokofiev on their programs. This year, I bid you to get ready for the French, Italians, and Germans, for we're off to western Europe, the very anchor of western classical music. And 2012 is the 150th anniversary of Debussy's birthday. Bonne anniversaire à M. Debussy!

Speaking of, both the Eastman School of Music (esm.rochester.edu) and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (rpo.org) have programs scheduled to honor Debussy during October. At ESM, a festival titled "The Prismatic Debussy" runs October 1-27, the first concert taking place on October 13. The programs will explore the various moods of the impassioned Frenchman, including five recently discovered songs, new works inspired by Debussy, and everything from soloists to small ensembles.

Not to be missed by classical lovers will be the month-long Debussy exhibition at the Sibley Library at ESM, which includes manuscripts and rare materials, including autographed manuscripts of "La Mer." If you haven't yet set foot into the Sibley Library, be prepared for finely curated exhibitions and the lure of scads of scores and recordings for your exploration. Sibley Library is the largest library of its kind in North America, and was founded by George Eastman, including an original stipend that had acquisitions experts purchasing scores from leading European auction houses of the day.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra will pay homage to Debussy with a program on October 25 and 27, including the exquisite "Fantasie" for piano and orchestra." The program will feature pianist Stefan Arnold, whose credits include a degree from the distinguished Mozarteum Musikhochschule and a current concert schedule that includes Debussy performances throughout Europe.

Not a Francophile? Preferring something a little less, well, sentimental? Then let me spare you with some good, ol' Johann Sebastian Bach. The Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative (esm.rochester.edu/EROI) is hosting a four-day extravaganza of Bach September 27-30. Programming kicks off on September 27 with a reconstruction of Mendelssohn's 1840 organ concert in Leipzig, Germany.

EROI is a hugely ambitious, multi-year project that keeps me going back to Professor David Higgs at ESM to learn about each of the organs already in Rochester, as well as his plans for future acquisitions. The Bach festival will showcase the Craighead-Saunders Organ and Hook & Hastings Organ Opus 1573 at Christ Church, the Italian Baroque Organ at the Memorial Art Gallery, and the Fritts Organ at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

I should in the same breath mention the American Guild of Organists Rochester Chapter (AGORochester.org). The guild's concert season includes the "Celebrity Organ Recital Series," which this year includes French-Canadian organist Isabelle Demers (October 19), the American Music for Organ and Chamber Orchestra (October 21), and organist Ken Cowan (November 11).

Back to the RPO, let me give you a few concert notes that I've circled on my calendar, and let's talk Italian. The RPO takes us on a tour of the ever-alluring Italy through two concerts featuring works of Vivaldi (Venice), Puccini (Tuscany), Respighi (Bologna), and Rossini (Adriatic coast). Your dates are December 13 & 15 and February 28 & March 2. The December concert features Juliana Athayde, concertmaster, on violin, with Joann Falletta, guest conductor. The February/March concert has resident conductor Arild Remmereit at the podium with vocal soloists from ESM.

And, add another German to your musical passport by attending the RPO concert April 18 & 20, featuring Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, the "Eroica" ("eroica" being Italian for "heroic"). This 50-minute work reflects Beethoven's admiration of the French Revolution and the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (alas, it ended up dedicated to Prince Franz Joseph Maximillian Lobkowicz, as patrons rather do hold sway over their musicians).

Not to be overlooked, symphony-goers should find their way also to the Penfield Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor David Harman. Its season also contains all of these elements and more, including the Beethoven "Eroica" (October 22), some Mendelssohn from his "Reformation" symphony (December 2), and some Rossini from "Il Barbiere di Siviglia" ("The Barber of Seville") with some Respighi (February 11).

Madrigalia (madrigalia.org) and Pegasus Early Music (pegasusearlymusic.org) are also in the Bach mix with a concert at Christ Church November 3-4, showcasing period instruments. The Pegasus calendar for October 7 also includes "Apollo and Dafne" by Handel, a dramatic cantata, telling the story of the sun god and his lust for the nymph. In keeping with the theme of the season, Pegasus also offers a concert in the Baroque origins of Italian opera on January 27.

Enter the concert hall of the sacred thanks to the Rochester Oratorio Society (rossings.org) with Puccini's "Messa di Gloria" (October 26), Handel's "Messiah" with the RPO (December 8), and a double-header of Beethoven's "Mass in C Major, Op. 86" and Mozart's "Exsultate, Jubilate" (March 15).

