Category: BPO in the News

Buffalo Philharmonic’s first Pops concert of season is a soundtrack success, Garaud MacTaggert, Buffalo News

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s inaugural Pops concert of the season was a pretty solid success. There was nary an unfilled seat in the house and the parking lots – and many of the side streets – were filled with cars.

Program music drawn from popular soundtrack scores by John Williams was a safe hit with the audience, and the orchestra – led by BPO Pops conductor John Morris Russell – delivered performances that drew excitement, humor and pathos from familiar material.

This was not an evening of dial-it-in performances although, due to the successful films from which these tunes were drawn, the possibilities hung around right up until the start of the second piece played.

I start there because the march from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which began the evening, was a stereotypical entry point for a Williams-themed program. What followed was the composer’s arrangement of thematic material from the Jerry Bock score to “Fiddler On the Roof.” Klezmer-like cadences romped through the opening until BPO concertmaster Dennis Kim delivered a beautifully nuanced solo that foreshadowed the quality that would follow.

Russell was an energetic master of ceremonies, in addition to leading members of the orchestra through their paces. He told stories about the pieces being played and the movies they starred in and basically won the audience over with his attitude.

When, during a particularly energetic moment in “Call of the Champions” (the theme for the 2002 Winter Olympics and the only nonsoundtrack moment of the evening), Russell lost control of his baton – sending it all the way back to the fourth row of the violin section – he and the orchestra didn’t miss a beat. The accident allowed him to make a joke about “javelin throwing” and make the audience even more relaxed.

There were plenty of other pops moments, too. At the end of the theme from “Jaws,” the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus screamed appropriately; electronic effects heightened the openings of the “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Jurassic Park” and “Star Wars” sequences, while the celeste playing of pianist Claudia Hoca gave an appropriately ethereal quality to the “Harry Potter” material.

Other highlights included Kim’s playing during the Main Theme from “Schindler’s List” and some splendid singing from the chorus during “Dry Your Tears Afrika,” from “Amistad.”

All in all, it was a decent, well-played, entertaining evening with the orchestra. Not bad, guys. Good work.

BPO’s Tchaikovsky program with Bidini keeps crowd on edge of seat, Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News

Fabio Bidini is back. He is the elegant Italian pianist who blazes through here like a comet when the stars are lined up right. He plays epic Romantic music, the kind of music the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra embraces.

This weekend, Bidini is the soloist in Round One of the BPO’s Tchaikovsky Festival. Music Director JoAnn Falletta is conducting. Bidini is performing Tchaikovsky’s not-often-heard Piano Concerto No. 3, and the concert also features Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Fifth Symphony.

Saturday’s concert was a lavish evening full of emotion. Looking over the good-sized crowd as the Fifth Symphony rocketed toward its crashing close, I thought that rarely had I seen such overt enjoyment. People were literally on the edge of their seats. One man leaned forward, his head bobbing. A woman softly beat time on the armrest. A row of kids who looked as if they were in high school seemed enchanted. You cannot beat this kind of musical spectacle. You had to love it.

The concert began with the soaring music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Sleeping Beauty.” The orchestra played it with heart. The Entr’acte from Act II is something like a mini violin concerto, and Dennis Kim, the concertmaster, gave it grace and tenderness. A high point, so to speak, was an interlude that had him negotiating whistling high notes against whispering accompaniment from the orchestra.

After the glorious waltz from Act I, it was time for the concerto.

Even if you haven’t heard this piece – most people haven’t – it will grab you from the word go. It has great percussive style and the interaction between piano and orchestra creates a lot of spark and sparkle. The piano part starts out with simple octaves but soon takes off. Bidini, elaborately dressed, knows good theater and rolled out arpeggios and long runs with strength and elan. He has great percussive strength. He seemed to be working hard, particularly in a protracted cadenza, but that is part of the show. He actually wiped his brow after that cadenza. Bravo!

It made for quite a thrilling barrage. The piano was usually forte. The orchestra responded with stormy blasts. There are beautiful themes, and catchy, particularly Russian motifs. The music keeps your attention, and wound up in a blast, like fireworks.

