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No One Romances Like the French

Guest conductor and pianist join RPO in Satie, Saint-Saëns, and Berlioz

Rochester, NY – The Eastman Theatre will be immersed in the inimitable style and romance that can only come from the French on Thursday, April 30 and Saturday, May 2 both at 8:00 pm, when the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra performs pieces by some of the greatest French composers.  Guest conductor James Gaffigan will lead the RPO in two of Satie’s three enchanting Gymnopédies, Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5, “Egyptian”– with special appearance by French pianist Pascal Rogé – and conclude with Berlioz’s epic programmatic piece, Symphonie fantastique.  Mr. Gaffigan will host the pre-concert chat at 7:00 pm. 

Erik Satie’s three charming Gymnopédies – supposedly inspired by French author Gustave Flaubert’s exotic historical 1862 novel Salammbó – were published in Paris in 1888 and are best known for their dreamlike, melodic sound.  Thanks to the orchestration of the third and the first (in that order) by Satie’s French compositional colleague, Claude Debussy, their performance popularity increased, becoming a staple in the symphonic repertoire.

Camille Saint-Saëns’ fifth and final piano concerto, “The Egyptian,” was composed on vacation in North Africa, and takes its name from his impressions while journeying throughout the region.  The exotic collage of different cultures – including Middle-Eastern, Spanish, and Indonesian – are portrayed through a spectacular array of unique sounds and harmonies. Composed to celebrate the composer’s upcoming 50th anniversary of his public solo piano debut, the piece was performed with Saint-Saëns himself as the soloist in 1896.  The first movement contrasts a simple melody, which builds into a frenzy up and down the piano, and a slower, more pensive musical theme.  The second movement features the most striking sounds of the piece, and is responsible for its nickname.  A dramatic finale, led by the piano soloist, ends the piece with a flourish.

Written in 1830, Berlioz’s brilliantly imaginative Symphonie fantastique is considered one of the most acclaimed pieces of the Romantic period.  Fusing his own real-life events with imaginary ones, the piece tells the story of a talented, but opium-addicted, artist suffering from unrequited love.  The first movement, entitled “Reveries and Passions,” depicts the discovery of a mysterious woman who captures the artist’s senses, and becomes an object of his obsession.  The second movement, “A Ball,” portrays the artist attending a merry party although still troubled by the memory of the mystery woman.  The third movement, “In the Country,” is a series of daydreams with the artist reminiscing on his love.  In the fourth movement, or “March to the Scaffold,” the artist, convinced of the woman’s betrayal, experiences an opium-filled dream in which he has killed her in a jealous fit and is executed for the murder.  In the final movement, “Dream of the Witches’ Sabbath,” the artist witnesses his own funeral with only monsters and demons in attendance.  The melody representing the artist’s beloved re-emerges in the character of a “vulgar dance tune” with the medieval melody, Dies irae (Day of Wrath), that concludes the symphony.

James Gaffigan is currently the associate conductor with the San Francisco Symphony where he also serves as Artistic Director for the “Summer in the City” series.  In 2000, he was chosen by David Zinman, former RPO Music Director, to be an Academy Conductor in the inaugural year of the American Academy of Conducting in Aspen, and two years later, received the Academy’s first Robert Hath Conducting Award.  Mr. Gaffigan has made guest appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pacific, Columbus, Utah, and San Antonio symphonies, as well as the Deutsches Symphony Orchestra in Berlin, the Tonhalle Orchestra, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, among many others.  He performed two years ago with the RPO during the 2006-07 season.

Pascal Rogé’s interpretations of Poulenc, Satie, Fauré, Saint-Saëns, and especially Ravel, are characterized by elegance, beauty, and stylistically perfect phrasing.  He has appeared with the symphonies of Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Seattle, as well as the BBC Philharmonic, Hallé Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Netherlands Philharmonic, NHK Symphony Orchestra Tokyo, Orchestre de Paris, and the Vienna Symphony.  Mr. Rogé is also the recipient of two Gramophone Awards, a Grand Prix du Disque, and an Edison Award for his interpretations of the Ravel and Saint-Saëns concertos.  He also has released several recordings under the Decca label, which include piano works of Poulenc and Ravel, four albums of Satie, two of Debussy, and a Bartók cycle with the London Symphony Orchestra.  In 2002, he performed Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 2 with the RPO.

Tickets for these performances are $20-$56, available online 24/7 at; by phone (454-2100); in-person from the RPO Box Office, 108 East Avenue, 10:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday-Saturday (non-concert Saturdays, 10:00 am-3:00 pm); and seven days a week at area Wegmans.  A convenience fee may apply.

The Philharmonics Series is sponsored by the Eastman Kodak Company and Bausch & Lomb.  The RPO gratefully acknowledges PAETEC Communications Inc. for the PAETEC Philharmonic Partners program, which offers discounted $9 Philharmonics Series tickets to local students.  This concert is sponsored by Corning, Inc.; James Gaffigan’s appearance is made possible by the Davenport-Hatch Foundation.