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Watts Brings High-Voltage Virtuosity to RPO Season Opener

Rochester, NY – The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Director Christopher Seaman open the 2008-09 Philharmonics Series season with the high-voltage virtuosity of guest pianist André Watts at 8:00 pm on Friday, October 10 (note a different night from the series’ usual Thursday evening) and Saturday, October 11 at Eastman Theatre.  The orchestra extends its musical welcome with Shostakovich’s fitting and brilliant “Festive Overture,” followed by Watts taking the stage with Beethoven’s majestic “Emperor” Concerto, and culminating in Dvořák’s “New World Symphony.”  Christopher Seaman hosts the pre-concert chat at 7:00 pm, free to all ticketholders.

In 1954, the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich wrote the “Festive Overture” in response to a request for a vivacious opener for a concert celebrating the 37th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.  Since that time, it often has been programmed as a celebratory piece, with an introductory brass fanfare, a bustling, energetic, main section, and a fanfare return at the end “in even greater splendor” says an enthusiastic Christopher Seaman. 

Beethoven’s Fifth Concerto, “Emperor” was the composer’s final work for solo instrument and orchestra.  Written in 1809 against the backdrop of Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power with artillery bombardments wreaking havoc on Beethoven’s hearing, the piece is proud and defiant.  The opening chords set the  majestic tone in the first movement, followed by a second movement of spirituality and depth, and an exultant Finale.  Due to his growing deafness – and for the very first time – Beethoven himself did not appear as soloist in the premiere of one of his piano concertos.

Pianist André Watts burst upon the music world at the age of 16 when Leonard Bernstein chose him to debut with the New York Philharmonic in Bernstein’s iconic Young People’s Concerts, broadcast nationwide on CBS-TV.  It was such a success that only two weeks later, Bernstein asked him to substitute for an ailing Glenn Gould performing Liszt’s E-Flat Major Piano Concerto with the same orchestra, launching the pianist’s career in storybook fashion.  More than 45 years later, André Watts remains one of today’s most celebrated and beloved superstars.  A perennial favorite with orchestras throughout the U.S., Mr. Watts is also a regular guest at major summer festivals and has an extensive discography both as a concerto soloist and a recitalist.  Possessing “a formidable technical arsenal, and a still more-powerful intellect,” raved The Washington Post, “it would be hard to ask more of a pianist and musician.”  Watts last appeared with the RPO in 1992, performing Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1. 

In 1892, the Czech composer Antonin Dvořák arrived in the United States, where he was to spend most of the next three years.  Fascinated by the music of African-Americans, his three-movement masterpiece, Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” was written and premiered in 1893 with the intent of reproducing this “American folk spirit.” In the solemn second movement, the English horn plays the main theme, a tranquil melody that gives voice to the composer’s homesickness.  Words were later added to it to create Goin’ Home, a song in the style of a spiritual.

Tickets for these performances begin at $24, available online 24/7 at, by phone (454-2100) and in person from the RPO Box Office, Monday-Saturday, 10 am-5 pm (non-concert Saturdays, 10 am-3 pm).  The Philharmonics Series is sponsored by The Eastman Kodak Company and Bausch & Lomb. The RPO gratefully acknowledges PAETEC Communications Inc. for its PAETEC Philharmonic Partners program, which offers discounted Philharmonics Series tickets to local students. 

Celebrating its 86th season in 2008-09, the RPO inspires and enriches the community through the art of music, presenting nearly 200 performances each season to a combined audience of an estimated quarter of a million people, including more than 70,000 who experience the RPO’s broad range of educational and community programs.  The Orchestra is passionately dedicated to outstanding musical performance at the highest artistic levels, and has a unique tradition of musical versatility, commitment to music education in the broadest sense and a deep and enduring engagement with the community.  The RPO has been honored with the New York State Governor’s Arts Award and two recent ASCAP awards for adventurous programming.