Category: BPO in the News

Towering Strauss ends BPO season, Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is ending this season with a blast of triumphant, Romantic music. The final Classics concert features Richard Strauss’ “Alpine Symphony,” a work that, because of its scope and intense demands, is heard only rarely.

It’s a first for the BPO’s Classics series, and to up the ante that much more, the complex music is being accompanied by photographs depicting panoramic views of the Alps as Strauss must have known them. Saturday’s concert drew a very big crowd. You got the sense it was quite the event.

The concert begins with “Sanctuary of the Soul,” a brief piece written as a gift to the BPO by Lackawanna composer Ronald Gardner Jr.

Gardner, born in 1972, has a wonderful sense for rhythm. He gets this breathless riff going in the strings, and everything builds on that. The orchestration had a thin and spare sound and the music had a horizontal feel, like Copland. There is a lovely solo for cello. Roman Mekinulov, the BPO’s principal cellist, did the honors.

The composer intended the piece to create “a unique energy of celebration with the concert listeners,” and it did achieve that. When it was over, Gardner came forward and took a bow, to great audience acclaim. Everyone enjoyed the tremendous good feeling.

Vitezslav Novak’s “In the Tatra Mountains,” which came next, was enchanting. The BPO has explored Novak’s music in the recent past, and anyone lucky enough to have heard any of it before knows what to expect: great, rich Romanticism. Novak knew how to use the orchestra and he filled this piece with great effects: declamatory passages in the brass, hearty thundering with the brass and the timpani, and soaring strings – sometimes all together. In contrast to that bombast, there were miniature, charming touches, including arresting silences and a violin solo with caressing melodies, played by Dennis Kim, our new concertmaster. The piece also spotlighted the virtuosity of Valerie Heywood, principal violist. The music is full of detail, and the orchestra rose to the challenge.

It was inspiring to choose that piece to set the stage for the Strauss. Both are mountainous works, with mountain themes. And yet they are not very alike.

The Strauss is thrillingly overblown, calling for a wind machine, extra horns and a sort of super-sized oboe called a heckelphone. The music doesn’t really need a complicated introduction. Just sit back and absorb it all, would be my suggestion.

It’s exciting, being present for this performance. Not only is it a Classics series premier, but the music is accompanied by those photographs, splashed on a big screen. Falletta and the orchestra deserve praise for making it all work. The photos went smoothly with the music. From the opening shots of the pre-dawn moon to the closing vistas of sunset and ultimate darkness, it all fit together with a stunning kind of choreography.

All the same, I had conflicting feelings about it. However pretty the pictures, they couldn’t match the music, which can by dizzying in its grandeur.

Music plays on your imagination, and Strauss was the master of portraying in music what cannot be seen. While there were witty touches, his bittersweet harmonies and rapturous cascades of sound can’t be equaled by pictures of peaks and rainbows. Maybe he said he was writing about a hike through the Alps but in reality, his music says something greater.

You might just want to lean back your head, close your eyes, forget the pictures and bask in it. The storm scene, with the wind machine (look for it in the percussion section) is more thrilling that way. It goes without saying that the BPO, with its affinity toward this kind of hedonistic sound, pours heart and soul into it. Our orchestra sounds magnificent these days. Enjoy.

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


A star-spangled salute from the BPO, Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News

You got a paper bag with your program at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s Friday morning Coffee Concert. And no, it wasn’t so you could take one of those yummy doughnuts to go.

It was so you could pop it during Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”

It’s not giving away too much to tell that. The real surprise is how it sounds. All those loud bangs, all over the hall – you can’t believe how effective it is. You really have to be there.

Bravo to Stefan Sanders, the associate conductor, for that rare touch. A Memorial Day concert, perhaps inevitably, has certain constants. A Sousa march. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The Armed Forces Salute, always a highlight, when veterans rise and acknowledge thanks and applause.

But it’s nice to have a few surprises, too. Friday’s performance, which drew a big crowd, had several.

One high point was an a cappella turn by the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, led by its director, Adam Luebke. The singers sang the hymn “Unclouded Day,” by Josiah Alwood, a 19th century Midwestern preacher. It’s an uplifting, up-tempo song – Willie Nelson has sung it – and the choral arrangement has tremendous bounce and good feeling. Looking it up on YouTube, I wasn’t surprised to read that a listener wrote: “One of my favorite songs to listen to on a loop.”

