Author: Kate Mockler

JoAnn Falletta Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

 

JoAnn Falletta, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The induction ceremony will take place on October 8, 2016 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Jonathan F. Fanton, President of the Academy welcomes Maestro Falletta together with her fellow newly elected Academy members by saying “As individuals, in your respective fields, you have each extended the limits of what we can do as a people, a nation, and a world. When considered as a group, you allow us to envision future possibilities—discoveries that, years hence, will improve health, help us explore the universe, contribute to technology that strengthens our economy, advance our understanding of fair and decent communities, and cause our spirits to soar through the power of music and the arts.”

As expressed in its 1780 Charter, the Academy’s purpose is “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.” Maestro Falletta joins the company of notable members – from John Adams, James Bowdoin, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Maria Mitchell, and Alexander Graham Bell. Says Academy President Fanton: “Our current members represent today’s innovative thinkers in every field and profession, including more than two hundred fifty Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners” noting that JoAnn Falletta “has been elected from among the nation’s—and the world’s—leaders in the mathematical and physical sciences, biological sciences, social sciences, the humanities and the arts, business, public affairs, and the nonprofit sector.”

“I am delighted and deeply honored to join such illustrious colleagues at the Academy,” says Falletta.  “The election is a resounding expression of the validity of classical music and symphony orchestras in our country.”

Hailing her as a “leading force for the music of our time,” the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers has honored JoAnn Falletta with twelve ASCAP awards, recognizing her work as a conductor, communicator, recording artist, audience builder, champion of American composers and distinguished musical citizen. Ms. Falletta served as a member of the National Council on the Arts, the advisory body of the National Endowment for the Arts.  She is the recipient of many of the world’s top conducting awards and her recordings have garnered two Grammy Awards and multiple Grammy Nominations.  In addition to her posts as music director of both the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Virginia Symphony, she is frequently invited to guest conduct many of the world’s great symphony orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Dallas Symphony, Rotterdam Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony.

More information on Maestro Falletta may be found at www.JoAnnFalletta.com.  For more information on the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, including a complete list of the 2016 new members, visit https://www.amacad.org.

Hi-res images of JoAnn Falletta are available at www.joannfalletta.com/press

BPO Musician Seeks Return of Stolen Contrabassoon, Stephen Watson, Buffalo News

There are obvious reasons why thieves steal money, jewelry, smartphones, cars or prescription drugs.

But Martha Malkiewicz has no idea why anyone wanted to take her contrabassoon. It’s a woodwind that is twice the size of, and produces a lower sound than, a bassoon, with 16 feet of tubing curved around on itself into a 5-foot-long instrument.

Malkiewicz, who plays the contrabassoon for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, leaves the instrument at Kleinhans Music Hall when she’s not using it to practice or perform.

The 25-pound instrument – it weighs 50 pounds when it’s in its case – went missing while the orchestra was on a weeklong break.

Malkiewicz alerted a national and international community of musicians, local music and pawn shops and Buffalo Police of the likely theft, which she discovered Wednesday.

Her instrument is 32 years old and worth $36,000. But Malkiewicz doesn’t believe whoever took it knew the value of the contrabassoon – or, for that matter, even what it was.

Instead, she believes it was a crime of opportunity, and one that is unlikely to lead to a big payoff.

Now, she is enlisting the public’s help in seeking the contrabassoon’s safe return.

“You can imagine my amazement that someone would take it,” Malkiewicz said in an interview several hours before playing in Saturday night’s orchestra concert with a contrabassoon borrowed from a friend. “I’m sorry, but this is not your normal thing to even consider taking. But somebody did. I’m still blown away by it.”

Malkiewicz, who is from the Town of Tonawanda, went to Indiana University and studied in Vienna before earning masters’ degrees at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester.

She has performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra since 1984 and she bought her contrabassoon right after getting the job for $7,000. It was made by Mollenhauer-Lindsay, a German maker of musical instruments, and has the serial number 723.

Only one person in an orchestra plays the contrabassoon, also known as a double bassoon, which makes a low sound comparable to a tuba.

“It’s the grandfather of the bassoon,” with its larger size and a sound that is an octave lower than a bassoon, said Malkiewicz.

The reeds that Malkiewicz blows into it to produce the contrabassoon’s sound are larger than bassoon reeds, as well.

The instrument is so big and ungainly that Malkiewicz rarely ever takes it out of Kleinhans unless she needs it to perform somewhere else.

