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RPO’s Annual Meeting: 2015/16 in review

For Immediate Release: February 15, 2017
Media Contacts:   Sally Cohen, 585-749-1795,


Ward Stare’s inaugural season an artistic & popular success
Financially, a transitional year of planning & laying the foundation


Rochester, NY – At its annual meeting with membership this evening, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) looked back at its 2015/16 season (September 1, 2015 – August 31, 2016).

Artistically, the RPO kicked off Ward Stare’s first full season as music director with Pines of Rome, a program that focused on the Orchestra itself. CITY Newspaper remarked that Stare’s “consummate control of the orchestral sound could not be overlooked” and that “the collective musical energy was irrepressible.” The Democrat and Chronicle stated that “Stare physically draws the passion out of his orchestra” and that “the rapport between the musicians and the conductor was obvious.”

“Showcasing our world-class orchestra was a top priority for me in our 15/16 season, and I am extremely proud of how they excelled in every single program,” said Stare in his Annual Report letter. “We expanded our Philharmonics Series from 12 to 14 concerts and gave skilled performances of new works by contemporary composers such as Aaron Jay Kernis, Stephanie Berg, and Patrick Harlin, plus a world premiere by our own Jeff Tyzik*. Our orchestra showed its depth and tremendous range in performances of classical masterpieces like Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique,’ Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances.”

The Orchestra reached an approximate audience of almost 160,000 last year, with more than 140 performances and broadcasts. Other season highlights included:

  • The 2015/16 Pops Series opener with Broadway vocalist Megan Hilty (Wicked, 9 to 5, Smash), who made her RPO debut with Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik
  • Rochester audiences were part of a live taping of NPR (National Public Radio)’s popular radio program From the Topwith host Christopher O’Riley.One of the remarkable young musicians featured was 14-year-old Pittsford pianist Raymond Feng.
  • Nineteen-year-old violinist Simone Porter and 29-year-old pianist Yuja Wang made their RPO debuts, Wang playing a different Bartok piece each night.
  • “The Heifetz of the flute” (Gramophone), Marina Piccinini, made her RPO debut in the New York premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Flute Concerto, an RPO co-commission.
  • *Jeff Tyzik’s Jazz Concerto for Violin and Orchestra – written especially for RPO Concertmaster Juliana Athayde – made its world premiere in a concert that also included Piazzolla’s Tangazo with a performance by Rochester City Ballet (Jamey Leverett, choreographer).
  • Holiday Special Concert Home Alone with the RPO paired the classic family film on the big screen with a live performance of John Williams’ score.
  • Another Special Concert highlight: Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy, featuring Japanese video game composer Nobuo Uematsu’s music from all 14 games with an HD video presentation.

“In Ward’s first full year as music director, the RPO experienced increases in both subscription sales and single tickets with strong programming and strategic marketing,” added RPO President & CEO Ralph Craviso. “We offered products that appealed to a more diverse audience.  Our artistic product was – and remains – outstanding and successful.”

Education and community engagement have been at the core of the RPO’s mission since its founding in 1922, and nearly 30% of RPO concerts are education or community-oriented. In 2015/16, more than 22,000 students participated in RPO education programs (Intermediate, Primary, and Tiny Tots Education Concerts; OrKIDStra concerts, Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, and more), including 7,500 Rochester City School District students who attended free RPO concerts.

The Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (RPYO) – founded in 1970 – opened its 2015/16 season with new Music Director Dr. James Mick, succeeding Dr. David Harman, who retired after 21 years of service. Made up of almost 100 of the most accomplished middle- and high-school musicians from up to thirty schools in the greater Rochester area, the RPYO is part of the RPO’s Education Department and its young musicians are mentored by their RPO counterparts.

Four local music educators were honored by RPO Musicians for their dedication to their students and commitment to the arts at the 28th annual “Music Educators’ Night at the RPO” in April 2016. Educators are nominated by administrators and their peers and received an award onstage during an RPO concert.

The RPO performs nearly 40 community concerts a year, many of which are free to attend. Fifteen of those took place in July 2016, along with four, free City of Rochester Summer Ensemble Performances in neighborhood locations: Susan B. Anthony Square, Mt. Hope Cemetery, Joseph & Clinton Avenues (in conjunction with the Latino Festival), and Maplewood Rose Garden.

Spring and fall Around-the-Towns concerts at area high schools and recreation centers – also free – featured the entire Orchestra as well as ROCmusic Collaborative, an after-school program with which the RPO partners that offers music instruction to young people in grades 1-12 who reside in the City of Rochester. Former RPO Principal Percussion Bill Cahn volunteers his time to lead the program’s ROCdrummers. 

