Category: BPO in the News

BPO, Irish Classical Theatre and LehrerDance shine light on quirky comedy, Buffalo News

“Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” means “The Middle-Class Gentleman.” The playwright Moliere wrote the broad comedy in 1670 as a private entertainment at the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV. It was performed with music by the French Baroque master Jean-Baptiste Lully.

The farce, a bonbon for the French nobility, skewered a doltish nouveau-riche merchant who dares to presume to try to become an aristocrat. He hires a dancing master, a fencing master, a tailor and other experts to give him polish, with pathetic and hilarious results. The odds are good that the Sun King danced in the production – perhaps as the fencing master, perhaps as the tailor. He loved ballet and danced a lot of roles early in his reign, when this play was written.

Colorful as that occasion must have been, the performance taking place at Kleinhans Music Hall this weekend is reaching back in history to give it a run for its money.

The Irish Classical Theatre is joining the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and LehrerDance for an updated look at “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme,” with incidental music written for the comedy in the early 20th century by Richard Strauss.

Vincent O’Neill plays Monsieur Jourdain, the hapless would-be nobleman. Jon Lehrer, the head of LehrerDance, choreographed the dances. Like Strauss’ score, they have hints of the Baroque.

BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta is conducting the music, which will be recorded for Naxos. Strauss’ ravishing score is very near to her heart.

“That’s exactly the right word: ravishing,” Falletta said. “It is ravishing music. I think he softens this play. It’s very satirical – he does make fun of Jourdain – but the music creates a world of gentleness and tenderness as well.

Written for a small orchestra, the music is challenging because it is so transparent. Falletta jokes that before a recent Rachmaninoff concert, one spectator said that one would have thought the Strauss was on the program, so many musicians were practicing parts of it.

Adding to the excitement, the concertmaster from the Cleveland Orchestra, William Preucil, is coming in to serve as concertmaster for the occasion. The BPO is still seeking a permanent concertmaster, and Preucil asked if, for the Strauss, he could do the honors.

Falletta said they were chatting about the concertmaster search when the subject came up. “I happened to say, ‘We’ve got a real tour de force coming up. I’ve got to find someone for that.’ There was this silence, and then he said, ‘Well, would you let me come and do it?’ Everyone’s looking forward to him. He’s a truly great violinist, from one of the greatest orchestras, and he’s very lovable, funny and humorous.”

Just like the piece itself.

The music might be beautiful and sympathetic, but it is also witty. Strauss, in a minuet, suggests Monsieur Jourdain’s clumsiness with thumping, irregular rhythms. In the fencing scene, you can feel the chaos as the bourgeois gentleman stabs the sword every which way.

Jon Lehrer, as he choreographs that chaos, laughs freely at the poor upstart.

“He is very pathetic,” he said. “The guy is a loser. He tries so hard and just can’t get it.”

Like the 17th century courtiers, the audience should go to the show expecting to laugh.

“It was the Sun King’s favorite piece of all,” says Vincent O’Neill. “It wasn’t the deepest of Moliere’s pieces. It’s unashamed spectacular entertainment. It’s a delightful cream puff.

“The aristocrats of that era in France were eager to skewer the noveau riches. Aristocrats rejoiced that the upstarts could not dream of being one of them.”

O’Neill said he relishes the chance to play the upstart Monsieur Jourdain.

“As an actor I’m perceived as a serious person, I’m always cast in roles of great authority. It’s great to play the other end of the keyboard, where I’m usually not found,” he said.

“Lully’s music has a much more staid classical feel to it,” he reflects. “Strauss’ music is very tongue-in-cheek. It has an amazing range. Each piece is totally different. It is absolutely in keeping with the whole kind of nuanced, slightly satirical, sent-up nature of Moliere’s piece.”

“They’re in my head. I’m not abandoning them,” Lehrer said. “But we put our spin and our stamp on it. I said if you’re looking for someone to come in and do court dances, don’t hire us. We’re going to do something unique and fun and striving.

“When you’re collaborating like this, you’re trying to create something new.”

Which “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” is, after all these centuries. The comedy written for the Sun King still shines, Falletta observes.

