Eight concerts to catch in RPO's Centennial season 

click to enlarge PHOTO ILLUSTRATION
There's a lot to like about the upcoming Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra season that was announced Wednesday. Among the offerings in the 2023-24 season and its Philharmonics series are an all-Tchaikovsky program, Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” and of course, a heaping helping of Beethoven.

But between the headline-grabbing composers and compositions are some obscure gems that make the season sparkle.

Here are four featured composers and four guest soloists on the schedule who will make you glad you marked your calendars.


click to enlarge Gity Razaz. - PHOTO BY RONALD ANDREW SCHVARTZMAN
  • Gity Razaz.
Gity Razaz

This may be the first you’re hearing of Iranian American composer Gity Razaz, but it won’t be the last. Named a “Rising Star” in 2022 by BBC Music Magazine, Razaz possesses an innate ability to write stirring melodies for strings. She demonstrated as much in works such as “Legend of Sigh,” which evokes the rigor and expressiveness of Bach’s cello suites in a subtle electronic landscape, and “Spellbound,” the swirling piece for unaccompanied viola. The forthcoming orchestral work “Methuselah,” which the San Diego Symphony will premiere in May, has its Rochester debut on Sept. 28 and 30, alongside performances of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” with violin soloist Sarah Chang and Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony.

click to enlarge Andy Akiho. - PHOTO BY DA PING LUO
  • Andy Akiho.
Andy Akiho

The story of how Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” outraged classical music audiences in 1913 is now the stuff of legend. But contemporary concertgoers rarely get a similar opportunity to be scandalized. Perhaps it’s time. Grammy-nominated composer Andy Akiho’s 2015 experimental concerto “Ricochet” featured ping pong players as percussionists. Is it real music-making? Is it just a gimmick? Rochester audiences will get the chance to decide for themselves on Jan. 11 and 13, when Andreas Delfs leads the RPO in this innovative and noisy curiosity, along with a performance of “Rite of Spring” featuring Garth Fagan Dance. “Ricochet” may seem like just a novelty, but under the surface it is a clever, joyfully raucous piece.

click to enlarge Sarah Kirkland Snider. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Sarah Kirkland Snider.
Sarah Kirkland Snider

Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider’s sound world is a hypnotic one, in which lyrical melodies reveal deep, often sad psychological truths. Many RPO fans first became acquainted with her music last March, when the orchestra performed “Something for the Dark.” The experience went so well that Delfs and company have commissioned a world premiere from Snider for the centennial season. On April 18 and 20, 2024, the RPO will perform the tentatively titled “The Lens of Nostalgia, A History of Kodak/George Eastman.” The multimedia work is also a collaboration with visual artist Deborah Johnson, with whom Snider previously worked on the achingly beautiful choral album “Mass for the Endangered.” Snider’s new composition shares the program with Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and Paul Dukas’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” ensuring a vivid sonic experience for all those in attendance at this one-of-a-kind event.

click to enlarge Derrick Skye. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Derrick Skye.
Derrick Skye

Derrick Skye first mesmerized the Kodak Hall crowd in November with the world premiere of the genre-subverting “A Rage of Peace,” which was paired with Brahms’s “A German Requiem.” On May 30 and June 1, 2024, a world premiere from Skye will once again accompany a choral-orchestral masterwork by a revered German composer. This time, the masterwork is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, commonly known as “Ode to Joy.” Skye ingeniously melds Western and Eastern classical music traditions in a way that is both deeply profound and immediately enjoyable to hear.

The effect is a rare one: a musical experience that uplifts and unites people, provided in a setting that has historically accentuated cultural, ethnic, racial economic differences. On top of that, the significance of the RPO continuing to nurture its professional relationship with not one, but two living composers cannot be overstated.

click to enlarge Alisa Weilerstein. - PHOTO BY HARALD HOFFMAN
  • Alisa Weilerstein.

Alisa Weilerstein

If you look at a short list of the top cellists today, you’ll see Alisa Weilerstein’s name. Few musicians perform with the same depth of feeling, and her dynamic stage presence is characterized by egoless virtuosity. A recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant” in 2011, Weilerstein is as at-home interpreting the music of contemporary composer Osvaldo Golijov as she is playing Bach. On Sept. 21 and 23, Weilerstein will help kick off the 2023-24 Philharmonics Series with Edward Elgar’s emotive Cello Concerto on a program that also includes Beethoven’s “Eroica Symphony” and a world premiere by composer Aaron Jay Kernis.

click to enlarge Karen Gomyo. - PHOTO BY GABRIELLE REVERE
  • Karen Gomyo.
Karen Gomyo

Violinist Karen Gomyo has performed tirelessly both in the United States and around the world, having collaborated with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as well as the BBC Symphony and the Dresden Philharmonic. Gomyo possesses an electrifying tone, and her ability to make the violin sing — particularly in the upper register of the instrument — makes for an unparalleled listening experience.The soloist will take on the beautiful, turbulent Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius. It’ll be fascinating to hear what she does with it on Oct. 12 and 14.

click to enlarge Eric Owens. - PHOTO BY DARIO ACOSTA
  • Eric Owens.
Eric Owens

Bass-baritone Eric Owens is beloved in the opera world. He’s been a mainstay at the Metropolitan Opera since he made his debut there in 2008, and has graced the opera stages of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Washington, among others. Upstate New York opera lovers will also know him well as an artistic advisor for The Glimmerglass Festival. Though his roles have been numerous, he has staked his claim to the Wagnerian repertoire in particular, having taken on several characters in the Ring cycle. When he takes the stage at Kodak Hall with Delfs for an all-Mahler program on Oct. 26 and 28, the singer will perform the charming “Songs of a Wayfarer.” Owens’s voice is both commanding and warm, formidable and lyrical.

click to enlarge Benjamin Beilman. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Benjamin Beilman.
Benjamin Beilman

Not yet 35 years old, violinist Benjamin Beilman has accomplished a lot. He’s performed with some of the world’s best orchestras, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Beilman plays with a fearlessness and intensity that belies his age, and his robust, attacking articulation of the bow against the strings makes for spellbinding performances. On Feb. 8 and 10, Beilman joins Delfs and the RPO in a rare performance of Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto — far from a customary showpiece, but a fascinating, if enigmatic, solo vehicle.

For more information, go to rpo.org.

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY's arts editor. He can be reached at [email protected].
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