Robert Kahn makes his pitch to be Rochester Symphony leader

Nov. 7—ROCHESTER — Robert Kahn will be leading the Rochester Symphony Orchestra's next performance.

Kahn would love an attentive audience, but said he would like to listen to people in the city, too.

"I'd really like to get to know the community and its hopes and desires for its symphony," he said.

Kahn is one of the four finalists in line to be the next artistic leader of the Rochester Symphony. Each candidate will conduct and curate a symphony performance this season. Kahn will conduct the Nov. 11, 2023 performance at Presentation in the Mayo Civic Center.

"I believe orchestras are very important to the sense of community," Kahn said. "A place like Rochester there's a chance to make the symphony really relevant to the community."

Kahn, an awarded Dutch-American conductor, is currently assistant conductor at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.

Kahn received his professional studies degree in orchestral conducting at the Mannes School of Music. He holds a double bachelor's degree in physics and clarinet from The Johns Hopkins University and Peabody Conservatory.

Kahn said the appeal of leading a symphony and raising its profile in the community appealed to him about the opportunity in Rochester. What that greater role would be is up to the community, he added. That's why he hopes to listen in the week he's here and would continue to do so should he be selected.

"Before really saying this is what I want to do, I have to know the community better," Kahn said.

The free family preview night Friday is a good way to make the symphony more accessible to people, he said.

"A free concert is always a great way to get people to come who might not come to classical music concerts," he said. Kahn said he sees part of the role would be to find other ways to reach new people.

For his weekend guest conducting performance, Kahn selected works that carry a common theme of fate.

The show will start with Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" which translates to "the force of destiny." The piece depicts the inescapable nature of fate. It features a changing melody, but underneath, the lower register instruments carry an unrelenting theme that remains unchanged and returns.

The second piece depicts fate in a more subtle way. It's a piano concerto by Clara Schumann, a 19th century German composer and pianist. Schumann wrote the piece when she was 16 and completed it at age 18. Schumann demonstrated a talent for composing at 11 years old. However, her production of compositions ended before she turned 30 as she dedicated her efforts to teaching and supporting her husband's music compositions.

Kahn said the body of work she did produce was in defiance of the role European society expected of a woman at the time. Schumann briefly sidestepped her fate.

"It was not supposed to be her destiny to be a composer," he said.

The program will conclude with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4.

Avery Gagliano, a 21-year-old prize-winning pianist, will perform on the Schumann piece thanks to funding from the Rochester Symphony Jere Lantz Donor Designated Fund through the Rochester Area Foundation.

"The whole symphony is basically about trying to escape fate," Kahn said, adding although historians know Tchaikovsky had a tough life, it's still open to interpretation what fate meant to the composer.

The piece is likely familiar to classical music fans. However, Kahn said he is approaching composing it with a fresh view. He said he's working to avoid listening to any recordings and other interpretations of the work. Instead, he's going off the written composition with an unaffected point of view.

Whether Kahn is fated to lead the Rochester Symphony, that remains to be seen.

When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 11.

Where: Presentation Hall, Mayo Civic Center, 36 Civic Center Drive SE.

How much: Tickets are available at

A correction to this article was made on Nov. 7, 2023: An earlier version of this article stated Avery Gagliano will perform on the Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. Gagliano is performing on Schumann's piece.