“People always want to be accepted by people who aren’t accepting them,” she said. “This merchant, he’s made a lot of money, but he doesn’t fit in. His daughter is in love with someone from his own social circle, and he wants her to marry someone far above her. … It’s funny and sad at the same time.

“People do not change. I think that connection to human nature is what brings us all together. It’s what makes music speak to us, whether it’s Lully or Strauss or John Adams.”

The Hit Men show they are the sound behind the hits, Buffalo News

The Hit Men are quick to make a point to the audience: They are NOT a cover band.

The crooning quintet, which formed in 2010, is made up of a group of longtime musicians with a collective body of work that is unparalleled. While they may perform songs that were originally sung by their famous bosses, each member played – often as a studio musician – on the records from which their playlist is derived.

With two members of the original Four Seasons and three bandmates who have played alongside the likes of Elton John, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, Sting and the Ramones, the Hit Men brought three decades of hits to life Friday in Kleinhans Music Hall.

It was the first of two shows in the Queen City and while Frankie Valli wasn’t in tow, the Hit Men were backed by our own Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, with Stuart Chafetz conducting.

From Four Seasons hits including “Working My Way Back to You” and “Rag Doll” to Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock,” the Hit Men brought their unique spin to the vocals while delivering flawless musical performances worthy of a group of guys who have been at it for well over 100 years combined.

Larry Gates, who has worked behind the scenes as a composer and lyricist, stole the show with his silky sweet rendition of the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons 1967 classic “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” and later again with “My Eyes Adored You” (1975).

With the crowd singing and clapping along, the Hit Men amped it up with a high-energy rendition of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Mony Mony” that was as good as the original.

While the music was a nostalgic stroll down memory lane for the seasoned crowd that attended the early-morning performance, the Hit Men are more than just a talented group of studio musicians, they are mesmerizing storytellers, and that’s what sets them apart.

The group’s rendition of the Carly Simon classic “You’re So Vain,” for example, was stellar, but it was singer/guitarist Jimmy Ryan’s tale of meeting a young Carly Simon while both worked in a Greenwich Village record store and how that friendship led to him playing on her breakout record, that was special.

Likewise while the band got the crowd buzzing with a medly of two of Croce’s biggest hits – “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” – it was Ryan once again taking the mic to share how he met Croce when the two were students and aspiring musicians at Villanova that stole the spotlight.

The BPO delivered exactly what we’ve come to expect – some of the most talented musicians around – and in this case, they took what was already a fantastic morning of rock ’n’ roll to the next level.

For a group of performers in their 60s, the Hit Men have an energy and a stage presence that acts half their age should envy. Best of all, they appear to truly love being on stage and it shines through from the first song through the last story.

BPO explores mysteries of death with somber beauty of Rachmaninoff, Buffalo News

In October, when we are drawn to probe the mysteries of death and the supernatural, there’s nothing like Rachmaninoff.

And there is nothing like the specific Rachmaninoff repertoire the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is exploring this weekend, as Part 2 of its Rachmaninoff Festival. Just to give you an idea of this music’s mood, the ancient Gregorian chant “Dies Irae,” arguably the most frightening moment of the old Catholic funeral rite, appears in not one but two pieces. Rachmaninoff quotes it in “The Isle Of the Dead,” which opens the concert. And you hear it later, again, in “The Bells,” the choral symphony inspired by the famous poem by Edgar Allan Poe.

The atmosphere was unbelievable. For “The Bells,” you felt it before the music even began. The array of people on stage was tremendous: the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, clad all in black, three vocal soloists in front, harp and piano and various percussion – clearly, this was going to be music of great weight.

But great beauty, too. Such sweet sorrow, to use Shakespeare’s phrase.

“The Isle of the Dead,” for starters, was of such beauty that it is hard to call it somber. Rachmaninoff’s inspiration for this journey was a darkly romantic painting by Swiss artist Arnold Bocklin of a boat carrying a coffin to a haunting looking island. Soft at first, then more intense, Rachmaninoff gives you the motion of the oars. Things build from there until you reach, inexorably, the “Dies Irae.”

Music Director JoAnn Falletta, on the podium, paced the piece perfectly, so it had a fine sense of suspense and built only gradually to crashing crests of sound. This weekend’s guest concertmaster, it should be noted, is Justine Lamb-Budge.

