The 2016-17 Philharmonic season saw the RPO find a unity of sound that had previously evaded them. During the last few seasons, I was more frequently able to single out a particular instrument section for praise or identify another section in need of improvement. It has become nearly impossible to do this now. Stare has the orchestra sounding with one voice, and playing with an ease and level of articulation you might regularly hear from more famous orchestras.
I am admittedly disappointed by next season's backward step toward a more conservative selection of works with fewer pieces by living composers. World premieres by Jennifer Higdon and Allen Shawn are the only representatives in that category. The decision not to build on the momentum of this season's American Music Festival feels like a missed opportunity. That said, the 2017-18 Philharmonics season does include welcome compositions from Berg, Britten, Ligeti, and Bernstein -- all of whom are not performed nearly enough. -- BY DANIEL KUSHNER
I didn't attend every RPO concert this season, but I attended enough to hear a year of interesting programs and outstanding performances by the orchestra and by soloists: James Ehnes's magisterial account of the Beethoven Violin Concerto; Colin Currie's whirlwind tour of Jennifer Higdon's Percussion Concerto; and Jeremy Denk's thoughtful take on the Brahms First Piano Concerto.
Two especially memorable performances came from concertmaster Juliana Athayde, who joined violist Melissa Matson in a sublime duet in Mozart's "Sinfonia Concertante," which was conducted by Michael Butterman. Athayde also played a red-hot Bartók Second Violin Concerto with guest conductor Fabien Gabel a couple of weeks ago.
This was the season that Ward Stare instituted an American Music Festival -- which I hope thrives in the future (a Beethoven Festival will take its place next season). The highlight of this for me was the first Rochester performance of John Adams' powerful "Doctor Atomic Symphony," but no less exciting was Copland's Third, one of Stare and the RPO's best performances.
Stare is varying the orchestra's repertoire: besides American music and big works by French composers (Ravel, Debussy, Dukas), I am delighted by a recent uptick in music by Bartók: two piano concertos last season, the Second Violin Concerto this season, and "The Miraculous Mandarin" next, and such big works as Mahler's Fifth Symphony and Stravinsky's "Symphony in Three Movements." By the way, Stare's Beethoven and Brahms this year weren't bad either. Even concert openers like Alan Hovhaness's "Prelude and Quadruple Fugue" and Bernard Herrmann's "Vertigo" were unexpected but ideal. Stare continues to be a good steward of the RPO's sound, which is now dependably rich and versatile.
-- BY DAVID RAYMOND