Mid-sized community features mighty cultural clout

05:00 AM, May 05, 2013

The Rochester City Ballet joins the Rochester Philharmonic every year for production of 'The Nutcracker.' (File photo)/

Written By Staff reports

Rochester Arts Blog

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Rochester has a dizzying number of music groups, dance companies, threater groups, art galleries and museums.

It’s no wonder. It has an arts tradition steeped in history.

But can anyone really size up a city’s cultural clout, compared to other regions? The answer is absolutely — with a few reservations.

Its passion for music was stoked by 19th-century German settlers who drowned out the winter winds with song recitals and oom-pah bands. Visual artists crept into the foreground in the early 20th century, when Rochester’s Herdle family guided the Memorial Art Gallery to prominence.

Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts has been producing renowned artists since the 1950s, taught by masters such as famed sculptors Albert Paley and Wendell Castle.

In fact, Rochester area colleges and universities produce more arts graduates per capita than any of America’s 51 largest metro areas, the U.S. Department of Education reports. The Orlando region is second, boosted by the 58,000-student University of Central Florida. Boston is third. San Francisco is fourth.

Rochester also ranks highly nationwide in other categories, such as radio stations airing classical music and jazz as well as public support of local museums.

But there is so much more to Rochester’s arts and culture community. Here’s an overview:


The renowned Eastman School of Music is central to the city’s musical life. Its renovated 2,250-seat Eastman Theatre is home to the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Eastman’s student orchestras. Its own ensembles, along The Ying Quartet, a quartet-in-residence, and other groups brought in for concerts fill an internationally recognized classical music calendar full of bargains. It also lays groundwork for a particularly rich organ, baroque music and jazz schedule in town.

The RPO, although currently without a conductor, is at the top tier of regional orchestras, often compared with big-city counterparts. RPO musicians also play in several other groups such as the Rochester Chamber Orchestra and the Society for Chamber Music in Rochester. The group’s Pops series has brought a collaborative schedule with local groups such as the Rochester City Ballet, as well as artists touring programs from the American Songbook standards to jazz.

Speaking of jazz, the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival seems to grow more popular each summer. More than 180,000 attended last year’s nine-day event.

And don’t forget the choruses. The Rochester Oratorio Society is the most known of the dozen or so top-notch ensembles here.


Here’s another area of the arts where the Rochester region shines. We have the Jell-O Gallery and the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House. We have an internationally known photography and film museum, the George Eastman House, which has one of the world’s largest motion picture archives.

The Strong museum consistently places in the top five in various rankings of children’s museums. The Rochester Museum & Science Center and Memorial Art Gallery also receive high marks on regional museum lists. Both are also 100 years old.

Town historical societies also have robust museums with specials events. New York state helps keep Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua and the Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor open. And the National Parks Service operates the Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, where the National Women’s Hall of Fame also is open.

The gallery scene also has become increasingly diverse and robust in the past few years. Each month, the galleries in the city’s East End and Neighborhood of the Arts hold First Friday events, opening up the studios and exhibit space to the community with special events. The Neighborhood of the Arts also plays host to an outdoor museum called Art Walk.


The longtime hub of the theater scene is Geva Theatre Center, which draws 180,000 patrons a year to its two stages. The Rochester Broadway Theatre League presents touring Broadway productions in the renovated 1928 Auditorium Theatre.

Other popular groups include the Blackfriars Theatre, Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester’s CenterStage.

Located in a former church in the Neighborhood of the Arts, the Multi-Use Community Cultural Center has provided space for a number of smaller and experimental theater groups. The RAPA East End Theatre is another hub for local performances.

The Shakespeare Players of the Rochester Community Players also uses MuCCC space, but is most known for its outdoor summer Shakespeare at the Bowl in Highland Park.

Bread & Water Theatre, Method Machine and Out of Pocket Productions produce smaller, offbeat repertory productions.

The community also plays host to two notable children’s theater groups, Rochester Children’s Theatre and TYKES (Theater Young Kids Enjoy).


Again, fueled by respected academic programs at The College at Brockport and State University College at Geneseo, plus an excellent dance theater at Nazareth College in Pittsford, the dance community in the Rochester area is larger and more diverse than in other cities of comparable size.

At the top of the sector is the internationally renowned Garth Fagan Dance. The choreographer of Disney’s The Lion King, Fagan has led the multicultural modern dance touring company, which exists in the same sphere as Alvin Ailey, for more than 40 years.

The Rochester City Ballet also has received recognition, including an invitation this yer to the Jacob’s Pillow summer festival.

PUSH Physical Theater mixes modern dance, acrobatics, mime techniques and theater. Bill Evans moved here to teach at Brockport and then established the Bill Evans Dance company here. FuturPointe has Garth Fagan veterans. BIODance and Geomantics are other smaller modern dance companies. Bush Mango Drum and Dance offers instruction as well as performance.