Take advantage of the RPO’s free summer concerts.
The feeling hits you the moment you walk into the oval lobby, which invites you further into a place of elegance and opulence. Then, the conductor raises his baton, the music starts and you are at once awash in the glorious sounds; uplifted and taken away by the unique experience of a live orchestra.
If the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up and you’re tapping your toes, chances are you’ve experienced the feeling George Eastman wanted to create for his audience and his community.
Eastman built the theater with great attention to every detail: artwork, statuary, lighting. He made sure that the mezzanine level was tucked back under the balcony so that the angle would be less steep. It made for a pleasant experience, even for the less expensive seats. His intention was to give all the patrons of his theater a superlative experience, no matter their economic or social status.
Eastman was very passionate about the important role music plays in a community, perhaps because he grew up poor without access to musical experiences himself. “It is impossible to buy an appreciation of music,” he said. “Yet, without appreciation, without the presence of a large body of people who understand music and who get joy out of it, any attempt to develop the musical resources of any city is doomed to failure. [In Rochester] we have undertaken a scheme for building musical capacity on a large scale from childhood.”
That scheme began with the founding of the Eastman School of Music, building the Eastman Theater in 1922, and forming the orchestra that same year.
Attend a Concert this Summer
Monday, July 4: Independence Day Concert
Main St. Bridge, City of Rochester, 9 p.m., FREE, Ward Stare conducts
Wednesday, July 6: Concert by the Shore
Ontario Beach Park, Monroe County, 7:30 p.m., FREE, Ward Stare conducts
Friday, July 8: Summer Spectacular with Fireworks
SUNY Geneseo, 8:30 p.m., Ward Stare conducts
Saturday, July 9: RPO @ CMAC: Movies, Marches & America
8 p.m., Ward Stare conducts
Sunday, July 10: RPO @ Penfield Country Club (Concert on the Green Series)
5 p.m., Ward Stare conducts
Thursday, July 14: RPO at Oak Hill Country Club (Concert on the Green Series)
6 p.m., Ward Stare conducts
Friday, July 15: RPO at Frontier Field
8:30 p.m., free with game ticket, Ward Stare conducts
Sunday, July 17: RPO at Country Club of Rochester (Concert on the Green Series)
5 p.m., Ward Stare conducts
Thursday, July 28: RPO at Temple B’rith Kodesh
Friday, July 29: An Evening with the Symphony
Inlet, New York, 7:30 p.m.
Today, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) is part of the living legacy of George Eastman. By any measure, it is considered one of the best orchestras in the country, which is rare for an area as small as Rochester’s. Even rarer is the orchestra’s enormous community outreach program. Its free school concerts alone are a monumental undertaking at a huge cost in man hours and volunteer investment. But seeing thousands of school children fill the theater during a week of concerts, and hearing their oohs and ahhs, makes all the effort worthwhile. It’s in keeping with the original vision of Mr. Eastman.
While the RPO may have started with his vision, it has continued to grow for nearly 100 years thanks to the right people – people that can innovate but still focus on the mission of connecting with the community. The success of the RPO takes many talented and dedicated people, including the stellar musicians who play in the orchestra. But it is also due to the efforts of three guys I like to call “rock stars”: Michael Butterman, Principal Conductor for Education and Community Engagement; Jeff Tyzik, Principal Pops Conductor; and Ward Stare, Music Director.
I had a chance to speak with
Michael Butterman right after one of the school concerts he arranged and conducted. “This is the spark of inspiration for young people, where the RPO can be the catalyst for a lifetime of music,” he said. His commitment to community engagement is admirable, and exactly what George Eastman wanted.
When it comes to innovation, you can’t beat the record of Jeff Tyzik. Each season, he brings new programs and new arrangements to the Pops concerts. Since starting with the RPO 23 years ago, he has done 140 weeks of programs and only repeated about 23 of them, he recently figured. It’s an amazing record, and proof positive that he is a big part of what keeps the Pops patrons coming back.
Bringing new blood to a traditional philharmonic orchestra can be a challenge, but when the RPO brought in new Music Director Ward Stare, they found the perfect match in this “hometown boy.” The incredibly talented musician and fantastic conductor has also influenced the orchestra’s programming. In recent concerts, the orchestra has introduced the work of new composers while still playing recognizable classics. When I asked Ward about the one factor in his career that got him where he is today, he said, “Being from the Rochester area.” Not hard work, talent or Julliard.
Our region is incredibly privileged to have this level of music education and performance available. It gives all of our children an advantage. Isn’t that exactly what George Eastman envisioned?
In case you think classical music is too sleepy and snobby, I’d like to challenge you to attend one of the free concerts this summer, and see if you don’t feel that spark. In today’s world of digital downloads and earbuds, the experience of a live, full orchestra is one that cannot be replicated. Until you have heard the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra playing at their incredibly high level of excellence, your musical life is not complete.
Giving Back to the Theater
I attended my first RPO concert at the Eastman Theater in 1956. I was seven years old, and if it were not for a determined school music teacher who took us at her own expense, I probably would never have had the experience. My family did not have the means to attend concerts, but when I started playing our piano, my mother eked out the funds to pay for lessons. Music has always been a huge part of my life; maybe it was the operas my mom played every Sunday, or the songs my Irish dad was always singing. Now I see that part of the credit goes to George Eastman.
Today, I am a volunteer usher for the RPO, my way of giving back. Without its volunteers, the theater could not open for concerts. Just ask David Meyer, House Manager and head of the volunteer work force of about 190 dedicated people. David has had this job for 16 years; he would love to break the record of the very first “Head Usher,” Gertrude Mabee. She held the position from the time the theater opened in 1922 until the Fiftieth Celebration in 1972. Her memoirs provided me with some fascinating archival information for this article.
David, his seven assistants and the volunteers, are the patrons’ first contact in the theater. Their dedication and enthusiasm is reflected in the care given to every person who enters Kodak Hall to begin their Eastman Theater and Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra experience. I can’t imagine that George Eastman would have it any other way.
by K.C. Fahy-Harvick