The chorus’ singers, clearly enjoying their time in the spotlight, took this gem at a good clip and gave it their all. Their performance was joyous and crisp. One of these Memorial Days, maybe we could let them do a whole set of songs by themselves. This one song made me want to hear more.

Speaking of spirited songs, it’s always fun to hear “Over There” in the jaunty arrangement by Capitol Records’ Carmen Dragon. It rang out with elan. “God of Our Fathers,” our national hymn, crescendoed until it could remind you of a theme from an epic movie. “America the Beautiful,” beginning sedately, also rose gradually into something thrilling.

One new listener told me that several times during the concert, she got tears in her eyes. That is high praise.

I found a lot to savor, too. Having been to more patriotic pops concerts than I can count, though, I occasionally wondered if we could switch things up a little more. Morton Gould’s “American Salute,” Richard Rodgers’ “Victory at Sea” – we hear these pieces, and a few others on the program, almost every year. Though not everyone goes every year the way I do, I don’t see the down side of giving these selections a break and giving the concert a few more twists. Maybe have the chorus sing more. I hate to see the singers sitting there idle.

At the same time, I was impressed, as I often am, by the energy and enthusiasm that Sanders and the musicians poured into the music, novelties and old chestnuts alike. The trombonists threw themselves into “Rolling Thunder,” which had circuslike sparkle. Their colleagues matched their zeal. Assistant concertmaster Ansgarius Aylward gave color and flair to the violin solo in “Victory at Sea,” damn the torpedoes.

“Star-Spangled Pops” repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday in Kleinhans Music Hall.

Porgy and Bess and … Brahms? You bet, Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News

Think it’s a mistake to pair Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 with songs from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”?

It ain’t necessarily so.

This weekend’s concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus is a dandy. We’ve got a majestic Metropolitan Opera diva, Angela Brown. She is paired with the fine baritone Kevin Deas. Buffalo heard Deas last year, in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, when he rose to the Herculean challenge of introducing the “Ode to Joy.” And on the podium is guest conductor Carl St. Clair, a live wire from the word go. A lithe, restless figure, St. Clair crackles like lightning. He filled his unorthodox program with passion, immediacy and humor.

I was so charmed that I began to see sense in the juxtaposition. Brahms fans would admire the Gershwin, with its operatic virtuosity. And folks there solely for the Gershwin, obliged to sit through the Brahms, would have to enjoy it.

A lot of people at Friday morning’s Coffee Concert were clearly there for the Gershwin and new to the Brahms. You could tell by the applause between movements. I never mind this applause. What an experience it must be to hear this magical music for the first time. St. Clair did not mind it, either. He even turned and bowed once to acknowledge it.

He did a fine job of presenting the music, both to newcomers and seasoned fans.

With his Lisztian long hair and dramatic gestures, St. Clair came out of the gate running, and he infused the start of the symphony with a more forceful tone than expected. But as he continued – conducting from memory, it appeared – he rode the waves of the music well, and brought out its soft, luminous qualities.

The orchestra musicians filled the piece with their own emotion, as a group and as individuals. As professionals, they are always involved and alert, but there was something extra here. You heard it in the lavish attention the strings put into the heart-melting Andante, accompanying the woodwinds – and in the woodwinds themselves, so eloquent. In the tender Allegretto, it was breathtaking to observe the cellos and basses crafting that quiet pizzicato pulse.

St. Clair’s fire returned in the concluding Allegro. The journey ended superbly, as he and the orchestra lingered long on the glowing, serene final chord. If you’re new to the BPO, this is why you go – for a moment like this, with nobody breathing, everyone basking in this harmony as you would bask in a sunset.

After intermission, minds cleared, we were ready for something new.

Brown set a haunting tone with her soaring take on “Summertime.” Her voice was rich and powerful. She is the real deal, a diva who has portrayed Aida at the Metropolitan Opera, and it shows.

In a drop-dead red gown, she commanded the stage. She was in character, and gave the music great intensity. You might want to bring a Kleenex: The mournful “My Man’s Gone Now” brimmed with real sorrow. And you will never hear a better rendition of the great love duet “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.” Pouring out the song, she and Deas embraced and held hands.

