In a country where the arts and classical music are becoming casualties of pop culture, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra is trying to stay afloat for the 2005-06 season. In RPO’s mission statement, their goals in programming are “to perform and present a broad range of quality music.” This rather unsatisfying description leads me to question the orchestra and the community that supports it.

Granted, next year’s program includes a few gems, such as Debussy’s “La Mer,” Bartok’s “Miraculous Mandarin: Suite” and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8, the old favorites still weasel their way into the program, such as Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake: Ballet Suite” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. No matter what genre you’re looking for, you’ll still find the popular standards lurking around the program.

RPO is, in a way, stating that their choice of music defines what “quality” music is. That leads to one of the great debates in the music world. If any music can be judged on the standard of “quality,” who defines what “quality” music is? Is it the community that decides this, or is it the influence of the cultural venues within the community?

I will first try to reason with what the RPO means by quality music. All music has likable and unlikable qualities to it, just as each performer has their strengths and weaknesses. But, what is likable and unlikable is purely subjective and largely dependent on the past experience of a person with music. Maybe what the RPO means by “quality” music is music that has a good track record with audiences, composers who have generally had positive feedback from other organizations and soloists who have gotten a certain number of rave reviews already. This sounds quite limiting, but the RPO doesn’t always have the choice to do much more.

As I found when interning with WXXI Public Broadcasting, getting the financial support to run an organization that can support its people means giving the community what they want. Sometimes this means that Beethoven’s 5th has to make a few appearances.

Music like Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” was once considered to be lacking quality, but is now considered a favorite of orchestral repertoire that is sure to bring a full audience. If a city’s cultural venues, such as WXXI and RPO, took the risk to play Schwanter a little more often, maybe it would become as standard as Mozart, or at least more tolerable.

I could also question the community. Maybe if the general population was exposed to more music, and at a younger age, they would have the background to find a larger portion of music to have “quality.” The “lack-of-education-killing-musical-audiences” debate is a huge issue in itself and one that I won’t get into now, but one worth considering as one of the many reasons for the RPO’s coming season program.

This isn’t to say that music such as Beethoven’s 5th and Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” aren’t important and interesting, even to the most refined ear, but they have become as standard as the Beatles’ song “Yellow Submarine.” It’s fun to listen to, and there is a time for it, but only when mixed with both the lesser known Beatles songs and a wider variety of artists. Perhaps this is what RPO is trying to accomplish.

Despite the large number of overplayed standards in RPO’s next season, there are still a few highlights that result in a fairly well-balanced season. A few new pieces, such as Michael Torke’s “Bright Blue Music” and Bill Dobbin’s Guitar Concerto – a world premiere – among a few others, promise to be interesting and evocative.

A number of great soloists also saturate the program, such as the RPO favorite Jon Nakamatsu, the only American to have won the Gold Medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition since 1981, and Leila Josefowicz, a violinist who has soloed with four out of the five top American orchestras and has had numerous international appearances.

Christopher Seaman will continue to lead the orchestra through another successful year and has invited a number of guest conductors, including the recently announced Music Director of the National Orchestra of Lyon in France, Jun Markl. In addition, Juliana Athayde will make her debut as the new RPO concertmistress.

As long as old pieces receive fresh performances, the RPO will achieve their goal of bringing quality music and performances to the Rochester community.

Reguero can be reached at areguero@campustimes.org.



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