Christopher Seaman returns to Rochester this week

09:33 AM, Mar 04, 2013

Christopher Seaman in the Ranlet Lounge in the Eastman Theater. (MARIE DE JESUS staff photographer)/

Written By Daniel J. Kushner

If you go

What: Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, with conductor Christopher Seaman and pianist William Wolfram, will play Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances and Schubert’s Symphony No. 9.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday (March 7), 8 p.m. Saturday (March 9).
Where: Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St.
Cost: $15 to $89.
For information: (585) 454-2100 or go to

Retired Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra music director Christopher Seaman returns this weekend for a program of Dvorak, Mendelssohn and Schubert.

The British conductor spoke to us about the concert and upcoming projects. Here is our interview, edited for space and clarity with Seaman, who now holds the title of conductor laureate of the RPO.

Q: What do you miss the most about making music with the RPO on a regular basis?

A: The profound level of musical understanding we had — the powerful chemistry between us — and the communication with the audience, and the standard of playing, which we together raised to a very high level.

Q: The March 7 and 9 concerts boast majestic compositions with arguably the greatest names in Romantic music. With what would you like audiences to come away?

A: The Schubert (Symphony No. 9, “Great”) stands in a very small group of pieces, which include Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony possibly. Schubert never heard it. He never heard it played; it was never published in his lifetime.

Schumann found it covered in dust somewhere in Vienna, sent it to Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn had it copied out and premiered in Leipzig. We nearly didn’t get to play it at all. So I mean, and it is an extraordinarily ambitious piece for a man in his late 20s — not just its length. He uses repetition to create stature, in the way that brick upon brick creates a great cathedral.

Q: While at the RPO, you made a mark with Sunday afternoon Symphony 101 concerts. Your book, Inside Conducting, comes out July 1 and seems to achieve a similar balance.

A: The questions I got at the end of the (Symphony) 101 — so many of them were from people who had been to concerts and wanted to know what happened on stage, what happens at the rehearsal, who follows you, what happens in a concerto. So it’s addressed to music lovers who want to know more, and it’s not a textbook. It’s accessible. It has musical examples, but they’re written as either one line of music or mainly two or three staves so they’re not intimidating.

It’s also aimed at young conductors. I mean I had four years playing (with) the London Philharmonic before I was a conductor, and I’ve been a conductor for about 40, so I’ve learned a couple of things and I hope this would be a way of passing them on to another generation of conductors.

Q: How would you characterize the RPO’s current status and where you think it may be heading?

A: I’m not a prophet, but I can tell you something: The greatness of the playing of these musicians, the sacrificial dedication to their job — because they play twice as well as many orchestras that I conduct that earn twice as much — and the general culture that the music is greater than us playing, it is going to ensure a great future for this orchestra.

Q: Do you have any pieces in particular that you’d like to perform with the RPO in future concerts?

A: When I come back next year, I’m doing a Bruckner symphony; he is one of my favorite composers. I did a lot of Bruckner with this orchestra, but never No. 6. So next year it’s a first for me and the RPO. I want to keep this relationship fresh and not just (about) bringing out fragrant memories.