Rochester, NY – RPO Music Director Christopher Seaman wasn’t born holding a conductor’s baton, but in his youth he appeared with mallets in hand as timpanist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. On Thursday, January 28 at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, January 30 at 8:00 pm at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, Seaman brings his personal connection to the instrument as he conducts the RPO with Principal Timpanist Charles Ross (The Harold and Joan Feinbloom Chair) in the world premiere of Jeff Tyzik’s new Timpani Concerto, commissioned for Mr. Ross by the RPO. Mr. Seaman hosts the First Niagara Pre-Concert Chat one hour prior to concert start.
The concert opens with two impressionist masterpieces by Debussy, premiered in 1900. “Nuages” describes clouds, and “Fêtes” a festival, but as explained by Mr. Seaman, “both are pictured through the mysterious and almost sinister atmosphere of the night. With Debussy, part of the musical message lies in the orchestral color, and both of these pieces show his mastery of orchestration.”
From color, the RPO turns to rhythm, with Tyzik’s Timpani Concerto exploring the musical possibilities that this unique set of instruments affords both the player and the listener. “As a former timpanist, I am particularly looking forward to this piece,” said Seaman. “Jeff shows a remarkable understanding of the instrument, and explores its subtleties, not just its volume, which is most welcome.” In Tyzik’s program notes, he writes that “timpani can be powerful and robust, yet sensitive and melodic. It can drive the orchestra with energy and excitement, but the instrument is also capable of a very large dynamic range.” He talks about the limitations in writing for the instrument, in that each drum can only be set to one note. Charles Ross and Tyzik agreed that this concerto should use seven drums, to showcase not only the instrument, but also Ross’ artistry. The first movement is the most “traditional” of the concerto, with a slow melody transitioning into a contemporary fanfare. As both composer and performer share a jazz background, Ross suggested that the timpani be used a “jazz bass” in the slow movement, where the instrument is both rhythmic and melodic. The third and final movement has African and Cuban rhythmic elements and Asian-influenced melodies. A solo “cadenza” begins slowly than goes into a “call and response” section with the rest of the percussion section.
Charles Ross has been the Principal Timpanist of the Rochester Philharmonic since January 2003. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, he has performed as timpanist with many orchestras in the U.S. and abroad, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, La Scala Opera, Baltimore Symphony, Santa Fe Opera, RAI (Radio Orchestra) of Torino, Italy, Chautauqua Festival Orchestra, and the Moscow and Philadelphia Chamber Orchestras. Charles is on the faculty of the Eastman School of Music and the Brevard Music Center. He also has taught at the Curtis Institute of Music, Drexel University, and has given clinics and master classes for the Percussive Arts Society. An accomplished jazz vibraphonist, Charles has performed a number of times as vibe soloist with the RPO. The premiere of the Jeff Tyzik Concerto will be his first time as timpani soloist. He is an affiliate artist and clinician with Yamaha and Evans/Daddario.
Brahms’ four-movement Symphony No. 3 is the concert’s featured second half. RPO program annotator Don Anderson describes this piece as “a striking mixture of passion and pessimism, of restlessness and serenity, presenting a compelling, highly revealing musical self-portrait.” Surges of emotion characterize the first movement, with peaceful interludes in the next two, concluding with a finale in which the symphony’s emotional conflicts are resumed, only to wind down, unresolved.
Tickets for these performances are $20-$60, with $75 box seats, available online 24/7 at www.rpo.org; 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. This concert is sponsored by The Pike Company.