Music Educators Association of New Jersey

Serving teachers and students since 1927

January 2016


George Rothman, co-founder and conductor of the Riverside Symphony, presented "The Art of the Interpretation and Discovery of New Music."

The discovery and interpretation of "new" music is the cornerstone of the impressive program built by the Riverside Symphony, now in its 35th year of delighting and surprising classical music audiences in New York City. (See links below.) George Rothman first spoke about musical experiences in his formative years that led him to choose his career path. Mr. Rothman then discussed the Riverside Symphony and one of its finest discoveries: works by Marius Constant. He outlined his approach to arrive at the interpretation of an unfamiliar score. Finally, he described the marvelous Music Memory program of the symphony, which serves over 8,000 NYC elementary school students.

A son of the principal oboist of the Radio City Music Hall orchestra and a lyric coloratura soprano, George was destined to be a musician. He improvised on his parents' upright piano and began taking piano lessons at age four. Mr. Rothman emphasized the importance of having a good teacher. At around the age of seven, he began to attend his dad's CBS Symphony Orchestra rehearsals, a major influence on his life. He later took two years of oboe lessons. During his high school years he studied jazz and jammed with his band friends, but was uncertain about choosing a college. Fortunately, he was then studying with an excellent piano teacher who encouraged him and prepared him to audition for the Manhattan School of Music. Later, in MSM and on his own, George explored a wide range of interests. As he would often improvise, he came to believe that a well-rehearsed performance should still sound spontaneous.

At MSM, he joined the Contemporary Music Ensemble, which led to his study of conducting with the inspiring Anton Coppola. George decided to form his own groups of four or more people. In his final year at MSM, he conducted his own orchestra with chorus. Following graduation and graduate school, his conducting jobs were few and far between. In his twenties, he won a scholarship to Tanglewood to study with Leonard Bernstein. His first assignment was conducting Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," a composition Bernstein said was overdone. This remark reinforced George's ideas about creative programming.

Innovative programming has helped to distinguish the Riverside Symphony from other orchestras. George Rothman and co-founder Anthony Korf designed a singular profile for the new orchestra: new music would be a constant program feature. "New" music means unheard music, including neglected music. They would choose one "new" composition, and construct a concert around it, adding pieces that would offer contrast and balance. A relationship might be drawn between selections on a program to give the concert a theme or cohesiveness. Talks and performances before concerts would help audiences to understand and appreciate the new music. Instead of contacting the agents of established soloists, the new orchestra would directly offer opportunities to young performers. Carter Brey and Christopher O'Riley made their debuts with the Riverside Symphony.

The choice of repertoire has included unheard compositions by well known composers: a symphony from Haydn's middle period, world premieres of Ravel's five songs for the Prix de Rome competition, small pieces by Prokofiev. The Riverside Symphony also commissions works. In addition, it receives two to three hundred submissions from composers every year.

The directors' search for new music is virtually worldwide, extending to musical venues, organizations and libraries in other countries. It was in the Cité de la Musique (City of Music) in Paris that George Rothman found neglected scores by the Romanian composer Marius Constant (1925-2004). Although Constant's theme for the television show "The Twilight Zone" is well known, most of his beautiful, imaginative music had remained unheard. George Rothman selected some works for the Riverside Symphony concerts. The composer, a longtime resident of Paris, attended the premiere in New York.

Constant said, "I don't use forms, I use my imagination." Mr. Rothman explained, "He invented new forms; he would plunge into the development, any section could be short and compact. In contrast to composers who open a composition with a theme, Constant might begin with a dense musical texture that he later breaks down into elements, or he may use one musical cell or a set of cells in inventive ways. His works may seem governed more by instinct than by intellect." George Rothman hears periods of tension and release in Constant's music.

The conductor recommended that new music be experienced on its own terms. Mr. Rothman begins by silently studying a score, "hearing it" as he reads. Next, he plays it on the piano. Then he examines the details. The conductor attempts to grasp the essence and details of the new work. He "finds the story" before bringing it to his ensemble. The score may evoke some imagery that he may share with the orchestra. In the several orchestral rehearsals that follow, the musical character of the piece emerges and the interpretation of the piece is established.

Mr. Rothman played excerpts from the Marius Constant CD (Riverside Symphony Records, 2014). We were astounded by the sonorities, rhythms, and textures of the works. Inspired by three paintings by Turner, Constant composed "Rain, Steam, and Speed," "Self-Portrait," and "Windsor," (translated from French), three distinct expressions. The music varied: legato or pizzicato, pulsating or dolce, spasmodic dynamics or gentle shadings, forcefully gripping or hauntingly eloquent. A short video accompanied the poignant violin concerto, "103 Regards dans l'eau" ("103 Visions of Water"). George Rothman opened our minds and our ears to new musical experiences. Even if you missed the MEA program, you can still view the video on YouTube: Here

In addition to the concert series, the Riverside Symphony offers events designed to increase the audience's understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of music. It's extensive educational program for school children, Music Memory, has been awakening the musical interests of young audiences since 1999.

Please refer to the website below for George Rothman's impressive biographical information and fascinating Riverside Symphony materials.


Photos and layout, Nancy Modell

Written by Bertha Mandel
Hostess, Joan Bujacich, President