After “The Isle of the Dead” came to its eerie close – muffled timpani, an uneasy closing chord – it was time for another guest artist, pianist Gabriela Martinez. Martinez was the soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 1.

Like the Fourth, heard last week, the First Piano Concerto is not heard that often. It should be. It’s a marvelous piece, with strong and memorable melodies, a breathtaking slow movement and a whopper of an ending. Martinez got through it with flying colors.

“The Bells” was an experience I do not think anyone will soon forget. The vocal soloists – soprano Rebecca Nash, tenor Charles Reid and bass Darren Stokes – all had the power the music demands. Reid rang out satisfactorily over the orchestra, and Nash did, too, with a Wagnerian conviction. Stokes, whom we saw last season as Salieri in Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Mozart and Salieri,” has a great presence in addition to a fine, resonant voice. He commands attention. The piece’s peaceful, caressing ending was very affecting. Also affecting was a brief tribute, following intermission, to the late BPO bass player William Burns. Four of the musicians from the orchestra’s bass section played “Ten Thousand Sorrows” by the Renaissance composer Josquin des Prez. The concert repeats at Kleinhans Music Hall today at 2:30 p.m.

email: mkunz@buffnews.com

Rachmaninoff is cause for celebration, Buffalo News

Why a Rachmaninoff festival?

A woman put that question to me at Friday morning’s Coffee Concert. Was it an anniversary or something, she asked, as I looked at her blankly.

The truth was, all the while I had been looking forward to this weekend’s and next weekend’s Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concerts, both sets devoted to the music of Rachmaninoff, that question had not so much as crossed my mind. Who needs an excuse for a Rachmaninoff festival? I guess that was what I had been thinking.

And I am clearly not alone.

Buffalo brims with fans of Serge Rachmaninoff. Friday’s crowd was big for a morning concert. Pianist Fabio Bidini won a fervent standing ovation for his performance of the Piano Concerto No. 4.

Another detail also was telling. Bidini played from a score, and Music Director JoAnn Falletta conducted the Second Symphony from memory. Usually the soloist plays from memory and the conductor uses a score. In both cases, the reason for the exceptional occurrence looked like love. Bidini, who beautifully played the concerto, must not get to perform it very often. And Falletta – well, all you had to do was look at her in the middle of a crescendo, her head back, her arms stretched wide. You can tell she is crazy about this music.

The concert began as perfectly as I have ever heard a concert begin. The first piece was “The Sea and the Seagulls,” a Rachmaninoff piano piece orchestrated by Ottorino Respighi. Respighi was a wonderful composer in his own right and a master of orchestral color, and this little-heard piece is lovely. It eased underway as if emerging from the air. The accompaniment often had a circular feel – you could think of Philip Glass – that suggested the seagulls wheeling overhead. Eloquent touches of woodwinds suggested bird calls.

It sounded like a movie score, said more than one listener.

The concerto came next, and continued the bliss. Bidini has been in Buffalo performing Rachmaninoff before. He has the strength and the swagger that is needed to rock it. The score detracted a bit from the swagger, but you had to forgive him because, as I said, this concerto is a rare bird.

It is rarely heard in part, I understand, because of its difficulty – but more so because its melodies do not grab you as the melodies do in the more popular Second and Third concertos. You won’t leave humming it.

You will, however, love it. Bidini is an enchanting player, strong but also delicate. He delineates lines gently but makes them sing. It is a delight how he lingers on a phrase, every note beautiful. An upward sweep of notes near the end of the last movement sounded like a twinkle – so fleeting, so perfect.

The BPO players, too, showed their virtuosity. You can tell just by listening how challenging the score is, not least because everything has to be impeccably timed. Six – count ’em – percussionists were crisp and precise. The slow movement was a special thrill, with the contrast between the crystalline piano and the loud honks and slams from the orchestra. It must be fun in a way to play this piece, to be in charge of that kind of joyful noise.

The end was a blast. Rachmaninoff always ratchets things up in the last moments, and as the music was hurtling toward its close, Falletta turned to face Bidini, and the two brought it in together, the orchestra crashing along in perfect sync. Bidini rose to his feet with the last chord and he and Falletta hugged each other and the crowd went crazy. Great music, and great theater. How do you top that?