She leaves the contrabassoon in its case on top of a row of lockers in a hallway that is backstage at the concert hall. The musicians and Kleinhans staff are allowed back there, but the general public is not and security guards control access to the space.

“It’s safe,” Malkiewicz said.

The orchestra was off for a week late last month, and Malkiewicz left the contrabassoon in its usual spot. During that time, other groups were using the concert hall, but the standard security measures were in place, she said.

On March 26, Richard George, Kleinhans’ master property person, noticed that a stand Malkiewicz uses was on the floor in front of the lockers, and the contrabassoon case wasn’t on top of the lockers. But he assumed she was using the instrument and didn’t think anything of it.

Then, last Wednesday, Malkiewicz came in to practice with her contrabassoon, and didn’t find it in its usual spot. When she asked George about it, “He said, ‘I thought you had it. You don’t have it?’ And then he and I started a search.”

At first, Malkiewicz said she hoped it had just been moved and misplaced somewhere in the concert hall, but the contrabassoon didn’t turn up. George told her he had last seen it the morning of March 24.

Malkiewicz sent out word about its loss on Facebook and through her circle of musician friends, and reported it through an online link that reaches an international audience.

She said the BPO’s executive director, Dan Hart, and its music director, JoAnn Falletta, have sent notes of support.

She planned to use the borrowed contrabassoon for Saturday night’s and Sunday afternoon’s performances, but likely will rent one for future concerts.

She also has called music and pawn shops locally one by one to be on the lookout for the contrabassoon, though she doubts anyone trying to sell it will get very far.

“I think the people who take things like this don’t have much thought process to it. I think they go on instinct,” she said. “I have a feeling they may think they can fence it quickly, get a few bucks for it. This does not seem to me to be thoughtful theft.”

Malkiewicz said she reported it to Buffalo Police but hasn’t received a call back from officers. Police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said the incident is under investigation and authorities are following a few leads.

Malkiewicz said the instrument is insured but she still hopes to get it back. She is offering a reward for its safe return and asks anyone with information to email her at martmalk2@mac.com or to call Lisa Gallo at the orchestra at 885-0331, Ext. 302.

Her message to whoever took the instrument is, she said, “Turn it in. Take it to the police. Take it back to Kleinhans. I’m more concerned that they will trash it. And then the instrument will be gone for good. And that will be sad.”

RECORD KEEPING | Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta: Florent Schmitt, Paul E. Robinson, Musical Toronto

The city of Buffalo is only 100 miles from Toronto, and as I mentioned in a previous article, it has an excellent orchestra with a distinguished history. Its conductors have included such luminaries as William Steinberg, Josef Krips, Lukas Foss, Michael Tilson Thomas, Semyon Bychkov, and the present music director, JoAnn Falletta.  Steinberg and Krips brought authority in the German and Austrian classics, and Foss brought his compositional genius as well as a dedication to the newest developments in contemporary music. Tilson Thomas was a young conducting phenomenon when he went to Buffalo – a protégée of Leonard Bernstein, no less – and reveled in exploring a wide repertoire. Semyon Bychov was exemplary in Russian music – I remember vividly a great performance of the Shostakovich Fifth – and Falletta has shown a great affinity for lesser-known music. It is also noteworthy that, along with Marin Alsop in Baltimore, Falletta is one of the few female conductors of a major orchestra in North America.

Over the years, I have heard many concerts in Buffalo’s Kleinhans Music Hall, and I have rarely been disappointed. I urge Toronto music-lovers to do the same. The combination of a Buffalo Philharmonic in fine form and Falletta’s imaginative programming makes for satisfying music-making.

Naxos’ ongoing program with the Buffalo Philharmonic has new releases coming at the rate of one or two each year. Among the most important are two discs devoted to the music of Austrian composer Marcel Tyberg (1893-1944), who died in Auschwitz at the age of 51. Tyberg’s music, which was championed by Rafael Kubelik, who performed it often, deserves to be better-known.

This latest Naxos release features little-known music by French composer Florent Schmitt (1870-1958), who studied with Massenet and Fauré and was one of his Maurice Ravel’s closest friends.

Schmitt’s incidental music for Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra dates from a 1920 production of the play at the Paris Opéra. What a production that must have been. Can you imagine a production of the play with over one hundred musicians in the pit? Our own Stratford Festival mounts first-class Shakespeare productions year in and year out, but it rarely hires more than half a dozen musicians to play the incidental music. Schmitt’s music is truly symphonic and seethes with emotion, but it surely must have overwhelmed the play. To my ears, the music is not particularly memorable in itself but would have been ideal for silent films of the period.

