Classical 91.5

2017 Year in Review & What to Watch in 2018

Dec 26, 2017

A conductor, a soprano, and a (still) empty plot of land. 

2017 unfolded with the good, the bad, and the ugly -- in behavior that rocked the arts world, media, politics, and academics.  

Here are five stories that made arts headlines in Rochester and beyond.

James Levine leads the Metropolitan Orchestra in Mahler's Seventh Symphony
Credit The Telegraph

Sexual Harassment Stories

When long-time radio host Garrison Keillor was accused of sexual harassment, WXXI listeners heard a swift reaction. The Writers Almanac vanished from the air (Classical 91.5 FM lost rights to carry the program), and behind the scenes public stations' program directors and on-air hosts grappled with the new, uncomfortable reality that many of our idols are forever tarnished.  Fine recordings by James Levine and Charles Dutoit make up a significant percentage of the Classical 91.5 music library, but both artists stand reviled by institutions they once championed.  Closer to home, a court case is looking at a retaliation claim against a music professor at the Eastman School of Music.   In this Washington Post essay, Anne Midgette accuses the music world of willful ignorance. Rumors flew for years, she says, of bad behavior by classical musicians.  "At the moment," she writes, "everyone is waiting, oddly flat-footed, to see who will be named next — or rather, which piece of common knowledge, masked as 'rumor,' will be publicly confirmed."  

Renovations Galore!

Nazareth College, the Smith Opera House in Geneva, and the Eastman Community Music School are moving forward with major renovations that signal a thriving ecosystem for the arts.  

On January 1st, construction will start at the Eastman Community Music School, using 2.8 million to renovate Messinger Hall.  

The Smith Center for the Arts secured more than $700-thousand in funding for renovations from Geneva’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant as well as the New York Main Street Program, and Empire State Development Corporation. Work is expected to begin in the summer of 2018 on improvements to dressing rooms, the downstairs women’s and men’s lounges, and a future opening up of the lower-level cabaret space.

In the summer of 2018, the new Jane and Laurence Glazer Music Performance Center is expected to open at Nazareth College.  The 550-seat performance hall and education center will feature a stage twice as spacious as the existing Linehan Chapel venue -- and a facility friendlier to collaborations of video, literature, and sound.

Meanwhile, "Parcel 5" waits and waits

Hopes for the construction of a new 3,000-seat Performing Arts Center on a central a piece of land downtown Rochester remain suspended as we head into 2018.  Funding is not yet secure, some arts leaders remain skeptical of public funds spent on traveling Broadway shows, and Rochester's City Council is still debating.  Meanwhile, a grassroots effort to preserve the plot as an open and free green space gained steam.  WXXI news was the first to report that several Rochester arts organizations addressed City Council with concerns about the Performing Arts Center proposal.  The Arts and Cultural Council for Greater Rochester, Geva Theatre Center, and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra all sent letters expressing doubt about the project.   In a July 31, 2017 letter from Geva Theater, Artistic Director Mark Cuddy said, "that the process of awarding Parcel 5, and now the City Council's consideration of the project, has seemed mysteriously opaque. We do not know when public comment will be heard on the proposal; meanwhile, there is a full campaign by the theater developer to 'sell' the project as a fait accompli. This alarms many of us."

Ward Stare renewed his RPO contract

RPO Music Director Ward Stare
Credit Devon Cass

The music director and conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra renewed his contract for three more years, through the end of the 2020-21 season.  The announcement came just as Stare arrived in New York City to make his Metropolitan Opera conducting debut. (A reviewer for The New York Times had good things to say.  Read another review here.)  The 35-year old Rochester native became the RPO’s youngest-ever music director in 2014.  Stare will return to Rochester to lead his fourth-annual season preview concert on Tuesday, January 30th in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.

Oh, and Renée Fleming is NOT retiring

A story published last spring by The New York Times rattled opera fans with this so-called news: "The Diva Departs: Renée Fleming's Farewell to Opera."

Not so fast.

"I never said that I was stepping away from the opera stage for good. Never, never, never did I say that to anybody," Fleming insisted in a phone conversation with NPR.  

What are your thoughts about the new year?  Share them here or at