The concerto’s short length left time for a couple of encores. The crowd practically demanded them, with a long standing ovation. Bidini gave us a dramatic Chopin scherzo, full of virtuosic dash, and a sweetly sultry Chopin nocturne. His unhurried and spontaneous style made this music a treat.

The Fifth Symphony is a proven hit anywhere, but especially at Kleinhans Music Hall, where the acoustics make it a thrill. Falletta went airborne within the first five minutes of the first movement, so you knew that the spirit was there.

Tchaikovsky used the colors of the orchestra exquisitely in this cathartic symphony. There are so many details to savor. Exotic trills in the woodwinds could remind you of the Arabian Coffee Dance in “Nutcracker.” The brass, magnificently arrayed, pours out declamatory fanfares. Timpanist Matthew Bassett earned his money. So much throughout the evening hinged on him, and he delivered.

Jack Muzyk, principal horn, set a transcendent mood with his solo in the opening of the second movement. Clarinetist John Fullam brought his characteristic understated poetry to the close of that movement. A few people couldn’t help applauding. It was hard to blame them.

The last movement was shaped so it built gradually to that overpowering close. It won an instantaneous standing ovation.

The concert repeats at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Kleinhans Music Hall.

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra announces 6-year contract with musicians, Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News

A new contract is in place.

That was good news announced Saturday at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s season-opening concert in Kleinhans Music Hall. BPO musicians have reached an agreement with the orchestra’s management on a new six-year contract.

The contract was ratified by the musicians Thursday, the orchestra announced. The agreement is expected to be ratified by the BPO’s board later this month.

“This six-year agreement, the longest in the orchestra’s history, represents the shared commitment by the musicians and management of the BPO to the health, economic and artistic growth, and long-term prosperity of the organization,” BPO violist Janz Castelo said in a statement. Castelo is a member of the musicians’ negotiations committee.

He continued: “We look forward to continuing to bring music of the highest quality to audiences in Buffalo and beyond for many years to come.”

The agreement provides for wage increases totaling 12.6 percent over the term of the contract. It also introduces fee minimums for solo and education work outside of the orchestra. It provides for continuation of musician contribution to health insurance and current plan design. And it introduces a peer review committee and process for dismissals for artistic reasons.

Under the agreement, musicians’ minimum salaries will be raised from the current $48,120 to $54,177 in 2022. The contract maintains a schedule of 38 workweeks and two paid vacation weeks.

“I applaud the exemplary vision of our BPO musicians, which bespeaks their profound commitment to our community and their inspiring dedication to our audiences,” BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta stated, in announcing the contract. “Not only is this six-year agreement unprecedented, it ensures that we can strategize and plan for the future together, and continue to provide the highest level of artistic excellence to Buffalo and Western New York.”

John Morris Russell brings pizzazz to the Pops, After 50 Magazine

As the Principal Pops Conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic, John Morris Russell has big shoes to fill.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Doc Severinsen embodied the Pops spirit at the Buffalo Philharmonic, with crowd-pleasing, dynamic programs. Night owls who watched him during the week on “The Tonight Show” flocked to the hall for their own brush with celebrity. In the early 2000s, the late, great composer Marvin Hamlisch led the series with finesse, involving lots of community talent and well-known artists.

Russell is the perfect person to continue the Pops tradition at the BPO. His boundless charisma, energy and enthusiasm – one staff person described him as “human coffee” – allow him to forge a connection with every audience member, whether they’re seated in the front row or the back of the balcony. He also brings a lot of experience to the role: not only is he the leader of the highly-respected Cincinnati Pops and the burgeoning Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, he spent 11 seasons leading the Windsor Symphony Orchestra in Canada.

“The whole border community is such a vibrant area. There’s so much going on,” he said, referencing the Medical Campus expansion, the influx of renewable energy corporations, and the revitalization taking place downtown. “I spent so much time on the other side of the river. I’m really anxious to explore everything down here. It’s an exciting time to be in Buffalo.”

Yet, it was a job he never sought.

In 2014, he guest-conducted “Glee” star Matthew Morrison’s performance with the BPO at the request of his longtime friend, then-BPO General Manager David Crane. At the time, the BPO was engaged in a search for a Principal Pops Conductor, their first since Hamlisch’s departure in 2007. He was asked if he’d consider the role, he says, and was ultimately selected from among the other candidates. He added the role of Principal Pops Conductor to his duties with the Cincinnati Pops and with the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra.