Schmitt’s Study for “The Haunted Palace”, composed in 1904, is more of the same. In this case, the music was inspired by a poem by Edgar Allan Poe and vividly conveys the fantastical elements of Poe’s conception. Again Schmitt uses a very large orchestra, and his highly chromatic and impassioned music recalls Schoenberg’s symphonic poem Pelleas und Melisande Op. 5 from the same period. Falletta and her performers are totally into the music, and the sound quality is rich and full.

Time to shuffle off to Buffalo? Check out the orchestra’s website at www.bpo.org. Still to come this season are several well-planned programs, including a pair of concerts combining Novak’s In the Tatra Mountains and Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony (June 4/5). The recently announced 2016-17 season includes concerts honouring the friendship between Canada and the United States, featuring Quebec pianist Alain Lefèvre playing works from both countries. Elsewhere in the season, Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt appears playing Bach concertos, and JoAnn Falletta conducts two Scriabin symphonies.

BPO promotes music education to school leaders , Eileen Buckley, WBFO

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra hosted a Western New York Symposium for educators. WBFO’s Focus on Education reporter Eileen Buckley says the event feature a welcome and call to action from BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta.

“They’re going to play together. They’re going to learn about how we make music and how young people can actually exercise their brains through music and become better at everything they do,” said Falletta.

Falletta encourages local educators to make sure arts remain at the top of their curriculums. The audience was made up of school administrators, superintendents, principals and some music educators from across the region.

“I know that our educators are brilliant people and they have very difficult decisions to make and sometimes they are working with limited resources. I just want them to realize at the top has to be the arts. That’s not what we put to the bottom and they will see the results in their students in everything they do,” explained Falletta.

The symposium started with a Druminar, developed by the BPO.

Educators actually try their hand at a percussion orchestra, providing them with a hands on exercise providing team building and learning what a student feels as they learn music.

“Many of them already understand what we are trying to help with and that’s the arts can create the full person. The full, young person who then learns discipline and respect and success. So I think it is just a continuation of what we already see in the schools,” said Falletta.

The symposium encouraged collaboration, diversity and communication and self-expression. They learned how music and playing an instrument benefits a student’s brain and learning. Educators also had a chance to exchange their ideas.

Click here to see original story with audio and video.

Sixteen Jazz Composers’ Works to be Performed by Three Orchestras

Between May and September 2016, three different orchestras will give public readings of new works for symphony orchestra written by a total of sixteen jazz composers as part of the third Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute (JCOI) Readings, a program coordinated by EarShot, the National Orchestra Composition Discovery Network. In addition to the reading sessions, the activities at the three orchestras—the Naples Philharmonic (May 25 and 26), American Composers Orchestra (June 15 and 16), and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (September 20 and 21)—will involve a variety of workshops and other opportunities for the participating composers.

The 2016 JCOI Readings are the culmination of a process that began in August 2015, when 36 jazz composers of all ages were selected from a national pool of applicants to attend the weeklong JCOI Intensive, a series of workshops and seminars devoted to orchestral composition held at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music in Los Angeles. After completing the Intensive, sixteen composers were given the opportunity to put what they learned into practice by composing a new symphonic work. The composers, working in jazz, improvised, and creative music, were chosen based on their musicianship, originality, and potential for future growth in orchestral composition. Each composer will receive coaching from mentor composers and a professional music engraver as they write their new works. Composers will also receive feedback from orchestra principal musicians, conductors, librarians, and mentor composers, throughout the readings. Each of the three orchestras will workshop and perform between four and seven composers’ new works.

The four composers participating in the Naples Philharmonic’s readings (pictured from left to right): Robin Holcomb (photo by Peter Gannushkin), Sonia Jacobsen, Yvette Jackson (photo by Ava Porter), and Nathan Parker Smith. (Photos courtesy Christina Jensen PR.)

