2013 IN REVIEW: CLASSICAL MUSIC’S YEAR OF EXTREMES

Photo by Ruth Phinney

We started 2013 in conflict, and we ended the year in grief, processing two senseless deaths.

But in between, Rochester's music lovers witnessed great triumphs.

2013: A YEAR OF HIGHS

In January, four Eastman students played for the President. In fact, they were the only classical musicians in the country invited to perform during the Presidential Inauguration. Cellist Hyeok Kwon, violinist Markiyan Melnychenko, violist Kelsey Farr, and violinist Che Ho Lam played in a balcony in the U.S. Capitol immediately following the swearing-in ceremony and Inaugural address for President Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, former presidents, senators, and cabinet officials.

In July, President Obama bestowed the nation’s highest artistic honor, the National Medal of Arts, on Rochester native Renée Fleming.  In an interview with the NEA, Fleming reflected on the sacrifice, time, and self-discipline singing demands, saying, “I consider it a privilege, however, and I hope the end result is a performance in which the audience and I share an experience that possesses moments of wonder regarding human creation; poetry, music, and what the human body is capable of expressing through that most natural of instruments—the voice.”

If you missed Renée’s brilliant appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, enjoy!

2013: A YEAR OF LOWS

The Eastman School of Music suffered two staggering losses.

First came the death of Douglas Lowry, the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean Emeritus of the Eastman School of Music, who passed away October 2nd at the age of 62.  He’d been diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2011, but many were caught off guard by the disease’s swift progression.   Lowry was appointed the sixth Eastman dean in 2007. He was a composer, conductor, and leader who led the largest architectural transformation in the Eastman School's history.   Writing in the Democrat and Chronicle, Jeff Spevak compared Lowry’s beautiful, music-filled memorial service to a Viking funeral.

Then came another loss. On December 7th, friends and students were stunned by the sudden death of pianist and Eastman School Professor Tatiana Tchekina.  She was killed in a fatal crash caused by an allegedly drunk driver.

Eastman freshman Alex Yuill told a reporter, "I guess we will just continue doing what we do best; making beautiful music in honor of her."

 . . . A YEAR OF PREMIERES

The Rochester Oratorio Society commissioned and premiered The Emancipation Oratorio by Glenn McClure. The composer was inspired by anonymous poem found on the wall of the Elmina Slave Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana.

"In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors,  
 May those who die rest in peace,           
           May those who return find their roots.
                May humanity never again perpetrate,                  
               Such injustice against humanity.
                            We the living vow to uphold this."         

In a project with a similar theme, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned and premiered The Freedom Zephyr by Douglas Lowry, who used portions of writings of Frederick Douglass, a poem by Walt Whitman, an essay of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and his own original texts.

. . .  A YEAR OF CONFLICT

Three Rochester music organizations wrestled with leadership problems.

In January, some members of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra raised questions about the 2012 ousting of Music Director Arild Remmereit, and they peppered newspapers with outraged letters and essays.  RPO members spoke out in blogs; Facebook teemed with debate.  Musicians lost sleep.  Friendships strained.  Early in 2013, RPO board chair Elizabeth Rice maintained that Remmereit had not fulfilled his commitments to build working relationships with the board, musicians, and staff.  Meanwhile, the Rochester Chamber Orchestra tapped the Norwegian conductor to take over. That relationship imploded a few months later. 

Mr. Remmereit still calls Rochester home and has announced hopes to work with Garth Fagan Dance and possibly form a new youth orchestra. 

In the wake of the debate, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra cut its summer season short by three weeks to help narrow the orchestra's $746,000 operating deficit.

In June, Rochester chamber choir Madrigalia broke ties with its director, Lee Wright.

 . . . A YEAR OF PIPES

The George Eastman House in Rochester is once again home to the largest residential pipe organ in the United States. The museum acquired an organ from someone in California. It allowed GEH officials to restore an existing instrument which had been partially destroyed in a fire in 1949.

 . . . A YEAR OF PIANOS

In August, Rochester residents began to see colorful pianos popping up in random public spaces.  The Pianos for Peace project, a collaboration among neighborhood organizations, the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, the University of Rochester, the Eastman School of Music, the Rochester City School District, and others, rolled instruments onto locations around the city: SWAN Community Center, Parsells Little Flower Community Garden, Pulaski Park, Danforth Community Center, Frontier Field, Sahlen Stadium, MuCCC, the Public Market, Aqueduct Park, and the Greater Rochester International Airport.  At the end of the month, all the pianos were collected to form a temporary Piano Park for Peace on the grounds of the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence.

. . . AND IMAGINING THE FUTURE

The Eastman School of Music established a center for research into what the future of classical music ensembles might look like.  The former board chair for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Paul Judy, made a one million dollar commitment to establish a center for applied research at the Eastman School. Officials hope the new center will help foster an entrepreneurial spirit among musicians and serve as an incubator for developing new types of ensembles.

With reporting from WXXI news; Randy Gorbman, Alex Crichton, and Jeanne Fisher.