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Poetic Inspiration and Two Dynamic Young Artists Take the Stage with the RPO

Rochester, NY – In January, pianist Kirill Gerstein was minding his own business, touring and playing concerts, when he learned that $300,000 unexpectedly would be coming his way—the result of being chosen as the 2010 Gilmore Artist, a “non-competitive” award bestowed on an unsuspecting pianist. On Thursday, April 8 at 7:30 pm and on Saturday, April 10 at 8:00 pm, Rochester audiences will hear what makes the Russian-born Gerstein so exceptional when he makes his RPO debut under the baton of the brilliant young American guest conductor James Gaffigan.  Mr. Gaffigan also hosts First Niagara Pre-Concert chat one hour prior to the performance.

The up-and-coming Gaffigan—returning to the RPO for the third time— recently was appointed Chief Conductor of the Lucerne Symphony as well as Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.  He opens the concert with Debussy’s lush Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, then welcomes Gerstein to the stage for Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 “The Age of Anxiety” for piano and orchestra.  After intermission, he leads the orchestra in Beethoven’s glorious Symphony No. 7.

Hailed for the natural ease of his conducting and the compelling insight of his musicianship, James Gaffigan was the Assistant Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, and recently completed a three-year tenure as Associate Conductor with the San Francisco Symphony. He has conducted throughout North America and Europe, leading the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Houston, and Baltimore symphonies, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic, the Stuttgart and Leipzig Radio and the Tonhalle orchestras, among many others. This season, he debuts with the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Dallas, Detroit, and National symphonies.  Increasingly active as an opera conductor, Gaffigan will share a production of Cosi fan tutti with Sir Charles Mackerras at the Glyndebourne Festival this summer.

Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, composed in 1894, is the loose musical interpretation of an 1876 poem by Stéphane Mallarmé.  Debussy wrote that the piece was “a succession of scenes in which the desires and dreams of the faun [a mythological, pleasure-loving half-man, half-goat] pass through in the heat of the afternoon.”  With a gorgeously melodic flute solo, a notable absence of percussion and horns, and Debussy’s trademark improvisational quality, this piece radiates with the timely feel of burgeoning spring.

In 1948, more than half a century after Debussy’s poetic inspiration, a poem by W. H. Auden was inspiring a 20th century composer.  Like Debussy’s piece, Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety” for piano and orchestra takes its title from Auden’s poem of the same name. In Bernstein’s own introduction, he wrote, “the essential line of the poem (and of the music) is the record of our difficult and problematical search for faith.”  Divided in six parts corresponding to the sections of the poem, Bernstein masterfully mirrors its message, events, and feelings.

In addition to being only the sixth musician ever honored with the Gilmore Artist Award (which helps support the musical and career goals of musicians over the course of four years), Kirill Gerstein has been described as having a masterful technique, musical curiosity, and probing interpretations which have led to explorations of classical music and jazz, advanced degrees by the age of 20, a professorship in piano by the age of 27, and a full performance schedule at the world’s major music centers and festivals.  His recent and upcoming engagements include performances with the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras; the Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit, Atlanta, and Houston symphonies; and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also has worked with prominent European orchestras in Germany, England, Switzerland, Finland, and Sweden, among many others.  According to the Boston Globe, Gerstein is “on the fast track to a major career, and he deserves to be.”

Beethoven’s magnificent Symphony No. 7 closes the concert. Written when the composer already was quite deaf, it begins with a leisurely melody for flute, like the Debussy piece.  After an ambiguous mood introduction, the main section of the first movement is purely joyful, with a dance-like rhythm as the main feature.  The Allegretto movement is the most commonly known, and has been used for poignant effect in numerous films including Immortal Beloved, The Fall, Knowing, and Irreversible.  The theme of poetic inspiration continues with the third movement, based on an Austrian Pilgrims’ Hymn. The symphony closes on a life-affirming note.

Tickets for these performances are $20-$60, with $75 box seats, 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.  Student tickets are available for $10 with current ID. The Philharmonics Series is sponsored by the Eastman Kodak Company and Bausch & Lomb.