The Naples Philharmonic readings will take place at Artis-Naples Hayes Hall, with mentor composers Vincent Mendoza (composer/arranger), James Newton (JCOI Director; University of California, Los Angeles), and Derek Bermel (Artistic Director, ACO). The featured composers’ works will be conducted by Naples Philharmonic Assistant Conductor Yaniv Segal. The participating composers are: Robin Holcomb (b. 1954), a Seattle-based composer and singer/songwriter whose music draws on both her childhood in Georgia and her stints working among avant-garde musicians in New York and California; Sonia Jacobsen (b. 1967), a much-awarded composer, jazz saxophonist, and founding director of the New York Symphonic Jazz Orchestra currently based in Chapin, South Carolina; Yvette Jackson (b. 1973), a composer, sound designer and installation artist focused on radio opera and narrative soundscape composition from La Solla, California; and Brooklyn-based performer and composer Nathan Parker Smith (b. 1983), who leads the Nathan Parker Smith Large Ensemble which performs throughout New York City.

The Readings will include an open, working rehearsal on Wednesday, May 25 at 2pm, and a run-through of the composers’ pieces on Thursday, May 26 at 7pm. Both events are free and open to the public.

he seven participating composers in the ACO Readings: (top row, left to right) Jonathan Finlayson (photo by Scott Benedict), Dawn Norfleet, and Ben Morris; (bottom row left to right) Ethan Helm, John La Barbara, Guy Mintus, and Brian Friedland. (Photos courtesy Christina Jensen PR.)

The American Composers Orchestra’s readings will take place at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, with mentor composers Derek Bermel, Anthony Davis (University of California, San Diego), Gabriela Lena Frank (composer in residence, Houston Symphony), and James Newton. ACO Music Director George Manahan will conduct. The participating composers are New York-based Jonathan Finlayson (b. 1982), a disciple of the saxophonist/composer Steve Coleman who has performed alongside Mary Halvorson, Henry Threadgill, Von Freeman, Jason Moran, Dafnis Prieto, and Vijay Iyer; Boston-based Brian Friedland (b. 1982), whose music is rooted in jazz piano traditions but also shows his love of genres ranging from Balkan Folk to classical minimalism; New York-based saxophonist and composer Ethan Helm (b. 1990), who co-leads the jazz quintet Cowboys & Frenchmen; Israeli-born, New York-based jazz pianist and composer Guy Mintus (b. 1991), who has collaborated with master musicians from Turkey, Greece, Iran, Morocco, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, and Mali; Ben Morris (b. 1993), a recipient of two Klezmer Company Orchestra Composers’ Prizes, three Festival Miami Composers’ Awards, and an ASCAP Morton Gould Award who is currently pursuing his masters’ at Rice University; John La Barbera (b. 1945), a composer/arranger whose music has been performed by Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Mel Torme, Chaka Khan, Harry James, Bill Watrous, and Phil Woods; and Dawn Norfleet (b. 1965), a jazz flutist, vocalist, and composer residing in Los Angeles who is on the faculty at the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County and the Colburn School of Performing Arts.

The Readings will include a private, working rehearsal on Wednesday, June 15, and a run-through of the composers’ pieces on Thursday, June 16 at 7:30pm, which is free and open to the public (reservations suggested).

The five composers participating in the Buffalo Philharmonic readings (pictured from left to right): Hitomi Oba, Gene Knific, Anthony Tidd, Emilio Solia, and Amina Figarova (photo by Zak Shelby-Szyszko). (Photos courtesy Christina Jensen PR.)

Finally, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra readings will take place at Kleinhans Music Hall, with mentor composers Derek Bermel, Anthony Cheung (composer, University of Chicago), and Nicole Mitchell (composer/flutist). All of the works will be conducted by Stefan Sanders, associate conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

The participating composers are: Amina Figarova (b. 1966), an Azerbaijan-born, New York-based pianist and composer who studied classical piano performance at the Baku Conservatory as well as jazz performance at the Rotterdam Conservatory, Netherlands, and attended the Thelonious Monk Institute’s summer jazz colony in Aspen; Gene Knific (b. 1992), a pianist, composer, and arranger based in Kalamazoo, Michigan who has won seven DownBeat awards for his performances and compositions; Los Angeles-based saxophonist and composer Hitomi Oba (b. 1984), who holds an MA from UCLA in Music Composition and whose album, Negai, received a Swing Journal jazz disc award; London-born, Philadelphia-based Anthony Tidd (b. 1972), who has performed with Steve Coleman, The Roots, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Wayne Krantz, Meshell Ndegeocello, Common, and Jill Scott, and has produced albums by The Roots, Macy Grey, Zap Mama, and The Black Eyed Peas; and Buenos Aires-born, Brooklyn-based Emilio Solla (b. 1962), who has recorded more than 40 albums performing with Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo O’Farrill, Cristina Pato, and Billy Hart, and whose latest album, Second Half (2014), was nominated for a 2015 Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album. The Readings will include a private, working rehearsal on Tuesday, September 20, and a run-through of the composers’ pieces on Wednesday, September 21 at 7pm, which is free and open to the public.

