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.