According to Ward Stare, the only place you'll want to be on July 19 is at the Eastman Theatre, where he'll lead the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in "three of the greatest works by three of the greatest composers." Stare, a 30-year-old Rochester native, speaks of Beethoven, Mozart, and Wagner the way that some speak of summer vacations in national parks or Disneyland. He uses words like "dynamic," "energetic," "muscular," and "jam-packed," and he promises that this concert will be an opportunity for us to hear the RPO "in all its glory in just the first piece."
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra gives nearly 200 concerts per year, reaching 250,000 audience members. But if you think the RPO concert season coincides neatly with the school year, you are making the same mistake I once made when I was only looking at the traditional classical concerts performed on Thursday and Saturday nights at the Eastman Theatre. So this summer, forget about that gas-guzzling camper that only results in complaints from the kids, and get out to multiple venues where you can find RPO performances from Mozart to Main Street, complete with fireworks and baseball.
Your family summer vacation with the RPO starts with a bang on Wednesday, July 3, at 8 p.m. at the CMAC Performing Arts Center in Canandaigua, for favorites like "The Stars and Stripes Forever," "America the Beautiful," and the "1812 Overture." It was actually Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky who composed that last iconic favorite, which Americans have co-opted into a celebration of our own Independence Day. While there won't be cannon fire, there will be fireworks. Michael Butterman conducts, and the orchestra will be joined by the Rochester Oratorio Society and guest narrator Paul Burgett.
For RPO free concerts that are closer to home, you have only to travel to the Main Street Bridge of downtown Rochester for a free concert on Thursday, July 4. Butterman will also conduct this concert, and it will also be followed by fireworks. Another variation on this concert theme of the RPO, classics, and fireworks takes place Friday, July 5. It all begins with a Red Wings game against the Pawtucket Red Sox, followed by the RPO concert, followed by fireworks. The RPO is out-and-about and free again on July 10, at Ontario Beach Park with guest conductor Matthew Kraemer. The summer season will conclude with a Pops concert featuring Broadway star Matthew Morrison, a lead on TV's "Glee."
While the extensive performance schedule for the RPO events from July 3 through July 20 may surprise you, Stare isn't surprised — he's been attending RPO concerts with his family since he was about 8 years old. "The RPO had a huge part in shaping my early musical development," says Stare. "It's the first really great orchestra that I ever heard growing up."
Stare, who got hooked on Beethoven when he was about 5 years old, says he always wanted to be a conductor, even while developing his talents as a trombonist. He attended Pittsford Mendon High School and participated in the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. At 18, Stare was appointed principal trombonist by the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He played a 26-week season with them while pursuing his conducting dreams by studying in Europe and at Aspen's American Academy of Conducting. Stare made his conducting debut in 2007 with the Cleveland Orchestra.
Whether it's his youth or his own experiences, Stare is a big fan of parents bringing children to orchestra concerts. He says that the concert on July 19 is a great opportunity for just this, whether it's the first time for an orchestra outing as a family or a routine activity.
When asked for a script that parents could use to get their kids to eagerly come along to the RPO, Stare had no problems diving right into a description of the Wagner piece that will be on the program, "Overture to The Flying Dutchman." Stare says the piece was featured in a "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie — a helpful pitch that should cut against any perception children might have that classical means music to put them to sleep.
The story of "The Flying Dutchman" was inspired by Wagner's escape from Riga to London, Stare says. "He was behind with his creditors and they seized his passport. Wagner bribed the ship's captain to let him sneak out, but the weather at sea was so bad that the trip that should have taken five days took two weeks, and they were nearly lost at sea as they had to go all the way up and around Norway. Wagner based the opera on those themes and imagery. It's dynamic, energetic, muscular, and has lots of bass," says Stare, adding, "And that's just the first 12 minutes of the concert!"
Beethoven's Seventh Symphony received no less an enthusiastic description from Stare, and it, too, featured prominently in a movie, "The King's Speech." "Anyone who remembers the final scene where the king finally delivers his speech can come out to hear it live in its original context of the full symphony," says Stare.
Stare describes the symphony as "classic Beethoven," containing elements of "struggle, journey, and a celebration of life." Going back to how you message for kids, Stare points out that the final movement, in particular, is a rousing climax that gives the orchestra "a real work-out."
The third work on the program is the Mozart clarinet concerto, featuring RPO's own Kenny Grant. Stare and Grant have a relationship going back to Stare's days playing with the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.
Stare sums up his pitch for the Rochester community to turn out for the concert by paraphrasing jazz legend Duke Ellington. "He said it something like this: there's good music and bad music. That's true for classical, pop, any kind of music. I'm a big fan of the RPO and of conducting. I just want people to be excited about it because it's worth being excited about."
2013 RPO Summer Season
Celebrate America with the RPO Wednesday, July 3. CMAC, Canandaigua. 8 p.m. $15-$50.
Independence Day Concert Thursday, July 4. Main Street Bridge, Rochester. 9 p.m. Free.
Play Ball! Friday, July 5. Frontier Field. Approx. 8:30 p.m. Included w/admission to Red Wings game.
An Evening with the Symphony Saturday, July 6. Arrowhead Park, Inlet. 7:30 p.m. $10-$110.
Wegmans' Concerts by the Shore Wednesday, July 10. Ontario Beach Park. 7:30 p.m. Free.
Temple B'rith Kodesh Concert Thursday, July 11. Temple B'rith Kodesh. 7:30 p.m.
Summer Spectacular with Fireworks Friday, July 12. SUNY Geneseo. 8:30 p.m. $5-$12.
90th Anniversary Celebration Saturday, July 13. Riverside Convention Center; Jeff Tyzik, conducts. 6 p.m. $200.
Eastman Summer Conducting Institute Thursday, July 18. Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. 8 p.m. $5-$15.
Summer Classics Special Concert: Ward Stare Conducts Mozart and Beethoven Friday, July 19. Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. 8 p.m. $50-$72.
Summer Pops Special Concert: Matthew Morrison Saturday, July 20. Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. 8 p.m. $24-$85.
For more information call 454-2100 or visit rpo.org.