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JCOI is a new development in the jazz field, led by ACO in partnership with the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music in Los Angeles and the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University in New York. While many jazz composers seek to write for the symphony orchestra, opportunities for hands-on experience are few. Since the first JCOI readings in 2011 and with these new sessions at three orchestras, nearly 100 jazz composers will have benefited from the program and so far 27 new jazz works for orchestra have been created and workshopped. EarShot, the National Orchestral Composition Discovery Network, initiates partnerships with orchestras around the country; provides consulting, production, and administrative support for orchestras to undertake readings, residencies, performances, and composer-development programs; identifies promising orchestral composers, increasing awareness and access to their music; supports orchestras’ commitment to today’s composers and enhances national visibility for their new music programs. EarShot is coordinated by American Composers Orchestra in collaboration with American Composers Forum, the League of American Orchestras, and New Music USA. It brings together the artistic, administrative, marketing, and production resources and experience of the nation’s leading organizations devoted to the support of new American orchestral music.

From Mozart to Strauss, Jan Jezioro, Artvoice

This weekend, Buffalo Philharmonic music director JoAnn Falletta will be on the podium in Kleinhans this Saturday at 8:30pm, and on Sunday at 2:30pm for a BPO program featuring the Austro-Germanic composers Mozart, Franz Schreker and Richard Strauss. Making his welcome BPO return engagement, pianist Eldar Nebolsin will be the featured soloist in Mozart’s sublime final concerto for piano, the Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major, K.595. 

Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Nebolsin started studying piano as a five year old. At the age of 17 he moved to Madrid, continuing his studies with the Russian pianist Dmitri Bashkirov. Nebolsin rapidly developed a career as an international soloist, appearing with top flight orchestras such as the Orchestre de Paris, the Orchestra di Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Tokyo Metropolitan Orchestra, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, as well as with leading American orchestras like the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony. In 2012 Nebolsin moved to Berlin where he is now professor of piano at the Hanns Eisler Hochschule für Musik.

Nebolsin previously appeared with the BPO in 2009 as soloist in Ernst von Dohnányi’s Variations on a Nursery Song. The performance was recorded and later released on an all-Dohnányi Naxos CD which garnered universal critical approval, such as this from Classics Today: “JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic play this music really well, and they are lucky to have a piano soloist in Eldar Nebolsin more than up to the formidable task that Dohnányi sets for him”.

When interviewed, Nebolsin recalled that “working with JoAnn and BPO was a truly enjoyable experience. She is a great musician but what also has impressed me was her warmth as a person, a quality which could be felt on stage as well. For me as a soloist, the human connection, the ‘chemistry’ with a conductor, is not less important than his or her musical quality.”

Mozart composed his last piano concerto without a commission, less than a year before his death, without even knowing if he would ever have the chance to perform it in public, at a time when his personal financial situation was dire, yet the influence of none of these factors is apparent in the introspective Concerto No. 27.  Although Nebolsin has not yet recorded any Mozart, he says “I have played quite a few Mozart concertos, in fact, almost all of the important ones. Mozart, for me, reveals his most incredible genius in his operas and to me it has always been very important to approach his music and particularly his concertos from operatic spring board. You must use a lot of imagination to transform a piano concerto in an exciting interaction between different characters, just as it happens in Mozart’s operas”.

Nebolsin has developed an enviable reputation as an interpreter of the music of Chopin which comes through on the pair of all-Chopin CD’s that he recorded for Naxos. When asked if there are similarities between the ways that he approached Chopin, and the way that he approached the music of Mozart, Nebolsin replied “It’s an interesting question. Of course, we need to know the peculiarities of each composer, his or her own language, the pianos they played on, the influences they absorbed and so on. For instance, when you play Mozart on the instrument of his time, you immediately understand the importance of the clarity of articulation, perhaps even more than the singing quality. His music not only sings but more often speaks to you. But in a way there is something similar in all music. No matter if we speak of Chopin, Mozart, Ligeti or Beatles, music is a succession of sounds organized harmonically, rhythmically and motivically. If we take a seventh diminished chord, it will always convey the idea of tension. If, on the contrary, after a dominant we play a harmonic resolution, it will naturally sound as a relaxation. If we play a dotted or double dotted rhythm it will convey more energy than a simple triplet, for example. This is of course a simplification. But, basically, when I practice any piece of music, I try to understand and grasp this inner logic of harmony, rhythm and motives which go beyond the style and language of any composer.”

