After the departure of beloved conductor Christopher Seaman in 2011, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra struggled to counter a growing reputation as being managerially stodgy, creatively entrenched, and financially insolvent. For a once legendary symphony (it was the first in the world to play over a national radio broadcast in 1929), the controversial firing of Arild Remmereit six years ago epitomized the anxious and unpredictable state of the orchestra.
Today the Rochester Philharmonic is riding high. As reported in October, 2017, the RPO’s five year financial plan has achieved a balanced budget for the first time in several years. Ticket sales are up 20% and fundraising was increased 25%. With dashing conductor Ward Stare at the helm, the future is looking bright.
Stare, the 36 year old Rochester native, began his illustrious career as a 16 year old prodigy at Julliard; he went on to study with Sir Andrew Davis with the Chicago Lyric Opera, led the Cleveland Orchestra at 24, and performed Carnegie Hall at 26. Since taking over the RPO in 2014, he has already inserted his name in the same conversation as famous RPO maestros such as Eugene Goossens, Jose Iturbi, David Zinnman, Mark Elder, and Erich Leinsdorf. Smartly, the RPO board recently extended his contract up until 2020-21.
Playing 130 shows a year, with concerts rebroadcast on WXXI 91.5 FM, cutting edge programs focussed on youth participation, and a commitment to partnering with the Eastman School of Music, the RPO is primed to be a major cultural institution in the Flower City for years to come. If you haven’t seen them play, don’t wait any longer. The music has been spellbindingly good.
Most impressive, the RPO has become a national leader in education. In 2000, Michael Butterman, Principal Conductor for Education and Outreach, became the first person anywhere to hold such a position. Nearly 14,000 students attend RPO concerts each year.
All photographs by George Cassidy Payne