The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra has announced its 2017-18 season, and its "best-of-both-worlds" approach has a lot to offer, including plenty of classic blockbusters and big names, from Perlman to Potter, and some pleasant surprises.
The season will start on September 12 with an appearance from Itzhak Perlman, a violinist who truly does deserve to be described as "world-renowned." He'll perform arrangements of music from John Williams' film scores, including "Schindler's List." Williams' music returns November 3 and 4, when the RPO accompanies a showing of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," conducted by Justin Freer, and again on January 12 and 13, with "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in Concert."
The Philharmonics subscription series (the orchestra's 95th) begins on September 21 with Ward Stare and pianist Inon Barnatan, the first artist-in-association with the New York Philharmonic. The RPO will perform Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto, along with music by two composers Stare interprets well: Richard Strauss ("Don Juan") and Sergei Prokofiev (highlights from his delightful ballet "Cinderella," which you don't hear every day).
Once again, Stare brings a well-balanced mix of canonic works and new additions to the symphonic repertoire. Though this season's programming is more subtle, Stare is no less intent on introducing Rochester audiences to music they would not necessarily hear otherwise. Still the 2017-18 season has no shortage of major symphonies, including Beethoven's Ninth, Brahms's Second, Tchaikovsky's Fifth, and Mahler's Fourth.
There are guest performances from exciting young soloists, like pianists Barnatan, Olga Kern, and Joyce Yang, as well as 23-year-old cellist Andrei Ionita making his North American debut. And yet some of the most compelling concerts in the series involve new arrangements of classic compositions, infrequently performed 20th century masterpieces, and notable world premieres.
Here are a few of the "under-the-radar" highlights of the upcoming season:
Olga Kern plays Beethoven's "Emperor," November 9 and 11: Is it possible that Beethoven isn't performed enough in Rochester? Apparently, we're not the only ones who've thought about this. In the first of two November programs comprising a "Beethoven Mini-Fest," Stare and the RPO welcome back pianist Olga Kern for the composer's Piano Concerto No. 5, known as the "Emperor." The orchestra will also perform a multi-composer version of Mussorgky's signature opus "Pictures at an Exhibition." The second Beethoven program (November 16 and 18) features the iconic Ninth Symphony, the "Choral," with the indelible "Ode to Joy."
Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, February 8 and 10: The RPO will celebrate Tchaikovsky's beloved ballets "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty," with fresh arrangements of these works by Stare that add to the intrigue. All that would be sufficient for one program, but the RPO music director has included yet another ballet, Bartók's "The Miraculous Mandarin," to the bill. And the RPO will be joined by Rochester City Ballet (led by Artistic Director David Palmer) for a performance of Dvorak's "Slavonic Dances.
Bernstein Centennial Celebration, March 1 and 3: Quietly one of the season's coolest concerts, the RPO plays Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 2, "Age of Anxiety," in honor of the 100th anniversary of the American composer-conductor's birth. Stare's love for indispensable American music gets a knowing nod here. Pianist Misha Dichter is guest soloist.
Tchaikovsky's Fifth and a world premiere, March 22 and 24: The Pyotr Ilyich party continues with his sweeping Fifth Symphony, exactly the kind of high energy, lyric work at which Stare and company excel. The juxtaposition of a new Oboe Concerto by composer Allen Shawn (coincidentally, the brother of actor and writer Wallace Shawn) — written with soloist and RPO Principal Erik Behr in mind — makes this concert all the more appealing.
Brahms' Second and a world premiere, May 10 and 12: The music of American composer Jennifer Higdon returns to Kodak Hall in the form of the world premiere performance of her Harp Concerto, with the help of elite soloist Yolanda Kondonassis The program will also feature Brahms' beguiling Second Symphony.
The 2017-18 Pops Series starts with Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik conducting a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald (another great American artist celebrating a centennial in 1918) on September 15 and 16. Other highlights include the traditional Gala Holiday Pops (December 21 and 23), and performances by the Mambo Kings (February 23 and 24) and PUSH Physical Theatre (April 13 and 14). The orchestra will also perform a tribute to the 50th anniversaries of The Beatles' "White Album" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (June 1 and 2).
And don't forget the RPO's Sunday Matinees and OrKIDStra Series. This year's lineup of soloists includes Concertmaster Juliana Athayde, Principal Horn W. Peter Kurau, world flutist Tereasa Payne, and violinist Yevgeny Kutik. Eastman School voice students will follow up last fall's mini-"Pirates of Penzance" with another Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Not to mention the children's favorites "Peter and the Wolf" (with the Nazareth College Dance Ensemble) and "Beethoven Lives Upstairs."
There are also four high-powered special events, with priority for RPO subscribers: "rePlay: Symphony of Heroes," with popular video game music and projections (October 26); the return of Broadway superstar Audra McDonald (January 25); "A Night of Symphonic Rock" (April 28), promising "a six-piece, all-star band"; and illusionist Michael Grandinetti, from the CW series "Masters of Illusion" (May 11).
Subscription packages will go on sale Wednesday, February 8, at 10 a.m. Single tickets will be available in July. Ticket information and the full RPO schedule can be found online at rpo.org or by calling 454-2100.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to correct which piece the Rochester City Ballet will perform with the RPO.