Russell led three BPO concerts last season: Holiday Pops, Great Ladies of Swing with Dee Daniels, and A Tribute to John Denver. This season, he will lead five concerts, beginning with The Music of John Williams. He is based in Cincinnati, and spends several days prior to each concert in Buffalo rehearsing with the BPO.

“We have got such a fantastic orchestra, really great players. We wanted to kick things off by having a showpiece that features the virtuosity of the orchestra. There’s no better way to do that than with the music of John Williams.” The Sept. 24 concert includes music from “Star Wars,” “Jaws,” “Superman,” and “Schindler’s List,” as well as Williams’ Olympic theme that resonated through homes this summer during the Rio Games.

“It’s going to be a resplendent performance of great orchestral music. This is music you kind of take for granted as you’re eating popcorn and watching the latest Star Wars installment, but when you listen to the music by itself, it stands on its own and is some of the most splendid orchestral writing that’s ever been created.”

On October 22, Russell will introduce a new act to Western New York: The New York Voices. Ask him about this group, and his characteristic enthusiasm takes over.

“They are EXTRAORDINARY. Oh. My. God. They’re so jazzy and hip and incredibly talented,” he said. The Ithaca College-trained vocal quartet has a sound similar to that of Manhattan Transfer, and they will perform a show called “Sweet Sounds of the 70s.” Russell included an orchestral medley of music by the legendary Wrecking Crew, the house band for many of Phil Spector’s artists, because Wrecking Crew member Tommy Tedesco is a native of Buffalo.

“It’s [Buffalo’s] cultural diversity that breeds great music makers in all varieties,” he said, in a comment hinting at future seasons, “We want to further explore some of the great music makers that have called Buffalo their home.”

Last season, Russell made his debut as Principal Pops Conductor with Holiday Pops, one of the orchestra’s biggest concerts of the season. It is also a concert very close to his heart.

“I’m a Christmas music nut. I’ve got literally a thousand LPs that I’ve been collecting since I was a kid,” he said. He remembers his father coming home with compilations put out by Firestone and Goodyear after getting the snow tires put on the family car. “It would always just be this panoply of music. I like to have that kind of wild diversity to holiday programs. We’re celebrating peace, love and joy and I’d like to make sure every single piece of music on the program exudes it.”

Russell is still in the process of finalizing plans for Holiday Pops, but has planned to showcase the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, who he calls “fantastic,” ever since the first rehearsal for last season’s concert. He also plans to seek out and highlight additional Buffalo talent on this concert, which has the potential attendance of nearly 10,000 people among the four performances on Dec. 16, 17 and 18.

After the holiday break, Russell will return to lead Broadway star Lisa Vroman in “A Valentine Romance” on Feb. 10 and 11. Vroman has sung the role of Christine in “Phantom in the Opera” more than anyone else, and has numerous other Broadway, orchestral and opera credits.

“It’s a real delight to be able to bring her to Buffalo. She kind of embodies what I think of as the ‘pops spirit,’” Russell said. “She’s an exceptional singer who can sing everything from opera to show tunes to jazz. We like to have that same ethos to the pops.” He quoted Duke Ellington as saying “If it sounds good, it is good.”

Russell is also eager to share the talents of The Midtown Men with Buffalo, on March 31 and April 1. Comprised of original cast members from the hit Broadway show “Jersey Boys,” the group performs hits from 1960s and 1970s.

“Midtown Men preformed with the Cincinnati Pops a few years ago, and they were outstanding. It’s an incredibly entertaining show. I immediately thought this would be perfect for Buffalo,” Russell said.

Russell plans to spend his off-time exploring the city and getting to know it better. He is particularly interested in spending time on Lake Erie, something he didn’t do last season because his concerts were in December, January and February. He also plans to visit the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, to further explore the rich architectural heritage in Buffalo, to experience more of Buffalo’s dining scene, and just generally get to know a region in which he already feels at home.

