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RPO and Music’s Power to Transcend

Rochester, N.Y., May 10, 2006 – The power of music to transcend even death will take center stage with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra under its Music Director, Christopher Seaman, as three composers from three different centuries come to terms in a program entitled “Mozart’s Requiem” on Thursday, May 25 and Saturday, May 27, at 8 p.m. in the Eastman Theatre (60 Gibbs Street). The RPO concludes its Philharmonics Series season with this musical journey back through time in almost 100-year increments, beginning with Jennifer Higdon’s 1999 blue cathedral; Richard Strauss’ 1889 radiant tone poem Death and Transfiguration; and – with the assistance of the nearly 200 voices of the Rochester Oratorio Society (ROS) – Mozart’s 1791 masterpiece, Requiem in D minor. Maestro Seaman hosts the Pre-concert Chat at 7 p.m.

Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral was written just after the death of her younger brother, Andrew Blue Higdon. In tribute to her brother, Higdon features solos for the clarinet (the instrument he played), and the flute (the instrument she plays). At the opening, quietly chiming bells and harmonies on the strings are reminiscent of 15th and 16th century church composers. In an unusual turn of orchestration, most of the musicians are required to play – in addition to their own instruments – crystal glasses or Chinese health bells, which contribute to a cathedral sound.

Richard Strauss envisioned Death and Transfiguration as a tone poem describing the last hours of a man’s life as he struggles with mortality and with the thought of what he had failed to achieve, eventually finding spiritual fulfillment in death itself. Seaman describes the rising Transfiguration theme as one of Strauss’ greatest melodies. Although composed early in Strauss’ career, it appeared to be a foreshadowing of his own passing when, on his deathbed, he said that dying is just as he composed it in Death and Transfiguration.

In Mozart’s legendary Requiem, the composer portrays all the emotions associated with death – grief, fear, love, faith, and hope. The Requiem Mass was commissioned in secret by Count Franz von Walsegg to console him for the death of his wife. Already ill himself, Mozart could not finish the piece before his own death, and it was only later that Franz Sussmayr, Mozart’s friend, assistant, and traveling companion, completed the work, based on his conversations with the composer and on Mozart’s sketches for the unfinished sections. His version will be used for these performances. The Requiem is laid out in eight sections according to the traditional Latin Mass for the dead.

The ROS features an international quartet of soloists: soprano Laura Whalen; mezzo-soprano Anita Krause; tenor Michael Colvin; and bass-baritone Gary Relyea.

Canadian by birth, Ms. Whalen has appeared throughout North America and Europe as a lyric soprano whose performances in an eclectic mix of repertoire are notable for beauty of tone and musical finesse.

Ms. Krause, prizewinner at the prestigious Salzburg International Mozart Competition, and another Canadian, is equally esteemed in the concert hall as she is on the opera stage, appearing in numerous recitals, with orchestra under leading conductors, and in major operatic roles.

Irish-born tenor Michael Colvin has been praised for a voice that is “both powerful and beautiful” in his world-wide opera and concert performances, and goes on to perform three more Mozart Requiems this summer.

With a rich voice and compelling musical insight, bass-baritone Gary Relyea returns to the Rochester Philharmonic for this re-engagement, in addition to appearances with other prestigious orchestras this season. He has held title roles in numerous operas in prestigious venues, and can be heard on CBC recordings and has appeared on CBC-TV.

Since 1986, Roger Wilhelm has led the ROS as only its second Music Director since the group’s inception 60 years ago. Wilhelm has prepared and rehearsed the ROS extensively prior to combining forces with the RPO for these performances; he will be retiring from this position in July.

The Orchestra is celebrating the 250th birthday of Wolfgang Amadè Mozart this season with six Philharmonics Series concerts and six Symphony 101 concerts featuring his music. The Mozart Requiem in this final Philharmonics concert is “a highlight of the season,” says Maestro Seaman.

Tickets for these performances are $22-$52, available online 24/7 at, by phone (454-2100) and in person from the RPO Box Office, and at all Wegmans Video Departments. RPO Box Office Hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (non-concert Saturdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.). The Wegmans Video Department is open seven days a week, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. A convenience fee may apply.

The Philharmonics Series is sponsored by Eastman Kodak Company and Bausch & Lomb. This concert is sponsored by Goldberg Berbeco Foundation with additional support provided by The Mozart Performance Fund. The RPO gratefully acknowledges PAETEC Communications Inc. for the PAETEC Philharmonic Partners program, which offers discounted Philharmonics Series tickets to local college students.

Celebrating its 83rd season in 2005-06, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s mission is to perform and present a broad range of quality music; attract, entertain and educate audiences with superior musical performances; maintain and build the Orchestra’s national reputation; and enhance the reputation of the Rochester community as a place in which to live, work, play, visit and learn.

RPO performances are made possible in part with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency; the State of New York; the County of Monroe; the City of Rochester; and American Airlines, the official airline of the RPO.