Remembering Howard Weiss: Founder of RPYO 50 years ago, former RPO concertmaster

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Howard Weiss served as the concertmaster for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra for twenty years from 1967 through 1987. But his greatest legacy may be the founding the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. A full time orchestra for advanced students in our area over 50 years ago.

Weiss passed away at the age of 82 on December 31st, 2021. A service was held Tuesday as he was laid to rest in Mt. Hope Cemetery. The pandemic may have canceled the 50th anniversary celebration in 2020, but they are planning on celebrating next year, including by playing the same symphony from the RPYO’s first ever concert.

43 year-tenured RPO violinist Willy Delgans, who “retired with good behavior” after the RPO’s last season, sat next to Weiss, when Weiss was serving as the concertmaster.

“It was truly my first orchestra job, and actually my only (job),” Delgans said. “And I had some experience, but when I set next to Howard…. I was so wet behind the ears. He mentored me, (and) as a concert master, he was on top of everything.”

Irene Narotsky, the current manager of the RPYO, said he lept at the chance to help create an orchestra for the youth.

“Somewhere around the 60s, the youth said they really wanted a year-round orchestra… Howard at the time was a young concertmaster, and he raised his hands and said ‘I think I can do something with this, give me a chance, let me be part of this,'” she recalled.

During his time as the conductor, the RPYO toured the world, recorded albums, and gave opportunities to thousands of many of whom have continued filled the world with music. The RPYO of course has rbust and chellening programming, masterclasses with members of the RPO, but every year is headlined by the side-by-side concert, when all of the RPO and RPYO cram onto one stage for a special show.

“I will ask students what they like about RPYO, what did it mean to them,” Narotsky said. “And they invariably say that concerts means so much to me, because I get to talk to the musician and see that they’re real people.

And in turn, those kids give something back to the musicians who played with them in their famous yearly side by side concerts.

“I absorb their energy. I have a lot of enthusiasm, but I will always take more,” Delgans said. But beyond his own impact, his say the RPYO represents our area as well. “The arts are most important because it gives the town, the city, the county, the surrounding counties, something… I can’t even name it.”

But even outside the notes, and the staff lines, Weiss is remembered as a wonderful person. Narotsky got to know Weiss, as her own mother and Weiss shared a nursing home before both each passed. Her own musical journey flows through the RPYO.

Narotsky herself has no musical background. She got involved with the RPYO when her son, Andrew, played bass in the orchestra. Through her son’s involvement, she grew to love music, and somehow translated her own decades of engineering experience at Kodak, into managing the RPYO.

But Weiss’s legacy extends beyond the staff lines.

“Beyond the music, he was a great friend,” Delgans said. He regales stories of Weiss meeting his parents, four hour long conversations, and his ability to connect with anyone. “Howard was the life of the party, great conversationalist… He knew how to engage and talk with people.

“I cried… I was in tears. It was the same when I lost my teacher (or) my dad,” he said. “I know he loved good wine, so every year, on the 31st, I will raise a glass, and drink in his honor.”

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