Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra music director Ward Stare will make his Metropolitan Opera conducting debut Dec. 14 to Jan. 11, 2018, in New York City.
Ward lead all nine performances of Franz Lehar’s operetta “The Merry Widow” with Grammy-winning mezzo soprano Susan Graham in the title role.
“I’m thrilled to be making my Met debut — it’s one of the world’s most prestigious opera houses and conducting there will be a dream come true for me,” Stare said. “As an opera lover, I’m also very excited to share some amazing opera here in Rochester this May with ‘La Boheme,’ as well as next May with ‘Carmen’ — both season finales for the RPO.”
This latest feather in Stare’s cap is part of a much larger, emerging role for the 34-year-old Rochester native, who became RPO’s 12th and youngest music director in July 2014. Not only has he been on a fast track since becoming the youngest-ever principal trombone for the Lyric Opera of Chicago when he was 18 years old, but his maturity and charisma — coupled with his passion for Rochester and its orchestra — have translated into a huge win for the RPO and the Rochester community.
“Stare’s presence has been a significant factor contributing to RPO’s dramatic financial turnaround,” said Ralph Craviso, RPO president and CEO. “He is a talented and a hardworking music director as well as an ardent ambassador for this orchestra. His artistic leadership certainly accounts in large part for the RPO’s dramatically increased ticket sales and donations.”
Stare played trombone in the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra for several years before his acceptance into Juilliard School at age 16. Under the tutelage of Chicago Lyric Opera music director Andrew Davis, he pursued his conducting dreams during the opera’s off-seasons while a teenager. Five years later, Stare received the Aspen Conducting Academy’s Robert J. Harth Conductor Prize before winning the Aspen Conducting Prize the following year. He then spent the 2007-08 season as a League of American Orchestras Fellow with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Stare was just 24 when he made his conducting debut with Cleveland Orchestra at the Blossom Music Center. He became resident conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra the following year and at 26 made his Carnegie Hall debut, stepping in at the last minute for music director David Robertson.
At 29, he was named Musician of the Month by Musical America and received an invitation to participate in Allianz Cultural Foundation’s 2012 International Conductors’ Academy. Over the course of four months, Stare worked with both London Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia, culminating in his debut with the LPO in Royal Festival Hall in 2012. He started conducting with the Lyric Opera of Chicago that same year and with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis a year later. In 2014, he made his Washington National Opera debut, and was appointed RPO music director.
“Ward came to the RPO at a defining moment in our long and storied history,” said RPO concertmaster Juliana Athayde and her husband, principal oboe Erik Behr. “Because of his energetic leadership, we have stabilized as an organization, continued our artistic growth and further developed our relationship with Rochester’s wonderfully supportive community. Ward’s tremendously positive impact on our audiences has been immediately palpable; we can feel the excitement on stage as we see so many new faces in the hall. His willingness to engage the entire community with his enthusiasm and passion, along with his imaginative and exciting programming, is resulting in a new generation of RPO supporters.”
“Ward has risen quickly in the conducting ranks, but I’m just as amazed at his ability to make both himself and classical music accessible,” RPO board chairperson Jules Smith said. “He can demystify classical music on morning TV just as successfully as he can chat with prospective donors about the RPO’s contribution to our quality of life.”
Certainly the success of the RPO can also be attributed to the integral work of the RPO’s talented and dedicated musicians, principal pops conductor Jeff Tyzik, an administrative staff led by Craviso and its board of directors. Stare, however, has become the de facto face — and heart — of the Orchestra for many of those in Rochester and beyond.
“The RPO was my very first exposure to live symphonic music as a child, so I know first-hand how life-changing this orchestra can be,” Stare said. “We already reach more than 160,000 people in the greater Rochester community each year — over 20,000 of whom are children — and we strive to engage many more in even better ways with this community’s generous support. I’m very proud to represent this world-class orchestra and this world-class community, whether at Charlotte Beach, Kodak Hall or Lincoln Center.”