Nebolsin is an active chamber music player, and he acknowledges its importance for his career as a soloist: “Chamber music is sublime. Take Beethoven – his best pieces of music were written for chamber ensembles. There is a certain magic in chamber music playing, when you can create on stage, spontaneously change something, and feel that your partners immediately reacted to your impulse or vice-versa. Chamber music is the best antidote to artistic ego. Everybody should regularly play chamber music. And yes, if you have a good chemistry with a conductor and orchestra, sometimes you have chamber music making with 80 musicians. When this occurs, it’s indescribable!” Nebolsin also observed: “I have some projects in the near future to play and possibly record Mozart conducting from the keyboard”; BPO audience members this weekend will have an excellent opportunity to hear a preview.

A few years back JoAnn Falletta programmed and then recorded a critically acclaimed all-Strauss CD that in addition to the popular Der Rosenkavalier Suite include two rarities, Symphonic Fragment from Josephs-Legende and Symphonic Fantasy on Die Frau ohne Schatten. Building on that winning tradition, this weekend’s program will include the BPO premiere of a new arrangement of music based on a Strauss opera, the Ariadne auf Naxos Symphony-Suite. According to D. Wilson Ochoa, then the music librarian of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, when he “discovered the breathtaking music from Adriane auf Naxos” he “began a search to see if an orchestral suite of this music had been made so that the NSO could play it in concert, and was shocked to discover that this had never been done”. Assembling a suite of symphony length from elements of both the 1912, and the revised 1916 versions of Strauss’ opera, Ochoa retained the same instrumentation as the opera while adding an English horn to portray some vocal lines.

The program also includes selections from The Birthday of the Infanta, a brilliantly orchestrated 1908 ballet score composed by the little-remembered Franz Schreker. Inspired by Oscar Wilde’s novella of the same name, the work neatly captures the hothouse atmosphere of fin-de-siècle Vienna.

Tickets and Information: 885-5000 or www.bpo.org

BPO spreads the sunshine with the music of John Denver, Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News

John Morris Russell, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s principal pops conductor, is still pretty new here. But already, a few truths are emerging.

If you don’t think you’ll like the concert, you will.

If you’re psyched for the concert and know you will love it, it will be even better than you anticipate.

Finally, it’s a good bet that Russell will send you out smiling.

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“Wasn’t it marvelous?” I overheard after Friday’s coffee concert.

“I loved every minute of it.”

Russell’s current visit centers on the music of John Denver. The featured vocalist, and mastermind of the show, is a singer and guitarist named Jim Curry. He is as like John Denver as can be imagined. He sounds like him, with his strong clear voice. And he looks like him, with his retro vest and hilarious mop of blond hair.

His wife is even named Annie. He sang “Annie’s Song” to her at their wedding. Really, it’s almost too much. You can easily pretend that tragic plane crash never happened, and John Denver is still among us.

Curry’s wife plays and sings with him, and she’s excellent. She sings the Olivia Newton John part in “Fly Away,” and the Emmylou Harris part in “Wild Montana Skies.” The band is tight and has the perfect unprepossessing hippie look. And just to put things over the top, songs are all accompanied by video of lovely American landscapes.

Russell presides over it all. He hardly says 10 words, and there are entire segments when the orchestra doesn’t play a note. But he adds his own warmth. He is always involved, always beaming and enjoying.

Musically, the concert has integrity. Though the orchestra was naturally underutilized – this is simple music – the arrangements were the originals that John Denver used. Denver’s arranger, Lee Holdridge, helped Curry design the show.

One song was particularly moving – “Matthew,” which John Denver wrote about his love for family, farming and a beloved uncle who died at 21. The video shown was the same one Denver would show as he sang the song.

All the videos were soaring and, in the midst of this roiling election season, touchingly pro-America. Eagles were a constant. In “Eagles and Horses,” the eagles were joined by beautiful footage of horses. “Sweet Surrender” showed us athletic, happy millennials embracing the sun and the wind. “Shanghai Breezes” brought misty vistas of China. To the nostalgic tones of “Sunshine On My Shoulders,” the video explored the John Denver Sanctuary, an idyllic park near Aspen, Colo.