“[After my guest-conducting appearance,] I looked around town and said, ‘these are my people,’” he recalled. “It was a wonderful serendipitous moment. It’s been a wonderful relationship. All the concerts we did last year were so much fun.”

Tickets to all Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concerts are now on sale. Discounts are available to groups of eight or more. Individuals can save on multiple concerts by subscribing. For more information, visit or call (716) 885-5000.


A 300-year-old violin with a tale to tell takes the stage , Am-Pol Eagle

When Joshua Bell performs with Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on Saturday, Sept. 17, the violin once owned by famed Jewish Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman will be on stage as well.

Bell is kicking off the BPO’s season with the Gibson ex Huberman Stradivarius used by Huberman, a violin prodigy who lived from 1882-1947.
Huberman was born in Częstochowa, Poland. In his youth, he was a pupil of Mieczyslaw Michalowicz and Maurycy Rosen at the Warsaw Conservatory, and of Isidor Lotto in Paris. As a violinist, he became known for his virtuosity and daring interpretations. He would go on to create the Palestine Orchestra in 1936.

In 1919, the Stradivarius, one of a handful made in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona, Italy, was stolen from Huberman in Vienna. It was recovered when police caught the thief trying to sell it. When it was stolen a second time, during a concert at Carnegie Hall in 1936, Huberman would never see it again.

In an essay titled “The Huberman Violin”, Bell explains how he came about the violin at the famous violin shop J & A Beare in London in 2001. Bell wrote: “He [Charles Beare] told me that it was the famous Huberman Strad, and of course I was instantly intrigued.”

As Hitler rose to power, Huberman raised funds and auditioned musicians from across Europe for the Palestine Orchestra enabling many to escape the coming Holocaust by obtaining the nearly impossible-to-get exit visas from their homeland to Palestine.

Bell stated in his essay, “This violin is special in so many ways. It is overwhelming to think of how many amazing people have held it and heard it. When I perform in Israel with the Israel Philharmonic, I am always touched to think how many of the orchestra and audience members are direct descendants of the musicians Huberman saved from the Holocaust – with funds raised by concerts performed on the very same instrument I play every day.”

The concert with Huberman’s 300 year old violin takes place at 8 p.m. Sept. 17 and will be conducted by JoAnn Falletta. Bell will perform Bruch’s Violin Concerto; works by Manuel de Falla, Rimsky-Korsakov and Goyesca are also on the program. Tickets are available at or by calling 885-5000. It’s also the Opening Night Gala, and dinner/dessert reception tickets are still available.

BPO trombonist to give solo salute before move, Kaitlin Lindahl, East Aurora Bee

Tonight’s Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concert at Knox Farm State Park will likely serve as a full-circle moment for bass trombonist Jeff Dee.

Several years ago, Dee suggested playing a piece by Chris Brubeck, son of the “Take Five” musician David Brubeck, called “James Brown in the Twilight Zone.” Dee said he pitched the idea to Stefan Sanders, associate conductor.

“We thought ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to do something where you’re conducting and I was a soloist.’ And we kind of toyed around with different pieces and came up with this,” said Dee, a West Seneca resident. “That was several years ago.”

However, Dee’s suggestion never came to fruition. That is, until tonight.

“What’s meaningful for me is just that Stefan and I have been friends since he was at [The] Juilliard [School] prior to me, and when he left to join the Buffalo Philharmonic is when I took his spot that he opened at Juilliard. … We’ve been friends ever since then, and obviously now I’m sitting in the chair that he previously sat in, and now he’s conducting,” he said. “Not only just the history of us both being bass trombonists and having such a close relationship in the business, but that he’s a dear friend, so for me, that’s very meaningful, and also to solo in front of this orchestra that’s been my family since 2007.”

Dee said the piece he’s performing is somewhat out of the box for the BPO, which he said generally plays more romantic and modern styles of music.

“What I’m performing is one movement from his concerto for bass trombone and orchestra,” Dee said. “The piece is made up of elements of the ‘Twilight Zone’ TV show theme and some from the James Brown repertoire, so it’s got sort of a funk feel to it. It’s a real cool piece.”

Tonight’s free concert at Knox will be one of Dee’s last with the BPO, as he will take on a new set of musicians with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra early this fall.