You don’t try, and so for an encore Bidini played, pianissimo, Chopin’s Nocturne in C Sharp Minor, Op. Posth. His approach was florid and 19th century, but there is a time for that, and this was it.

Rachmaninoff’s huge, mightily enjoyable Second Symphony closed the concert. The BPO performed this masterpiece rather recently, and you could argue over whether it’s too soon to return to it. But there might have been people who missed it last time, and hearing this piece live should be on everyone’s bucket list.

We have another guest concertmaster this weekend and next. He is the Israeli-born Netanel Draiblate, currently concertmaster of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. Draiblate looked eager, often sitting on the edge of his seat. He also seemed competent, judging how tight the violins sounded, especially noticeable in the second movement, the scampering Scherzo. The slow movement, everyone’s favorite, was gloriously over the top. Trust me, even if you are a Rachmaninoff rookie, you will recognize this theme.

Again, as in the concerto, it was fascinating to note the musicians’ subtleties. Timpanist Matthew Bassett, clarinetist John Fullam, and so many of their colleagues all contributed individually to the music’s beauty. The concert ended as it began, flawlessly, with Rachmaninoff’s signature ending. The rhythm literally says “Rachmaninoff.” Wait for it.

The concert repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday at Kleinhans Music Hall. It should gain something in atmosphere under cover of darkness. Rachmaninoff belongs in evening wear.

email: mkunz@buffnews.com

Chihuly glass landscapes show goth opera in chilling new light, Buffalo News

“Bluebeard’s Castle,” the only opera by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, is a brief, gripping journey into the dark.

A handsome older nobleman, Bluebeard, brings his young bride, Judith, to his sunless, forbidding castle. There are seven sealed doors, and he wants to keep them shut. But she demands that, one after another, he open them.

It is a haunting opera, perfect for the darkness that descends in October. And the production of “Bluebeard’s Castle” on stage at Kleinhans Music Hall on Wednesday is even more transfixing.

That is because the sets are glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly.

Chihuly’s show in 1998 at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery drew so many patrons – over 86,000 – that it shattered records and is still remembered. He created the sculptures for “Bluebeard’s Castle” in 2007 for the Seattle Symphony, at the invitation of then-Music Director Gerard Schwarz.

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BPO set to perform Bluebeard’s Castle, WGRZ

BUFFALO, NY – 2 On Your Side got a sneak peek into “Bluebeard’s Castle” on Monday.

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will kick off their 2014-15 series this Wednesday with the production of Bela Bartok’s only Opera, “Bluebeard’s Castle”.

Part of the performance includes a rarely seen set designed by artist Dale Chihuly.

PHOTO GALLERY: Bluebeard’s Castle set at Kleinhans

If you are going to the performance, patrons will have the opportunity to see demonstrations from the Corning Museum of Glass, a Chihuly exhibit courtesy of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and glass art by students at Tonawanda Middle and High Schools.

For more information on purchasing tickets, log on to bpo.org.

BPO to showcase rare opera, Chihuly glasswork, Business First

For the first time in its history, when the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra takes the stage at Kleinhans Music Hall Wednesday night, the audience will not be able to see the musicians.

In what is being billed as a collaborative arts venture, the orchestra is partnering with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Corning Museum of Glass to present Bela Bartok’s rarely-performed lone opera “Bluebeard’s Castle.” For the performance, part of the BPO’s “Know the Score” series, the 85-member orchestra will be staged behind seven Dale Chihuly-designed glass sculptures, each of which is 14-feet tall. The 70-minute opera begins with the orchestra tucked behind black, glass walls — each of which will gradually turn and transform into the Chihuly pieces during the opera.

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JoAnn Falletta to receive Columbus Day honor

JoAnn Falletta, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director, can chalk up a lot of awards and achievements. On Columbus Day, though, she will receive an honor that strikes especially close to home.

Falletta is going to be honored by the Federation of Italian-American Societies of Western New York at their 107th Annual Columbus Day Dinner Gala, 6 p.m. Oct. 12 in Salvatore’s Italian Gardens.

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