Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) is an American orchestra based in the city of Rochester, New York. Its primary concert venue is the Eastman Theatre at the Eastman School of Music.

Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO)
official logo
Founded1922 (1922)
LocationRochester, New York, U.S.
Concert hallEastman Theatre
Music directorWard Stare


The RPO was founded in 1922 by industrialist and music-lover George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak Company. The Orchestra performs up to 130 concerts annually. Notable former music directors include Christopher Seaman, Eugene Goossens, José Iturbi, Erich Leinsdorf, David Zinman, and Mark Elder. The RPO has performed under the batons of such renowned guest conductors as Fritz Reiner, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Thomas Beecham, and Leopold Stokowski. In 1947, the RPO chose Leinsdorf over Bernstein for musical director.[1] Leinsdorf "came to despair of what he saw as Rochester's insular musical culture, famously remarking that 'Rochester is the best disguised dead end in the world!'"

From 1939 through 1964, the Rochester Philharmonic, usually supplemented by faculty members of the Eastman School, often recorded under the names Eastman-Rochester Orchestra under the direction of Howard Hanson and Eastman-Rochester Pops under Frederick Fennell. (See below for additional recording information.)

The RPO serves nearly 150,000 people annually through ticketed events, education and community engagement activities, and concerts in schools and community centers throughout the region. RPO concerts also are rebroadcast on WXXI 91.5 FM.

The RPO sponsors the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, founded in 1970 and composed of Rochester-area student musicians in the eighth through twelfth grades. Under the direction of Dr. David Harman, the RPYO performs three concerts annually, including one side-by-side with the RPO. Members of the RPO serve as mentors for the Youth Orchestra.

Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik (1994–present) has earned a national reputation for excellence in pops programming during his tenure with the RPO.

From 1990 through 2008, the RPO has had its summer residency at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, in Vail, Colorado.

The Orchestra is also a national leader of music education. In 2000, the RPO named Michael Butterman Principal Conductor for Education and Outreach (The Louise and Henry Epstein Family Chair) – the first position of its kind in the country. More than 14,000 students of all ages attend RPO concerts each season, and RPO small ensembles perform at elementary schools in the Rochester City School District.

On September 15, 2010, the RPO named Norwegian conductor Arild Remmereit as the Orchestra's 11th Music Director. Maestro Remmereit began his tenure with the RPO in September 2011. His inaugural concert on September 30 and October 1, 2011 featured the music of Amy Beach, Johan Halvorsen, Johan Svendsen, and Johann Strauss II. On November 30, 2012, it was announced that the RPO board had voted to terminate Remmereit's contract two years early.[2]

On May 7, 2014, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra participated in the Spring For Music festival at Carnegie Hall in New York City, performing Howard Hanson's Merry Mount with Michael Christie conducting the RPO, Eastman-Rochester Chorus, Bach Children's Chorus of Nazareth College, and soloists.

On July 29, 2014 it was announced that Ward Stare would become the Music Director for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra effective September 1, 2014.[3]

Music directors

Name Tenure
Eugène Goossens 1923–1931
Albert Coates 1923–1925
José Iturbi 1936–1944
Erich Leinsdorf 1947–1955
Theodore Bloomfield 1959–1963
László Somogyi 1964–1968
Walter Hendl 1968–1970
Samuel Jones 1970–1971
David Zinman 1974–1985
Jerzy Semkow 1985–1988
Mark Elder 1989–1994
Robert Bernhardt 1994–1998
Christopher Seaman 1998–2011
Arild Remmereit [4] 2011–2013
Ward Stare 2014–


The RPO has recorded under at least three different names: Eastman Rochester Orchestra, Rochester Pops Orchestra, and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Recordings have featured many prominent American composers, including George Gershwin, Samuel Barber, Morton Gould, and Howard Hanson).

The Orchestra's first recordings were from the late 1930s and early 1940s, conducted by Dr. Hanson and José Iturbi. Among these was a 1939 recording of William Grant Still's Afro-American Symphony, conducted by Dr. Hanson. The RPO presented the world premiere of this work in 1931.

A 1941 RPO recording features José Iturbi and his sister Amparo in Mozart's Concerto for Two Pianos, K. 365. Nearly 40 years later, David Zinman conducted a recording of that same piece, with pianists Rudolf Firkusny and Alan Weiss. Maestros Iturbi and Zinman also both recorded Mendelssohn's Third Symphony (the "Scottish") with the RPO.