The RPO’s Professional/Amateur Side-by-Side Orchestral Reading Sessions debuted with much success in July 2016 as well, offering talented area amateurs the opportunity to play alongside world-class musicians.

Community participation also includes performing with the RPO. The RPO’s annual production of The Nutcracker, with Rochester City Ballet and the Bach Children’s Chorus, featured almost 200 local children. Gala Holiday Pops concerts also featured about 200 area students from dozens of schools in its Festival High School Chorale.

Finally, more than 600 community members volunteered their time to the RPO, serving as ushers, box office concierge, administrative and event support, etc. Twelve individuals and one community partner were honored for their volunteer work with the RPO at the 24th Annual Volunteer Recognition Awards..

Administratively, Ralph Craviso was initially appointed RPO Interim President and CEO on October 1, 2015, but a short time later assumed the role of President & CEO on a more permanent basis. He led a team that created a five-year financial recovery plan to reverse the deficits that the RPO has incurred in recent years and return it to balanced budgets as soon as 2016/17. Approved by the Board of Directors in March, the RPO gradually added staff to the Development Department to lay the foundation for increased philanthropic contributions, which cover approximately 60% of the RPO’s annual costs.

In addition, the RPO musicians, who provide Rochester with a quality of playing unknown in cities the size of Rochester, once again last year demonstrated their understanding of the business of the RPO and their willingness to invest in the Orchestra’s future by agreeing to forego benefits granted to them in collective bargaining.

“It is with confidence that I can report to you today that in FY16, we have identified both the plan and the actions we must take to ensure the RPO’s fiscal stability, and we are producing very impressive results as we execute on that plan,” reported Craviso during the Annual Meeting. “We were able to fully fund the deficit using our internal resources. While many orchestras faced with similar challenges incur debt, creating a heavier burden in a recovery plan in an attempt to both raise revenue and retire debt, the RPO enters FY17 with minimal long-term debt of about $315,000.”

With consistently stronger programming and a revitalized Development department, the RPO anticipates stronger numbers in both ticket sales and contributed revenue. Subscription revenue is up 10% over 2015/16, and single ticket sales are up 28% to date. The RPO sold out more concerts in the first five months of its current season than in all of 2015/16.

“We are confident that the RPO is on an upward trajectory,” added Craviso.

Board of Director news during 2015/16 included a smooth transition of leadership when Dawn Lipson stepped down as Chairperson and was succeeded by Jules L. Smith. During the Annual Meeting, the RPO announced the election by the RPO membership of eight members of the Board of Directors: 

Stephen B. Ashley (term to expire February 2020) is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Ashley Group, a family of related companies focused on management, brokerage, financing, and investment in commercial and multifamily real estate. Mr. Ashley has more than 45 years’ experience in the real estate and the real estate financing industries. He served as President of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America (MBAA), and Director and Chairman of the Board of Fannie Mae. He is currently a Director of Manning & Napier Advisors, Inc., a group of mutual funds. Mr. Ashley served as Chair and Trustee of the George Eastman Museum where he is currently a Trustee Emeritus. He served as Trustee of Cornell University from which he received B.S. and M.B.A. degrees. At Cornell he served on the Executive Committee and was Co-Chair of the University’s $6.3 billion Capital Campaign. He is currently a Trustee Emeritus and Presidential Counselor at Cornell. Additionally, he served as Trustee and Board Chair of Via Health, predecessor to Rochester Regional Health, and held similar positions at Allendale Columbia School.

Dr. Andrew J. Elliot, Ph. D. (term to expire February 2020) is Professor of Psychology in the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology at the University of Rochester. He has held year-long Visiting Professor positions at the University of Munich, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Oxford. He conducts research on achievement motivation, has published approximately 200 scholarly papers, and has given talks in 23 different countries. He has won numerous research and teaching awards, and has been named a fellow in five different professional organizations. Dr. Elliot has served on several nonprofit boards, including that of Verbree International (focused on food production in Burkina Faso) and the Rochester Christian Reformed Church (where he served as both Deacon and Elder). He is currently Editor of Advances in Motivation Science, serves on seven editorial boards in the field of psychology, and has served on numerous professional committees (he currently chairs the Richard E. Snow Award for Early Career Contributions to Educational Psychology). He is active as a volunteer Project Director for H.O.P.E. for Haiti, a non-governmental organization working in rural Haiti; he started and oversees H.O.P.E.’s university scholarship program and school library building program.