More Beethoven can be found at First Muse Chamber Music (FirstMuse.org), when the Amenda Quartet presents two string quartets of Herr Ludvig on October 7.

If you want to go even earlier into European composers, then you need to seek out Musica Spei (musicaspei.org). With a cappella performances throughout the season, one that might catch your attention is the group's Early Music Festival, held annually at St. Anne's on Mt. Hope, this year on November 9. Also included in that concert will be the Amadeus Chorale (theamadeuschorale.org).

Let me end on this note: not all concerts this season will be classics from Europe. There's a theme, so I'm highlighting that melody, but as we go along in our weekly previews and features, you'll see the full array of concert goings.

Don't believe it? Here's the one sneak preview that I'll give you that's off-pitch to the theme of this article. The 2012 ESM World Music Series will bring us music of India (September 14), Mali (February 26), and Colombia (April 2). In fact, if you'd like to participate in the annual gamelan lila muni concert (April 29; esm.rochester.edu/gamelan), weekly rehearsals are held on Wednesdays at the Harley School, beginning January 4 — no prior musical experience required.

In This Guide...

    Fall Guide 2012

    An awesome autumn
    The air is crisp and cool, the food is bountiful (thanks, harvest!), and most importantly, our area arts and cultural groups return with packed schedules after relatively quiet summer months.

    ART: Wall wizardry

    Behind the curtains of three Rochester exhibition spaces
    When creative works are presented to the public, the illusion of a seamlessness is a necessary factor. On opening night of a theatrical production, the audience is immersed in pure experience along with the characters, and hopefully not pulled out of the story by the visible hand of the designers or director.

    ART: Best bets

    While many Rochesterians dread the shortening of the days and the increased and lingering chill in the air, I love autumn for the sudden surge in art shows. Kids go back to school and our area's many academic institutions triple the amount of shows on display.

    DANCE: Stop, collaborate, and listen

    Partnering with composers, musicians, and designers underscores the 2012-13 dance season
    Dance is about being fully aware — completely present physically, mentally, and emotionally. That being said, let me note that it can be very difficult to get dancers and choreographers to project what they'll be doing a few months down the road, especially this year, when most of the dance groups in town seem primarily focused on their upcoming performances in the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival (September 19-23).

    OUTDOORS: Fall flavors

    Local farm stands offer the sights and tastes of autumnRochester-area farms/farmstands
    Fall always creeps in slowly. First it's a couple of red leaves here, some cool breezes there.

    FILM: Waiting for the weekends

    Your guide to this fall's buzzed-about movies
    There are nine Fridays (plus one very desirable Wednesday) between now and Thanksgiving, and, as usual, Hollywood will be pummeling you with movie upon movie. But autumn is typically a strange time for film, acting as a sort of bridge between summer's dopier action flicks and the end-of-the-year Oscar hopefuls.

    MUSIC: That's the ticket

    Local venues explore alternatives to the big-ticket enterprises
    The conversation happens all the time among concert-going friends, and it tends to go something like this: "Hey dude, you should come to this super awesome fun time special concert." "I'd love to man, how much does it cost?"

    MUSIC: Twelve for '12

    A look at a dozen of fall's must-see concerts
    When autumn leaves begin to fall, it's not just back to school — it's back to the clubs, where all kinds of music will be reverberating off the walls, and in your skull. There's almost too much talent calling Rochester home lately.

    THEATER: Let's put on a show!

    How three local theater companies plan and approach their seasons
    Geva Theater Center's artistic director Mark Cuddy calls the huge piece of kraft paper his "planning wall" for the season he is working on — lists in different colors with dividing lines between them, but also extra sheets of paper tacked up helter-skelter to give it the look of the organized chaos it probably is. Yet that list of more than 50 titles eventually leads to the six main-stage plays (plus the annual production of "A Christmas Carol") that Geva is betting on for the next 11 months.

    THEATER: Best bets

    Here are some of the plays I'm looking forward to seeing in the 2012-2013 Rochester theater season. The good news is that this season there are more plays I want to see than I have room to write about.

    CALENDAR: Fall Special Events Guide

    Summer may be over, but it's not time to head indoors yet. Rochester has plenty of events to keep you busy through the fall.

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