Deas, who has sung this opera many times, matched her perfectly. He was singing the songs of both Porgy and the no-good Sportin’ Life, and he alternated easily between the two characters. The Sportin’ Life songs brought the house down, as baddies’ songs do. A banjo joined in on “I Got Plenty of Nuttin’.”

Deas, enjoying himself, gave the music his own spin. “Jonah, he lived in the wha-a-a-a-le,” he sang, patting his stomach. My one regret was that, at least from the balcony, people could not catch every word. When you’re dealing with lines like “He made his home in/That whale’s abdomen,” you don’t want to miss a syllable.

The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, God love it, became its own character. The singers mimicked Deas to great comic effect, similar to the way choruses do in Gilbert and Sullivan. Deas added to the fun, egging them on. In “A Woman is a Sometime Thing,” Brown joined in the laughter and the shenanigans.

The chorus showed its virtuosity in this music, and also featured a number of impressive soloists. St. Clair never missed a beat, and the show never dragged. It repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday in Kleinhans Music Hall.

Mozart, Mahler spark rousing response at Kleinhans, Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News

Two fabulous Fifths are filling Kleinhans Music Hall this weekend. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Music Director JoAnn Falletta, is performing Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 and the huge Symphony No. 5 of Gustav Mahler.

This is a real apples-and-oranges program. And I am overjoyed to report that at Saturday’s concert, both pieces brought down the house. That is a tribute not only to the orchestra but to the audience – a full house, by the way. Out in the parking lot a minute or so after the Mahler reached its thrilling conclusion, I could hear the crowd inside cheering and yelling. The Bills aren’t the only team around here that makes people want to shout. The BPO does, too.

The young violinist Mayuko Kamio is the soloist for the Mozart concerto. The piece is nicknamed the “Turkish” for the exotic centerpiece of its last movement. Otherwise it is a delicate piece, with wistful touches and, in its Adagio, shades of Romanticism.

Kamio made it sing. She plays a priceless violin on loan from the Stradivarius Society of Chicago, and her heartfelt performance made you appreciate the instrument’s mellow resonance. Modest in appearance – she wore a lovely, ladylike gown, and did nothing flashy – Kamio nevertheless has assertiveness. The moment she entered in the first movement, she changed the entire feel of the piece.

She articulated every phrase with great delicacy but it was clear her heart was in it, and her playing had an impromptu feel. The cadenza to the first movement ended in a stunning double-stop passage, then melted smoothly and flawlessly back into the main theme. The Adagio had heart-melting romance and the last movement had both grace and guts. The crowd loved it and let her know. A Bravo should also go to the BPO. Pared down for the occasion, the orchestra matched her with tenderness and style.

So fervent was the applause that Kamio gave us an encore, and it was nothing anyone would have expected. She played a take-no-prisoners arrangement of Schubert’s famous song “Erlkoenig.” To transcribe a Schubert song for piano is bold enough. To play one – particularly this one, with its galloping pace and constant change of voice and mood – on violin is dizzying. Kamio pulled it off with fire and a tremendous attention to detail. Brava.

From the single trumpet that starts it, the Mahler held the crowd’s attention. It was paced well and the musicians played with overt passion, individually and as a group.

A work like this is the reason you go to Kleinhans instead of listening at home. I can’t imagine what this music sounded like from the front row. Even from the balcony the various solos jumped out at you in sharp relief. There was low, deeply satisfying bass and bright flashes of sound from the brass. At one point there was barely audible timpani, like muffled thunder.

Hearing this music live, you also see what is going on as you could not just from a recording, or even a DVD. To see the horns all raised in a row – and the flutes, too, all in sync – gives you a unique perspective on what is going on. It had a theatrical intensity, all the crazy thundering, whistling and crashing. The scherzo was expertly handled, with a rustic, klezmer sound.

The Adagietto, famous from movies, was a highlight. Falletta knew how to frame it, preceding it with a prolonged, perfect silence. The hushed strings and delicate harp created a sacred atmosphere. The finale was like a roller coaster, with crisp counterpoint from the cellos and violins and expert solo work all around, from such players as Jacek Muzyk, principal horn, and Dennis Kim, our new concertmaster.

The ending, one of the great endings in music, was tremendous – hence the shouting. There are no words to describe it, really. If you have a Flexpass sitting around you need to use up, this could be the time to cash it in. Don’t miss this.

