RPO celebrates classical compositions, faculty soloists

On Wednesday April 24, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra filled Wadsworth Auditorium with a rich, layered sound.

The concert featured pieces from classical giants including composers Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Ludwig van Beethoven, as well as lesser known Giacomo Puccini and Georges Bizet.

Nearly 50 members of the RPO came to Geneseo to perform for free, thanks to the Gertrude Chanler RPO Fund. On Friday April 26 and Saturday 27, they will perform selected Sondheim and Berstein favorites, and its upcoming season promises a variety of music.

In the concert, its combined strings, brass, winds and percussion more than supplemented the Geneseo faculty soloists; it produced a full, golden sound - a difficult feat to accomplish in the acoustics Wadsworth provides.

Assistant professor of music Pamela Kurau and professor of music and Chair of the Music Department Jonathan Gonder were featured soloists, and in the first half of the concert, they stole the spotlight. Kurau played up the drama of her two performances with wide, graceful gestures and trained vibrato. Gonder, by contrast, had a serious demeanor, concentrating on the fluid movement of his fingers on the piano.

Gonder played Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 23, a long piece that capped at 33 minutes.

“I first started on it in 1977,” he said. “I’ve known that piece for a long time.”

The composition employed the piano’s range of 88 keys; large portions of each movement in the piece were solo piano interludes.

Gonder said the complexity of the piece was not as challenging as other elements of working with an orchestra, noting that they had only one rehearsal together.

He emphasized the difficulty of staying in time with the orchestra in a performance setting.

“It’s not a solo piece,” he said, and discussed the rapt attention paid to counting beats in measures of music.

Unlike Gonder, Kurau led the conductor in her solos, which were from operas “La Bohème” and “Carmen.” The pizzicato strings in the beginning of the first piece, “Quando me’n vo” - also called “Musetta’s Waltz” - led into an underlying orchestration with Kurau’s high notes soaring.

A somewhat overzealous guest conductor, Courtney Lewis dominated the second half and led Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, “Eroica”, Op. 55 without the music in front of him. The piece was originally written for Napoleon Bonaparte, but upon his claim to an empire rather than a democracy, Beethoven revoked the title “Bonaparte” in favor of “Eroica” - “to the memory of a great man.”

Lewis made his RPO debut with this piece and his enthusiasm was matched by the audience’s standing ovation at the end of the concert.