Artpark Groundbreaking – 14 May 1970 (see below)
ARTPARK Dedication – A Transfigured Night
Opening Gala Concert – July 25, 1974
The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
One of the most important artistic events in the cultural history of Western New York and Southern Ontario was the opening of ARTPARK. On the perfect summer evening of July 25, 1974, the ARTPARK Theater was dedicated with a magnificent program of music and dance. Under the baton of BPO music director Michael Tilson Thomas, the very first pieces performed were the Canadian national anthem, O Canada, followed by The Star Spangled Banner. In turn, dedicatory remarks were offered by Mrs. Malcom Wilson and State Senator Earl W. Bridges.
Following a brass fanfare, Maestro Tilson Thomas returned to the podium to deliver the main course of musical offerings, all presented by the Buffalo Philharmonic. The music performed was from every genre for which the ARTPARK Theater was conceived, including orchestral masterworks like Berlioz’s Overture to Benvenuto Cellini and Strauss’ Til Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, and featuring moments from the world of ballet, opera and American musical theater.
Ballet was highlighted by the performances of Edward Villella and Polly Shelton of New York’s American Ballet Theater, dancing pas de deux from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and Pas de Deux sans Variations to music by Tchaikovsky. For this the Buffalo Philharmonic moved to the orchestra pit, a role which would prove vital to the success of ballet and opera at ARTPARK in the coming years.
The Gala performance was also highlighted by the appearance of the Canadian and Metropolitain Opera contralto Maureen Forrester, who sang Non piu di fiori from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito. Again, the Philharmonic filled the orchestral role from the pit, from where it also offered orchestral support to the renowned Ethel Merman, who sang several well-known numbers from American musical theater.
The course of the evening was graciously hosted by two important figures from the world of American film, stage and television, Cicely Tison and James Coco. After closing remarks in the theater proper, the audience and Orchestra segued to the spacious grounds outside where the Buffalo Philharmonic performed Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture in counterpoint to the perfectly timed roar of blazing canons. In turn a spectacular fireworks display broke forth from both sides of the Niagara River. Flowing and churning through the gorge, the waters became a great reflecting pool and beamed with fiery light from the cloudless sky above. Indeed – a night Transfigured..
ARTPARK Groundbreaking – Historical Note
It was on a misty, overcast afternoon on May 14, 1970, that Governor Nelson Rockefeller presided over the official groundbreaking for ARTPARK. Among its broadly set purposes, ARTPARK was intended to become the summer home of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. For that reason the Governor’s Office requested that the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra participate directly in the groundbreaking event. Conducted by music director Lukas Foss, the Orchestra performed at the beginning and end of the ceremony which lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes. In appreciation, Governor Rockefeller sent a personal note to the Philharmonic musicians, all of whom had donated their services for the event. The letter is now part of the BPO archive. Maestro Foss and the Philharmonic musicians were the only artists of any discipline to participate in the groundbreaking. It was therefore natural that the Opening Gala Concert featured the Buffalo Philharmonic in a variety of performance assignments.