A 1957 recording features Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F, featuring pianist Eugene List. In 2007, the RPO released another Gershwin recording – which includes those two works and Cuban Overture – with conductor Jeff Tyzik and pianist Jon Nakamatsu. That album reached No. 3 on the Billboard classical charts. A partial list of RPO recordings follows.


External audio
You may hear the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by José Iturbi performing Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World) Op. 95 by Antonin Dvorak in 1941 Here on
  • 1939 – William Grant Still’s "Afro-American Symphony": Howard Hanson, conductor. (RCA)
  • 1939-40 – Hanson’s Symphony No. 2: Howard Hanson, conductor. (RCA)
  • 1940-41 – Hanson’s Suite from "Merry Mount": Howard Hanson, conductor. (RCA)
  • 1940 - Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor, \"Scotch\": José Iturbi, conductor. (RCA Victor)
  • 1941 - Beethoven’s Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op.37: José Iturbi, piano and conductor. (RCA Victor)
  • 1941 - Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E minor, "From the New World," Op. 95: José Iturbi, conductor. (RCA Victor)[5]
  • 1941 - Mozart’s Concerto in E flat Major K.365: José Iturbi, piano and conductor; Amparo Iturbi, piano. (RCA Victor)
  • 1952 – Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, "Eroica," Op. 55: Erich Leinsdorf, conductor. (Columbia Entré)
  • 1953 – Rachmaninoff’s "Symphonic Dances", Op. 45: Erich Leinsdorf, conductor. (Columbia)
  • 1955 – Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A major, "Italian," Op. 90: Erich Leinsdorf, conductor. Also includes Haydn's Symphony No. 101 in D major, \"The Clock.\" (Harmony/Columbia)
  • 1957 – Gershwin: Concerto in F, "Rhapsody in Blue": Howard Hanson, conductor; Eugene List, piano. (Mercury)
  • 1957 – Hi-Fi a la Española: Frederick Fennell and Eastman-Rochester Pops. Includes selections by Ernesto Lecuona, Percy Faith, Manuel de Falla. (Mercury)
  • 1959 – Popovers: Frederick Fennell and Eastman-Rochester Pops. Includes selections by Liszt, Sibelius, Debussy, Shostakovich. (Mercury)
  • 1960 – Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite and Concerto for piano & orchestra in D minor: Ferde Grofé, conductor; Jesús Maria Sanromá, piano. (Everest)
  • 1960 – Sibelius: Symphony No. 5, Op. 82, Finlandia. Theodore Bloomfield, conductor (Everest)
  • 1960 – Debussy: Iberia; Ravel: La Valse; Rapsodie Espagnole. Theodore Bloomfield, conductor (Everest)
  • 1970 – Friends & Love: Chuck Mangione, conductor and flugelhorn; Don Potter, guitar & vocals; Bat McGrath, guitarron and vocals; Gap Mangione, electric piano; Stanley Watson, guitar; Marvin Stamm, trumpet; Gerry Niewood, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, and flute (Mercury, recorded live at Eastman Theatre)
  • 1971 – Together: Chuck Mangione, conductor, flugelhorn, electric and acoustic piano; Gerry Niewood, soprano, tenor, barisaxes, flute, and alto flute; Don Potter, voice, acoustic guitar, dobro, harmonica; Bat McGrath, voice, Fender bass; Gap Mangione, electric piano; Esther Satterfield, vocals; Stanley Watson, guitar. (Mercury, recorded live at Auditorium Theatre)
  • 1978 – Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra in E flat major, K. 365 (K. 316a): David Zinman, conductor; Rudolf Firkusny & Alan Weiss, pianos. (Vox)
  • 1978 – The Creatures of Prometheus: David Zinman, conductor; Eileen Malone, harp; Samuel Cristler, cello; Michael Webster, corno di bassetto; Robert Sprenkle, oboe. (Turnabout)
  • 1979 – Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.3 "Scottish": David Zinman, conductor. Also includes Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture, Symphony No.4 \"Italian,\" Symphony No.5 "Reformation." (Vox)
  • 1984 – Dvořák’s Legends, Op. 59: David Zinman, conductor. (Nonesuch Digital)
  • 1985 – My First Concert: Isaiah Jackson, conductor. Recording for children including selections from works by Beethoven, Grieg, Dukas, Gounod, Bizet.
  • 1992 – Romancing the Film: Lalo Schifrin, conductor. Includes selections from Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, The Godfather, Dirty Dancing, Little Mermaid, Lawrence of Arabia. (Pro Arte)
  • 1993 – Syncopated Clock and Other Favorites by Leroy Anderson: Erich Kunzel, conductor. (Proarte)
  • 1997 – Encore 75: Robert Bernhardt, Jeff Tyzik, conductors. Includes American In Paris, Pictures at an Exhibition, Selections by Duke Ellington, Vernon Duke, Mercer Ellington, George Gershwin, Billy Strayhorn, and Louis Prima.
  • 2001 – Rachmaninov with Jon Nakamatsu: Christopher Seaman, conductor; Jon Nakamatsu, piano. Includes Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Piano Concerto No. 3. (harmonia mundi)
  • 2003 – Tchaikovsky with Olga Kern: Christopher Seaman, conductor; Olga Kern, piano. Includes Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Francesca da Rimini. (harmonia mundi)
  • 2006 – George Gershwin with Jon Nakamatsu: Jeff Tyzik, conductor; Jon Nakamatsu, piano. Includes Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F, Rhapsody in Blue, and 'Cuban Overture. (harmonia mundi)
  • 2006 – A Holiday Celebration: Jeff Tyzik, conductor; Tonio Di Paolo, tenor; Festival High School Chorale. Includes Jeff Tyzik's The Twelve Gifts of Christmas, Little Drummer Boy, and Chanukah Suite.
  • 2008 – HONOR: Portraits of America: Jeff Tyzik, conductor. Includes The Star Spangled Banner, National Emblem March, Fantasy on American Themes, Pleasant Valley Suite, Armed Forces Song Medley, Bravo! Colorado, Stars and Stripes Forever.
  • 2011 – The Story of Babar and A Family for Baby Grand: Michael Butterman, conductor; John Lithgow and Jennifer Carsillo, narrators.
  • 2012 – Ralph Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony and Serenade to Music: Christopher Seaman, conductor.