Eastman School of Music tenor Matthew Valverde, in a cameo appearance, joined Curry in “Perhaps Love.” This was a nod to “Great Voices Sing John Denver,” a CD that came out a few years ago. On that disc, this song was sung by Placido Domingo. Valverde, a confident performer, gave the song elegance and sheen. It sounded like Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The tribute was admirably comprehensive, covering Denver’s whole career. Still, everyone will inevitably have some treasured song you didn’t get to hear. Mine was “Today.” At Sacred Heart Academy in the late 1970s, it was practically our school song. After the standing ovation ended I was still sitting there, hoping against hope Curry would come out to sing “Today.” Alas, he did not. Well, there’s always tomorrow.

Big crowd enjoys Watts’ concerto with BPO’s expertise, Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News

Andre Watts is in the house! You could feel the excitement Saturday at Kleinhans Music Hall as the big crowd settled in.

There is nothing like a great virtuoso coming to play a great piano concerto, and that was what we were in for. The seats were full to the rafters. It was fun how the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is beginning this concert with Samuel Barber’s overture to “The School For Scandal.” The breathless, witty music, finely detailed and carried off, set the stage well for the drama to come.

Stagehands brought out the piano. At some concerts, you worry that the soloist is stressed, watching apprehensively as the piano is positioned. Not in this case. As the staffers fastened the piano in place – tellingly, they really did batten down the hatches – you knew, just knew, that Watts was waiting backstage with no dread whatsover.

He emerged, when the moment arrived, with confidence and calm.

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Anyone who attended any of Watts’ last few performances knows his approach. Watts is a big man and uses his strength well. He plants himself like a rock on the piano bench, tails tossed behind him. Watching him, you get the impression of a lot of power, all of it coming from within.

The Beethoven Fourth starts out with the piano alone, and Watts played the opening chords with confidence and calm. As the music unfolded, you never had any doubt that he was completely in charge.

Which was not to say he was not engaged. As we revere Beethoven the titan, we sometimes forget how tender his music can be. This is a concerto that is, at times, heart melting. Watts could bring those qualities out. He must have played this concerto hundreds of times, but he took the time to enjoy and communicate the beauty of the individual phrases. The music had real warmth.

The cadenza of the first movement was dazzling. Watts uses sparse pedal. His approach is very classical and crisp. He brought out various voices and played up surprises so I think even newcomers could notice the music’s changing colors. There was a magical moment when, playing triplets as he wound up the cadenza, he glanced at the orchestra, as a signal. Music Director JoAnn Falletta, on the alert, got set. The violinists soundlessly raised their bows. And then, flawlessly, it all came together. This is why you go to live concerts.

The rest of the concerto was just as finely crafted. The slow movement, whose wandering lines have often made me think of a sleepwalker, was delicately delineated by both Watts and the orchestra. It had a trancelike finish, with Watts turning toward us as if in a dream. Some listeners near me actually sighed.

The last movement had muscle and also creativity. Watts brought out inner voices you do not always notice. He gave the music a new sound. What warm, witty music this is. Beethoven plays a lot of games with the music, sending phrases zipping from the piano to the orchestra, and then from section to section. Sometimes I found myself smiling.

Speaking of wit, Watts flicked off the ending with tremendous grace. The crowd responded, not only standing and cheering but shouting “Bravo,” too. Bravo is right.

After intermission came a change of pace, Bartok’s Concerto For Orchestra. Funny, although we switched gears, somewhat, the piece had something in common with what had gone before. There were crisp turns of phrase, and lots of arch humor.

It’s abstract, particularly after the Beethoven, but it’s a lot of fun if you stay in the moment. Every instrument, every section gets a chance to shine. Bartok exploits them individually, and he combines instruments creatively so that you think you are hearing some imaginary instrument, one that does not exist. Kids would like this piece, I think, for its occasional humorous rudeness. There are phrases after which you would almost expect the performer to say, “Excuse me.” It was a good time, I think, for everyone. The BPO clearly reveled in tackling this piece, with all the virtuosity it requires.

The concert repeats at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

The Return of Andre Watts, Jan Jezioro, Artvoice

André Watts developed an early reputation as one of the most exciting American classical concert pianists, and he has managed to maintain that reputation for over a half a century. At 8pm this Saturday, February 20 and at 2:30pm on Sunday February 21, BPO music director JoAnn Falletta will be on the podium in Kleinhans Music Hall to lead the orchestra in what may well be the most ideally balanced program of the season.