“The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is a very, very fine orchestra. They perform 52 weeks a year, so they’re a full-time, full-year-round orchestra. Slightly larger in size [than the BPO], and they do a lot of touring, so every year they do some kind of tour to either Asia, South America or Europe,” he said, adding that he has done some touring and recording work with the orchestra in the past.

“It’s very similar to Buffalo in that the colleagues are very, very warm. You don’t always get an orchestra where everyone, for the most part, gets along. … I couldn’t be luckier.”

Though Dee said he is excited to get under way with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, he said he will miss Buffalo and his colleagues at the BPO.

“I’ve truly enjoyed my time in Buffalo, and I mean the move to Pittsburgh is definitely a move up and is recognized in the business as a move up … but I’ve really, just really, enjoyed Buffalo and my colleagues here,” he said. “This was definitely a place I was ready to call home for the rest of my career.”

The concert will start at 7 p.m. today on the grounds of the park, 437 Buffalo Road, East Aurora, with free parking located at the Neil and Barbara Chur Equestrian Center. In the case of inclement weather, the concert will be postponed to 7 p.m. Friday, July 8.

Independence Eve Celebration aligns athletics with the arts, Amy Moritz, Buffalo News

There was a time when Stefan Sanders was certain he was destined to be a National Hockey League player. He had a childhood passion for hockey and, as most kids who play sports, dreamt of a pro career.

Then he found music and a new passion developed. Sanders poured himself into it and became an internationally renowned trombonist en route to a career as a conductor. That brought the Austin, Texas, native to Western New York, first as a member of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and now as its associate conductor.

Following his artistic passion to Buffalo he was reminded of that early athletic passion.

“When I was growing up in Texas, I had to order my hockey equipment and the return label was from Great Skate on Sheridan in Amherst, N.Y.,” Sanders said. “I had no idea where that was, but when I first moved to Buffalo and drove by Great Skate I just about had a wreck.”

The partnership between athletics and the arts is unique and one that is now in its 22nd year in Western New York, bringing the Buffalo Bisons and Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra together every July 3.

The Independence Eve celebration begins with the Herd taking on the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the New York Yankees affiliate and the first-place team in the International League North Division, at 6:05 p.m. The evening continues with a post-game concert and the largest fireworks display of the season at Coca-Cola Field.

“When we first started it, we thought we’ll try it for a year,” Bisons general manager Michael Buczkowski said. “We thought we’ve got this great orchestra right here in our home town. There’s got to be something we can do as part of a game and it’s worked out great.”

Sanders played trombone with the orchestra from 1999 to 2007 and was part of this concert many times. He understands it from a musician’s perspective and has learned more about the production aspect this year, as talks with the Bisons began back in November to create this year’s show.

“They have a very clear idea of what they want,” Sanders said. “They know their fan and when it comes to this type of concert, it’s a little bit of everything. There’s patriotic music because it’s the day before the holiday, and some popular music as well – some Star Wars, some Batman, some Beauty and the Beast. There’s popular orchestra music all ages can identify with. Capitalizing on the fact it’s Independence Eve we have music to salute to the armed forces and we end with the 1812 Overture.”

Of course you end the program with the 1812 Overture. As any baseball fan of a certain age remembers, it is the music most closely associated with the 1976 cinema classic, “The Bad News Bears.”

The crowd on July 3 at Coca-Cola Field is generally a mix of people who are fans of the BPO coming for the concert and fireworks and baseball fans who are there for the game (and the fireworks). For Sanders that creates opportunity.

“As a musician, whether you’re playing or as a conductor, one of great joys is sharing what we’re passion about with people not familiar with it,” Sanders said. “We all believe if you’re exposed to it and can feel our sincerity in our music-making, you’ll understand.”

Fans will understand because there are similarities between playing in an orchestra and playing baseball. Both require a team effort, a melding together of different talents into one cohesive unit, and both speak the universal language of passion and dedication.

“Kids find their passion,” Sanders said. “For me I played hockey growing up and I thought I would be an NHL player. Then I fell in love with music and never looked back. I definitely see the similarities in all disciplines. When you become passionate about something, you devote a lot of your life to the craft of doing it and getting better and better. You become skilled and then you have the opportunity to do this for a living which is the greatest joy and reward for all that hard work whether you’re a member of the Bisons or of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.”