Native son Eric Jordan Young revives happy memories with Sammy Davis Jr. tribute, Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News

At Kleinhans Music Hall on Saturday night, before the show started, a gentleman shared with a few of us a boyhood memory of Sammy Davis Jr.

Apparently Sammy was playing at the Glen Park Casino in Williamsville and he accepted an invitation to play bingo in his off hours. Not being a native Buffalonian, he had trouble mastering the subtleties of the game, and he was always losing. Then, with a little help, he finally won.

He yelled “Bingo!” louder than anyone ever had. Then he leapt up and began tap dancing. That the prize was small, tiny compared with his pay at the Glen Park, did not bother him one bit. He was celebrating, and he made sure everyone joined in.

That is the great spirit to whom the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and guest artist Eric Jordan Young were paying tribute. They had their work cut out for them, that was for sure.

Happily, it worked. Young, a Western New York native son with a big voice, dapper look and loose limbs, was up to the challenge. Confident from the word go, he threw himself into the Anthony Newley classic “Once in a Lifetime.” Other challenging numbers Sammy Davis Jr. used to tackle also appeared on the program, including “What Kind of Fool Am I” and the Porgy and Bess anthem “There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon For New York.”

It was an evening full of glitz and show biz. Young, a Broadway award winner and seasoned Las Vegas draw, was impeccably prepared and ready for anything. He tossed in snappy, slap-happy dance moves. He whirled around in place. In “The Rhythm of Life,” from “Sweet Charity,” he pulled the mic stand down, to the left and to the right.

That was a novel number. Young had clearly given the evening a lot of thought. This was not just a portrait of Sammy Davis Jr. Though he talked a lot about Sammy Davis’ life, his challenges and triumphs, he also sang songs that figured in his own journey.

“April in Paris” was a highlight. Young took it slow and gave it a lot of weight, so it sounded almost like something out of an operetta. “Home,” from “The Wiz,” was sweet. Introducing “Where or When,” Young talked about how he recalled being here in Kleinhans before. “I sat there,” he said, pointing – “and there, and there, and there…” The crowd cracked up.

The hall was jammed. Everyone loves to welcome back a local boy made good. Young, beaming, returned the love.

“There’s always been such a great sense of community here,” he said. “Such a loving community. Having been around the world, I have to say, Buffalo is a really great place.”

He gave a shout-out to his parents, who were in the audience. And he talked about his boyhood in Mill Middle School, where he starred in “Peter Pan.”

Then he sang “Never Never Land.” It was kind of an overworked arrangement, and the orchestra sometimes smothered him, but the sentiment came through loud and clear.

A few of the arrangements could have been dialed back. Young has a terrific, strong voice, but he wasn’t miked perfectly. And while Associate Conductor Stefan Sanders, on the podium, did a great job of keeping it all together, the complexity of some of the orchestrations rolled over Young like a wave, drowning him out.

Young held his own, though, with his big-hearted elan.

It was poignant when he confessed that not long ago, suffering from heartbreak, he thought of walking away from show business. His emotion lent soul to numbers like “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “At the Crossroads.”

Also affecting was the Sammy Davis Jr. signature tune “Mr. Bojangles.” Young sings the lyrics to every song with passion. He feels what he sings. You could not help getting misty watching him.

It was also sweet to hear him reminisce about a childhood trip to New York City, where Broadway fascinated him. He said that when he passed the theater were “The Wiz” was showing, he peered through the crack between the closed doors.

“I thought I would see the actors in there,” he said. “I thought they lived there. I thought they would be home.”

How nice to have him home, for such a memorable night.

JoAnn Falletta joins founding fathers, Nobel winners in American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, established in 1780, has a distinguished new member.

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director JoAnn Falletta has been elected to the historic group. The induction ceremony will take place on Oct. 8 in Cambridge, Mass.

The academy’s purpose, according to its charter, 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.”

Previous members have included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Maria Mitchell and Alexander Graham Bell. Recent arts honorees have included singers Audra McDonald and Judy Collins; Fresh Air producer Terry Gross, and the actor Christopher Plummer.

The current membership includes more than 250 winners of the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, as well as mathematicians, social scientists, journalists and philanthropists.

“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,” said Jonathan F. Fanton, president of the academy. “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.”

Falletta, acknowledging the honor, gracefully pointed to the bigger picture.

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

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 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 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.

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

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