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Ward Stare and the RPO unveil their 2015-16 season

Concert-goers got a look Tuesday night at what's in store for them under the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra's young new music director in a preview program that featured selections from the 2015-16 season.

Stare assumed his position leading the RPO last September, but by then this year's performances were already set, so next year will be both the first series he has designed and the first in which he'll be the person most often on the podium. The season will consist of an intentional mix of familiar works and new pieces. That reflects Stare's plan for building his relationship with Rochester audiences and the orchestra – and for expanding the RPO's relationship with the community.

The season will include 12 Philharmonics programs, eight of which will be conducted by Stare. Guest conducting appearances will include Fabien Gabel (the Quebec conductor who received rave reviews when he conducted here in 2014), Gunther Herbig (former music director of the Detroit and Toronto symphonies) conductor laureate Christopher Seaman, and RPO principal Pops conductor Jeff Tyzik leading the orchestra in the world premiere of his Violin Concerto, written for RPO concertmaster Juliana Athayde.

The nine programs in the Pops series, programmed by Tyzik, will feature an evening with vocalist Megan Hilty, a performance by the circus performance group Cirque Musica, and a concert featuring trumpeter Doc Severinsen.

Season extras include a taping of the NPR program "From the Top," a performance by pop songwriter-pianist Jim Brickman, and a concert of the music from the massively popular video game series "Final Fantasy." The season will also include four OrKIDstra concerts and a new Sunday matinee series of chamber works at Hochstein.

Stephanie Berg’s “Ravish and Mayhem,” performed by Alarm Will Sound at the Mizzou International Composers Festival in 2012

Since Stare was appointed music director, he has spoken frequently about his desire to shape a new connection between the orchestra and its audience, and to push further to reach new audiences in Rochester. His inaugural season, he hopes, will be a good first step.

"Whenever you're building your season, especially if it's your first season as a music director, you want to focus on building your relationship with the public and the orchestra simultaneously," Stare said in an interview with City. "I was looking for repertoire that I thought would be the right balance of pieces that were new for the orchestra, pieces that would be challenging and interesting for the orchestra, and pieces that will also be accessible and inviting for our audience."

If there is an overall message, Stare said, it's to connect with the public through music. He hopes to introduce audiences to new composers and new works, he said, but knows he must first build trust with both the audience and the orchestra. And it's easy to see the care and consideration given as he describes the programming in greater detail. Within each program, he aimed for a mix that would take the audience from a familiar work to a less familiar or completely new piece.

For example, the February 25 and 27 program, guest-conducted by Gunther Herbig, will give audiences a familiar piece with Mozart's Symphony No. 29, move into a work that is probably new to much of the RPO audience, Eastman alum Eric Ewazen's Bass Trombone Concerto, and finish with Schumann's "Rhenish" Symphony.

On March 17 and 19, the program will open with "Rapture" by the young American composer Patrick Harlin, followed by Samuel Barber's Symphony No. 1 and Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis" — both pieces from the early 20th-century — and end with "Four Last Songs" by Richard Strauss. Soprano Erin Wall will be the soloist.

Patrick Harlin’s “Rapture,” performed by the University of Michigan Philharmonia Orchestra in 2011

Stare admits that he has pieces in mind that he would like to incorporate in future seasons, "But I think even in this season," he said, "we have some very challenging repertoire for the orchestra, and we have a good mix. And I hope it will communicate to the audience that we value their experience as well and want them to enjoy and connect with the music."

The season also includes about 10 pieces that are either brand new or haven't been performed at all or in recent years by the RPO. The premieres are of a co-commissioned piece, Aaron Jay Kernis's Flute Concerto (February 4 and 6) and Tyzik's Violin Concerto (May 5 and 7). In a "nod to the history," Stare said, he spent time in the RPO's archives to find works that the RPO hasn't performed in quite some time. The April 14 and 16 program includes Saint-Saens' "Danse Bacchanale," last performed by the RPO in 1950, and the June 2 and 4 program includes Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances," performed by the orchestra in 1942.

The season bears a strong mark of youth. In addition to the 32-year-old Stare himself, the guest artists include violinist Simone Porter, an 18-year-old who has already performed with the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics (November 18 and 21); pianist Vadym Kholodenko, 28, who got an enthusiastic reception in his RPO performance in 2014 and returns on March 3 and 5; and cellist Julie Albers and guest conductor Fabien Gabel — both under 40 — appearing January 14 and 16. Works by young, talented composers are featured as well: "Ravish and Mayhem," by Stephanie Berg, March 3 and 5, and Harlin's "Rapture."

Simone Porter (performing Sarasate’s “Zapateado”)

"There are so many talented people coming through the ranks," Stare said. "And so I think it's exciting when you can find people who can make a debut with the orchestra, or come back immediately — like Vadym – after having a very successful debut," letting the orchestra start building relationships with new artists."

Beyond the programming, the RPO hopes to reach audiences in new ways next season. Among the efforts, Stare said: The RPO will ask concert-goers to submit requests and questions via social media — anything from "What's the difference between a violin and a viola" to explanations of a particular work's movements, and the RPO will make a concentrated effort to reply back in some form.

But at the center of any Philharmonics season is the orchestra itself, which Stare will put front and center in the September 17 and 19 season opener. The program doesn't feature any guest musicians or soloists: it will be simply Stare and the orchestra.

The performance will include Dukas's "Sorcerer's Apprentice," Tchaikovsky's "Francesca da Rimini," and Barber's Adagio for Strings, and will end with "Pines of Rome" by Respighi.

"I want to feature this phenomenal orchestra that we have in an all-orchestral program of blockbusters," Stare said, "to herald the coming of this new season, this new outlook, and this new effort to reach out to our community."

For the complete 2015-16 season, click here.

Click here for writer David Raymond's take on the RPO's 2015-16 season.


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