And the respect goes back from the clubhouse.

“I’ve noticed, especially in the last 10 or 15 years, how many of our players now come out in the dugout and want to hear it,” Buczkowski said. “I think there’s a mutual respect kind of thing. They come out and say ‘This is really good’ and they start asking questions: how many are in the orchestra, who are they, what else do they do? They want to know everything about them, kind of the same way the musicians will ask questions about the players. So at some level I think there are a lot of things that are in common.”

Long-serving BPO musicians, staff recognized

At the final M&T Bank Classics concert of the season, four BPO musicians and one staff member were recognized publicly for their long service to the orchestra.

Violinist Mary Louise Nanna is celebrating 50 years with the orchestra. She is among the few native Western New Yorkers in the orchestra, and is also a member of the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. In addition to her work with the BPO, she is the founder and director of Ars Nova.

Principal harp Suzanne Thomas is also celebrating 50 years with the orchestra. She received a B.M. and Performer’s Certificate from the Eastman School of Music, and continued her studies at the Fontainebleau School in France. She is well-known in the area as a teacher and chamber musician.

Violinist Diana Sachs is celebrating 40 years with the orchestra. A Denver native, she received a BFA in music from Stephens College and a Master’s Degree from Indiana University. She has taught at Kinhaven Music School in Vermont, and performed at the Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming, and is an avid chamber musician.

Violinist Andrea Blanchard Cone is celebrating 30 years with the orchestra. She is a graduate of Eastman School of Music, and was adjunct faculty at the University at Buffalo for many years. She performs frequently with Western New York chamber groups. Her husband, Doug Cone, is also a BPO musician.

Principal Music Librarian Patricia Kimball is also celebrating 30 years of service to the orchestra. Every piece of music that makes it to the stage comes through Pat’s library – this includes acquisition, maintenance, preparation and distribution of all parts as well as vital assistance in the artistic planning process.

M&T pledges $500,000 to BPO Crescendo Campaign, Jim Fink, Buffalo Business First

Efforts by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra to meet its $25 million Crescendo Campaign goal has received a major boost from one of its biggest corporate supporters.

M&T Bank has pledged $500,000 to the campaign as the BPO nears its $25 million goal. The Crescendo Campaign was announced last year and more than $23 million has been raised in pledges.

M&T has pledged its donation through its M&T Charitable Foundation.

“Our orchestra needs the support of business leaders in our community to ensure it has a strong future for decades to come,” said Robert Wilmers, M&T Bank chairman and CEO.

Wilmers said he hopes other corporations and individuals follow suit.

Since 1992, M&T Bank and its executives have contributed nearly $5 million to the BPO.

“It is my hope that this gift will inspire others, especially our corporate leaders, to give to the BPO, an institution that enriches the fabric of our community,” said Louis Ciminelli, BPO Board of Trustees chairman.

The Crescendo Campaign is the latest targeted effort by the orchestra’s leadership to have its endowment fund surpass the $50 million mark. Typically orchestras need endowments that are five times its annual operating budget.

This year, the BPO has an $11 million operating budget.

Before the Crescendo Campaign began, the BPO’s endowment fund was approximately $34 million.

Officials said the fund will help finance collaborative efforts with other local cultural organizations and expand its “Music for Youth” concert series and “Next Generation” education programs.

Scaling The Spectacular Heights Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony Receives Its BPO Premiere, Jan Jezioro, Artvoice

Richard Strauss completed his final tone poem, Ein Alpensinfonie, Op. 64 “An Alpine Symphony”, in 1915. Somewhat surprisingly, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance of “An Alpine Symphony”, under the baton of its music director JoAnn Falletta, will be an orchestra premiere on its season finale concerts on Saturday June 4 at 8pm and Sunday June 5 at 2:30pm.