Ilene L. Flaum (term to expire February 2020) holds a B.S. in Finance from Syracuse University. Mrs. Flaum is actively involved in running a family-owned real estate business with husband, David. Company operations comprise real estate ownership, finance and management. Mrs. Flaum is involved with numerous community organizations and philanthropic efforts. She is active in Hillel Foundation, Jewish Federation of Rochester, and Jewish Family Service. She is a Former Honorary Trustee of WXXI, Honorary Trustee for both the Jewish Community Center of Rochester (JCC) and Monroe Community College and chaired the Temple Beth El Centennial Celebration. Other volunteer work consists of Brighton High School and Compeer Golf Tournaments.  She founded the “Family Tree Society”, a group of large donors for the Jewish Family Service, and is a major fundraiser for the David & Ilene Flaum Eye Institute at the University of Rochester. Mrs. Flaum is a past recipient of the Syracuse University School of Management Alumni of the Year Award, and is a New York State Senate Women of Distinction Honoree.

Michael (Mike) Gioja (term to expire February 2020) is the current Senior Vice President/Chief Information Officer and product development at Paychex, Inc. Prior to joining Paychex in 2008, Mr. Gioja spent 30-plus years holding leadership positions with companies including IBM, American Express, Fidelity, SAP, and PeopleSoft. He is an avid supporter of the arts and has a true appreciation for the RPO and the richness it adds to the Rochester community and surrounding areas. Mr. Gioja’s musical background includes taking classical piano lessons in his youth and helping to pay his way through college by playing popular songs at local piano bars. A native of New York City, Mr. Gioja holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from SUNY Oswego and currently serves as an advisory board member. He lives in Rochester’s East End with his wife, Tabitha.

Michael B. Millard (term to expire February 2020) is a Financial Advisor with Merrill Lynch, an English Professor at SUNY Geneseo, and an author. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Rochester. He has served on a number of boards including Geva Theatre, where he was Chairman of the Board from 1994 to 1996, as well as the Rochester Area Community Foundation. He serves as a trustee of RPO Fund, Inc. and is a former trustee of the SUNY Geneseo Foundation. He is a longtime resident of Geneseo where he and his wife, Frances, have restored a country home. They have been RPO subscribers for more than thirty years.

Elizabeth F. (Betsy) Rice (term to expire February 2020) is a retiree of Xerox Corporation. Ms. Rice spent 30 years at the company in a variety of finance roles leading to senior finance executive positions during her last 10 years. Since her retirement in 2007, Ms. Rice has been active in a volunteer capacity. She has served the Board of Directors of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra for nine years (Board Chair from 2011-2013). She recently completed nine years as a board member of the Women’s Foundation of the Genesee Valley, the last two of which were as Board Chair. She is on the Board of the Society for Chamber Music in Rochester and the Hochstein School of Music and Dance. She is President of the Rochester Alumnae chapter of Delta Delta Delta. She has a B.A. in Mathematics & Economics from Coe College and an M.B.A. in Finance from Northwestern University.

Jules L. Smith, Esq. (term to expire February 2018) is a practicing attorney and a partner in the law firm of Blitman & King LLP, with offices in Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, and New York City. He was born in New York City and graduated from Syracuse University and its College of Law. A member of the RPO Board of Directors for the past eight years, he presently serves as Chair of the RPO Board and has also served as the Secretary of the Board. Mr. Smith has been an active member of various legal associations, including the American Bar Association’s Labor and Employment Law Section, for whom he frequently lectures on labor, employment, and employee benefits matters. He has served on various community boards in the Rochester area, including the United Way of Greater Rochester, and was also Chair of Greater Rochester Fights Back and its successor, Prevention Partners (anti-drug coalitions).

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) has been committed to enriching and inspiring our community through the art of music since its founding in 1922. The RPO presents approximately 140 concerts and broadcasts a year, serving up to 160,000 people through ticketed events, education and community engagement activities, and concerts in schools and community centers throughout the region. Recently appointed 12th Music Director Ward Stare joins the ranks of former notable RPO music directors, including Eugene Goossens, José Iturbi, Erich Leinsdorf, David Zinman and Conductor Laureate Christopher Seaman. Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik has earned a national reputation for excellence in pops programming during his 23-year tenure with the RPO. With Michael Butterman as Principal Conductor for Education and Community Engagement (The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Chair), the RPO reaches more than 22,000 children through its specific programs for school-aged children.

Media please note: The RPO’s 2015-16 annual report is available at (or Photographs and interviews, as well as photo and footage opportunities, can also be arranged.