The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra has found itself in the care of a series of well-qualified music directors, including Eugene Goossens, José Iturbi, Erich Leinsdorf, David Zinman, and Christopher Seaman. Through touring (including performances at Carnegie Hall) and recordings, the orchestra has been a presence among other American orchestras. Its recordings, especially, continue to draw the attention of the public outside the Rochester, New York area.
The Rochester Philharmonic was founded in 1922 by George Eastman. Eugene Goossens became the music director upon coming to America in 1923. Goossens frequent guest appearances with other American orchestras focused attention on his fledgling symphony in Rochester. The RPO made respectable progress during his eight years there before he accepted a call to Cincinnati in 1931. The next prominent figure arrived for the 1936-1937 season in the person of pianist and conductor José Iturbi. After guest concerts led during the previous season, Iturbi was appointed music director and served the RPO until 1947. His tenure was not without controversy; remarks considered demeaning by many women and other comments taken by the press to have been pro-Fascist kept his name before the pre-WWII public for reasons other than musical. Upon Iturbi's departure, Erich Leinsdorf moved from the Cleveland Orchestra to assume duties as the RPO's music director. Later, David Zinman distinguished himself in Rochester before moving on to Baltimore. Several celebrity guest conductors have led the RPO, as well, including Fritz Reiner, Sir Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein, and Leopold Stokowski. Christopher Seaman brought to his 1997 appointment as RPO music director experience as principal conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony and the Northern Sinfonia. Seaman remained in this role until 2011, when he was named conductor laureate. Arild Remmereit assumed the position from 2011-2013, and in 2014, the RPO named Ward Stare as music director.
Performing more than 140 concerts per year, the RPO addresses several constituencies. In addition to subscription symphony concerts, a pops program has grown under principal pops conductor Jeff Tyzik. To address the music education needs of the greater Rochester community, the orchestra has a principal conductor for education and outreach, the first such position among major American orchestras. Michael Butterman served in this role from 2000-2018. In sum, more than 350,000 patrons are served by RPO concerts each season, many of them first-time orchestra attendees.
The RPO has recorded for several labels, including Vox, Harmonia Mundi, and Azica. On the latter, the RPO released American Rapture, under Stare, with harpist Yolanda Kondonassis in 2019, won a Grammy Award.