The performance will be accompanied by projected images of the Alps as photographed and assembled into what he calls a Symphony in Images, by the German photographer and cellist Tobias Melle. The goal of Melle is to make the audible visible, as he has noted: “The fusion of my photography with the music of great symphonic compositions results in a unique audio-visual work of art. With the aid of digital projectors, Symphony in Images enables the audience simultaneously to hear with its eyes and see with its ears. The images are synchronized live: this means that they fit perfectly and naturally with the playing of the musicians”. Melle has enjoyed great popular success with his photographic interpretations of symphonies by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Dvorak during live performances in both Europe and America.

Richard Strauss earned his reputation as a composer, first in Europe and then internationally, through his wonderfully original tone poems for orchestra. Beginning with “Don Juan” in 1888, and continuing through an increasingly ambitious and successful series that included “Death and Transfiguration”, “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks”, “Also sprach Zarathustra, “Don Quixote Ein Heldenleben” and “Symphonia Domestica”, Strauss’ popular tone poems are among the most frequently programmed orchestral works, with one notable exception. Although Strauss designates his Opus 64 as a “symphony”, the “Alpine Symphony” is not composed in the traditional four-movement symphonic form, but it is rather a tone poem, consisting of twenty-two continuous sections of music, written for a vastly augmented orchestra, one of the reasons, no doubt, that the work is one of the very least performed of his tone poems.

Strauss had started sketching drafts of “An Alpine Symphony” in 1899, but he put them aside, concentrating instead on his skyrocketing career as an opera composer. Upon learning in 1911 of the death of his good friend Gustav Mahler, Strauss noted in his journal: “The death of this aspiring, idealistic, energetic artist is a grave loss” and he resumed work on “An Alpine Symphony” which he intended to be a two-part work titled “Der Antichrist: Eine Alpensinfonie”, with the new part named after an essay by Nietzsche written in 1888.  Strauss eventually abandoned the idea of a second part, and called his single-movement work, which he finished early in 1915, simply An Alpine Symphony.

BPO music director JoAnn Falletta has previously performed an Alpine Symphony, leading her other orchestra, the Virginia Symphony, at the Virginia Festival of the Arts in 2013. About that performance Falletta noted that “In Strauss’ inspired and monumental masterpiece, ‘An Alpine Symphony’, he calls upon all of his supreme powers of orchestral wizardry to create his largest work — an evocative description of a mountain and the beauty and danger encountered in scaling its heights. Strauss had a very memorable mountain-climbing experience as a boy, and he recreates that adventure in music of gigantic proportions – requiring an orchestra of over 115 people and including such exotic instruments as a thunder sheet, cowbells and a wind machine. The music is overwhelming in its scope and gorgeous in its romantic extravagance. And if such sonic beauty weren’t enough, we will have corresponding images projected above the orchestra. Not only will you hear the magnificence and terror of an Alpine climb, you will be dazzled by the striking photo-choreography of sunrise, waterfalls, glaciers, alpine meadows thunderstorms and many more brilliant images. This is truly an once-in-a-lifetime experience to ‘live the music of this great work with eyes and ears”.

Born in Lackawanna in 1972, composer Ron Gardner completed his studies at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA in 1996. He composed his “Sanctuary of the Soul” as a gift for JoAnn Falletta and the BPO. About his new work, the composer says “Sanctuary of the Soul celebrates Eliel Saarinen’s inspired architectural vision for Kleinhans Music Hall while illuminating the shared listening experience of concert goers. As a point of reference, an aerial view of the concert hall resembles a cello, which serves as the featured solo instrument in the music; and the cello’s melody seeks to emulate Saarinen’s unique use of curvilinear interiors and exteriors in the structure. Strings open the piece, representing the excitement and pleasure of the patrons upon arrival in the lobby. A crescendo follows which portrays the first sight of the grand canopy upon entering the concert hall. A contemplative cello solo implies a hush of anticipation before the orchestral sound fills the stage, as the music builds and expands with winds and brass; their melodies convey a mutual delight, finishing with a triumphant, unified homage to the architect, conductor, musicians and patrons”.

It would be safe to say that this program is infused with the world of nature, as it also includes the BPO premiere of a third piece, “In the Tatra Mountains, Op.26, Symphonic Poem” by Czech composer Vítezslav Novak (1870-1949). Composed in 1902, the lushly written work was inspired by Novak’s journeys in the magnificent Tatra mountain range between the border of Czechoslovakia and Poland.

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