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The University Magazine

Concert series is engineer's gift to RIT

Music is a growing part of life at RIT

Electrical Engineering Professor David Perlman founded the Performing Artists Concert Series in 1995. (Photo by Rigoberto Perdomo)

Rod Blumenau at work. (Photo by Rigo Perdomo)

RIT’s Performing Artists Concert Series owes it existence to David Perlman’s mother.

Perlman, an RIT electrical engineering professor (now emeritus), was visiting his mom at an assisted living facility in Florida in 1995 when a young woman – with a baby in a bassinette – sat down at the piano to play for the residents. “I thought, ‘Yuck – I’ll have to listen to more patronizing elevator music,’ but all of a sudden I heard this incredibly played Chopin,” Perlman recalls. “I was astounded.”

An idea grabbed him and wouldn’t let go. “It occurred to me that there were many talented musicians thirsting for opportunities to play, while, at the time, there was a nearly total absence of professionally performed classical music and jazz on campus.”

He took his idea to the RIT administration.

“They said ‘If you’ll run it, we’ll fund it,” says Perlman.

What Perlman then called the Emerging Artists Concert Series was launched in the 1995-96 school year with two concerts – including a recital by Russian pianist Eleonora Lvov, the young pianist Perlman had discovered in Florida.

The 15th season, which begins Sept. 25, 2009, will feature five concerts.

Perlman has proved a passionate and tireless impresario. He and his wife, Marjorie, are long-time arts supporters with many and deep connections with arts organizations. David has served on the boards of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Geva Theatre and Marjorie has worked for the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts and is currently on the boards of Friends of the UR Libraries, Friends of Eastman Opera, Park Avenue Dance, and Project U.N.I.Q.U.E.

He has had no problem finding performers and audiences for the RIT series. “I think I stumbled onto something,” he says with characteristic modesty. He believes there are several reasons why performers are enthusiastic about participating:

  • RIT’s 500-seat Ingle Auditorium is an ideal size.
  • Performers present music they want to play; Perlman is open to their ideas.
  • Musicians perform with people they want to play with.
  • RIT offers musicians a chance to reach students as well as music lovers from the Rochester community.

“Plus,” says Perlman, “We do innovative things that musicians like.”

Rochester jazz pianist Rod Blumenau concurs on all points. Blumenau and his trio opened the first season and he has returned at least once every year since with ensembles made up of some of the area’s finest jazz musicians.

“David is very interested in the concert content,” says Blumenau. “He thinks ‘out of the box’ and we always have animated discussions about the themes of my concerts, but once we decide he gives me a long leash and doesn’t micromanage, which I really appreciate. David is very supportive throughout the process, especially going beyond the call of duty to promote the concert in publications, posters, radio interviews and ads, etc.”

On Dec. 11, Blumenau and his group will perform a jazz concert based on music of the Beatles. Past efforts have included “Legends of Jazz Piano” and “Music Recycling 101,” in which Blumenau demonstrated how composers borrow from their predecessors.

Performing Artists Series also provided the setting, in 2003, for the premiere of Sydney the Sea Squid (poem by Barbara Stewart, music by Paul Stuart), commissioned by RIT and performed by the Equinox Symphony Chamber Orchestra. A concert this past May in conjunction with the Imagine RIT Festival brought the world premiere of a concerto grosso written by Eastman doctoral candidate Paul Coleman for the Rochester string quintent Quartsemble and electronics, commissioned by the Performing Artists Concert Series.

The series has succeeded in tapping into the depth of musical talent in the Rochester area, as well as bringing in up-and-coming performers from as far away as Moscow. The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and several of its subsets have performed numerous times, as have ensembles and faculty members from the Eastman School of Music. In a memorable trio performance, internationally known pianist Jon Nakamatsu was joined by RPO principals Kenneth Grant (clarinet) and Melissa Matson (viola). Lang Lang, who has become one of the world’s most famous classical pianists, was 17 when he came to RIT to perform with the RPO in the 1999-2000 series.

The audience for Performing Artists Series concerts is growing – particularly students, who have accounted for as much as 50 percent of tickets sold. Sellouts or near sellouts are not unusual. Not surprisingly, the classical concerts attract a different audience than the jazz performances, although both groups seem equally enthusiastic about the shows.

“While I have no particular idea why,” says Blumenau, “the audience at David’s concerts is always very receptive to our efforts. They are the most intent and appreciative audiences I run into each year.”

For Perlman, the series remains a labor of love – and make no mistake, there is a lot of labor involved. How much?

“I don’t know,” he says. “A lot.

“But I’ve got to say, honestly, I can’t think of anything I’ve ever done that gives me more pleasure.”

Kathy Lindsley