Leonard Bernstein, the charismatic music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, who probably did more than any other conductor to expand the audience for classical music in America in the post World War II era, selected the then 16 year old pianist to perform Liszt’s Concerto in E-flat for his debut with the New York Philharmonic in their Young People’s Concerts, broadcast nationwide on CBS-TV. Two weeks later, Bernstein asked Watts to substitute at the last minute for the ailing Glenn Gould in performances of the same concerto at a pair of New York Philharmonic subscription series concerts, and in effect launching his career in a manner worthy of a traditional Hollywood bio film.

Buffalo classical music audiences have been privileged to hear Watts perform many times, both as a soloist with the BPO, and in recital, most notably on the much-missed former QRS series, and it’s also defunct successor, the Ramsi P. Tick Concert series. Watts has experienced some medical issues in the last few decades, which have resulted in some unfortunate, last minute performance cancellations, most notably for his RP Tick recital, which was cancelled twice, causing at least a few local classical music lovers to consider giving up their Andre Watts fan club memberships. Not to worry, the third time proved to be a charm, with Watts delivering the kind of high voltage, but still incredibly controlled, all-Liszt program, the calling card that earned him his reputation.

Andre Watts will be the soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, the most poetic of his five concertos for piano and orchestra, a work that he has not previously performed here in his long association with the orchestra. The second half of the program will feature Hungarian composer Béla Bartók’s last symphonic masterpiece, his brilliant and sonically irresistible 1943 Concerto for Orchestra. The concert will open with Samuel Barber’s vivid Overture to “The School for Scandal.” Composed in 1933 when Barber was finishing his studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, it was his first work for orchestra, and it manages to successfully capture the brittle comic spirit of Richard Sheridan’s witty Restoration play.

Over the last half century, Leonard Pennario, Clifford Curzon, Christoph Eschenbach, Alicia de Larrocha, Eugene Istomin, Jeffrey Kahane, Emanuel Ax, Louis Lortie and William Wolfram have all performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with the BPO. It would be difficult to assemble a more distinguished roster of international piano soloists, so what is it about this particular concerto that continues to appeal to pianists? Before the tragic loss of his hearing, Beethoven was a commanding pianist who enjoyed wide popularity and had a strong sense of the concerto form as a kind of theater. Up until he composed this concerto, virtually all piano concertos had started with an orchestral introduction, but here, Beethoven stood this convention on its head, by letting the soloist begin to play unaccompanied, a dramatic masterstroke that was not emulated by any other composer until the 20th century. The opening movement continues along a strikingly original path, culminating in an unexpected cadenza beginning in what Michael Steinberg describes as “a blatantly ‘wrong’ key” and “most audiences usually don’t believe that it is really by Beethoven.” The renowned British musicologist D.F. Tovey wrote that it was Liszt himself who compared the slow movement of this concerto to “Orpheus taming the wild beast with his music,” and if there has subsequently been some question as to the attribution of this quote, the spirit is nevertheless indisputably true. The sublimely evocative dream spell is ultimately broken in the final Rondo movement, when trumpets and drums make their first appearance in what Steinberg describes as “a charmingly oblique, Haydnesque approach” to the finale.

Bartók composed his Concerto for Orchestra in 1943 in America, revising it just before his death from leukemia in 1946. Bartók had strongly opposed the rise of Nazi Germany, and his anti-fascist views had caused him great difficulties in his native Hungary when that country decided to side with Germany. Reluctantly, he immigrated to the United States in 1940, but as his music was not well known here he experienced economic difficulties in addition to developing the illness that ultimately caused his death. The Russian composer Serge Koussevitzky, who was also the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, offered Bartók a commission for the Concerto for Orchestra when the composer was in a hospital bed, and subsequently premiered the work to great success with his orchestra on December 1, 1944, the work remaining highly popular ever since.

If you didn’t know the story behind the composition of the Concerto for Orchestra, it would be impossible to guess that it was composed by someone who was seriously ill. While concertos usually feature a solo instrument with orchestral accompaniment, Bartók’s work treats whole sections of instruments as virtuosic soloists. The composer makes highly effective use of his lifelong study of folk music, combining it with traditional western classical elements to create a uniquely engaging orchestral work that BPO music director JoAnn Falletta has vividly brought to life in previous performances. In short, do not miss this concert.