Someone You Should Know: An RPO Love Story

Juliana Athayde and Erik Behr (WHAM photo)

It’s tradition at orchestra concerts. First, the Concertmaster takes the stage. Then the principal oboe will play a note so the rest of the orchestra can tune their instruments. The next time you go to a Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concert, take special notice of these two events.

Because in the RPO, the Concertmaster, the first person an audience sees, is married to the principal oboist, who is the first orchestra member they hear.

It’s a love story that began over a decade ago.

Juliana Athayde was named Concertmaster of the RPO in 2005. At the age of 24, she was the youngest person to hold the position since the RPO was founded in 1922.

Erik Behr, a native of South Africa, won the job as principal oboe in 2007.

Erik and Juliana were married in 2009.

“Everybody always wants to know about this and they love that we have this love story,” Juliana says. “I say it was love at first ‘A’.”

“A” is the note Erik plays – for tuning the orchestra.

“I’d known of Juliana when I was coming to Rochester,” Behr recalls. “People said they’ve got a really great Concertmaster. They didn’t mention that she was also really cute and fun.”

The Concertmaster has many jobs during a performance. Along with the conductor, Juliana helps lead the other musicians with her playing, and a lot of non-verbal communication.

And yes, Athayde admits to an occasional wink between them.

“Actually, we have people tell us that they specifically watch us interacting in concerts,” she says.

At home, away from the stage, Juliana and Erik are mom and dad to daughter Kaia. She is, naturally, surrounded by the sound of music. And Kaia has taken up the violin, as Athayde did growing up in a very musical family in the San Francisco Bay area.

“We’re playing around with that,” Juliana explains. “There’s no pressure. No expectation. But it’s something she sees us do all the time.”

Juliana and Erik share their love of music, not just with Kaia, but with everyone who hears the RPO. It’s their work they say, that’s not really work at all.

“Especially the first time people who’ve never heard a symphony orchestra and they thought it wasn’t for them,” Erik says. “And they get the opportunity to come, maybe a free concert or a kids concert, and they just love it. And the product is so beautiful and the music just touches their life.”

Fans of the orchestra will be glad to know that, while big city orchestras will come calling, Erik and Juliana have no plans to leave.

“We have an incredibly supportive community for music. All musicians feel that here. We live five minutes from where we work,” says Erik, who grew up in Cape Town, South Africa.

Juliana adds, half-kidding, that Wegmans is another reason she has no plans to leave.

“Really,” she says, “our music is an extension of our personality. And we connected musically and personally and it has been a really wonderful journey for us.”

There are several other married couples in the orchestra. Erik jokes RPO management is happy when romance happens among players, because it makes it more likely they will stick around a while!

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