Honors and awards

From its earliest years, the RPO's educational programming has been exceptional, and the Orchestra was one of the first to use radio to help increase its outreach and education. The RPO first began national radio broadcasts, on the NBC Blue Network, in 1929. In 1939, the orchestra won First Place at the Exhibition of Educational Programs for its elementary school programming. The RPO won this honor again in 1941 and 1944.

In 1959, the Ford Foundation invited the RPO to participate in a program to promote new American composers and their works. The RPO has received the ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming (1982, 2005, 2006, and 2012) in recognition of the Orchestra's commitment to music written in the last 25 years. In 2002, the RPO was awarded the New York State Governor's Arts Award for excellence and community service. The Rochester Arts and Cultural Council's Artist Award has been given to both Jeff Tyzik (2002) and Christopher Seaman (2003).

The Concert Companion radio broadcast with Christopher Seaman on WXXI 91.5 FM won both the Gabriel Award and the Silver Reel Award in 2002. In 2007, the RPO's web site received two of the Rochester Business Journal's "Best of the Web" awards; and that same year, the RPO's annual report received an award from the Rochester chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. In 2013, the RPO again was awarded the Rochester Business Journal's "Best of the Web" Award for Nonprofit (Cultural).[6]

In 2012, the RPO received the first-ever Amy Award for Excellence in Orchestral Programming from Women's Philharmonic Advocacy.

Further reading

Rochester's Orchestra: A History of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and its Educational Programming, 1922 to 1989; by William L. Cahn, published 1989.

The Eastman Theatre: Fulfilling George Eastman's Dream; by Elizabeth Brayer, photos by Andy Olenick, design by Kathryn D'Amanda; to be published in December 2010.


  1. Leonard Bernstein: The Political Life of an American Musician By Barry Seldes (University of California Press, 2009), p. 49.
  2. Beagle, Ben. "Rochester Philharmonic terminates conductor's contract". WXXI. WXXI. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  3. "RPO Names Ward Stare as New Music Director". Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
  4. "RPO Names New Music Director". WXXI Public Broadcasting Council. September 15, 2010. Archived from the original on November 19, 2011. Retrieved September 15, 2010.
  5. Recording of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by José Iturbi performing Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in 1941 on
  6. Smith, Troy L. "Winners selected for RBJ's annual Best of Web Awards". Rochester Business Journal. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
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