Category: BPO in the News

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

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

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

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

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


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

“I loved every minute of it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hanslip electrifying, Falletta refined in Buffalo Phil concert, Rex Hearn, Palm Beach Arts Paper

In a short three-city tour of West Palm Beach, Vero Beach and Fort Lauderdale, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra showed Feb. 7 at the Kravis Center just how good they are under the baton of JoAnn Falletta, one of the fine women conductors who has made inroads into the once male-dominated maestro domain.

Abandoning the usual warm-up piece of overture or tone poem, the orchestra launched into the program with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (in D, Op. 35) with 29-year-old English soloist Chloë Hanslip. The second half of the program was devoted to Brahms’s Second Symphony (in D, Op. 73).

Composed in 1878, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is one of the most popular works in the classical repertory. Composed after his disastrous marriage of two months, Tchaikovsky wrote it after fleeing to Clarens on Lake Geneva. This deeply personal concerto has a poetic undertow influenced by Lord Byron’s epic poem, Don Juan. It vacillates from joy to sadness. It probes: now singing, now weeping, now dancing. It was an emotive leap that flowed from his pen, and the afternoon performance was electrifying from soloist and orchestra.

Wiping the sweat from her palms down her black-and-white skirt, Hanslip waited impatiently as the first and second violins opened with a lovely melody before tucking her 1737 Guarneri del Gesú instrument under her chin . A hasty, ragged attack of her first quick bars of music was disappointing. Loose horsehair from her bow caught our attention and became distracting in its continual up and down flight.

Settling down to the movement’s Allegro moderato pace she produced a nice singing tone in the slower passages. After completing a phrase, her dramatic right arm flourishes seemed a bit overdone and melodramatic. Plucked orchestral strings accompanied her lovely intonation of repeated double octave work. Taking her time with the difficult cadenza, she developed the habit of half-turning away from the audience to play to the orchestra. Returning to the slower passages, she faced front and gave a sweetly refined interpretation of a beautiful Tchaikovsky tune followed by a race to the end by soloist and orchestra. Striking a nice balance, the orchestra accompanied her violin sensitively.

In the second movement (Canzonetta), Hanslip, turning her back on the audience, became deeply involved with the orchestra’s lead chairs, intensely looking in their direction. Next she turned to look at the first violins, nodding approvingly. Her playing here was full of warmth and emotion. The finale (Allegro vivacissimo) is full of quick tempos and difficult runs, all of which Hanslip executed brilliantly. But again, when she wasn’t playing, she ogled the clarinet soloist or the oboe soloist, her back to the audience again. Spinning around, she tackled more tough runs with brio and raced with the orchestra to the finish. Wild acclaim greeted soloist and orchestra from the audience. In her encore she was joined by the new concertmaster of the 75-member Buffalo Philharmonic, Dennis Kim, in a short duo by the French Baroque master Jean-Marie Leclair.

Later in the lobby, I heard people say how well Hanslip played but that her erratic positioning was too distracting for them. Hanslip’s intellectual curiosity in trying to connect with the orchestra is understood. However, a soloist is expected to present more decorum when playing to Palm Beach audiences. Turning one’s back on them is considered a slight. A minor quibble, but soloists must take locale into consideration.


Comparisons to male conducting greats of JoAnn Falletta’s conducting style are numerous. To estimate her capabilities fairly it must be based on her current work with this orchestra, and in this case, how she interpreted the Brahms Second.

Waiting 30 seconds for complete silence in the hall, Falletta set the perfect tempo to introduce the first movement with a clear two-handed downbeat. The orchestral sound was nicely balanced, dynamics were fully rounded and attractive; this was magical music-making. Facing the eight cellos to her right at the beginning of the second movement, she drew from them a beautiful rendition of the opening theme, rich in its warmth and well-played by all. Turning to the full orchestra, Falletta opened her arms wide, and with a front to back sweep of her graceful hands, led her orchestra in a kindly, gracious mood, strictly keeping the beat as cellos sawed away and woodwinds seemingly bubbled away over them.

Only three times during this movement did she make a grand gesture, arms held high to achieve a big orchestral crescendo. Her hand movements are subtle and never overdone.

Falletta’s third movement was smooth and controlled, with the conductor keeping everything simple and delicate. The finale (Allegro con spirito) opens softly, but suddenly the orchestra bursts in with a full-throated, whirling Brahms tune, full blast. Falletta moved it along, arms flailing, with skilled precision. A thrilling melody soars over the Alpine high meadows, telling us of Brahms’s expansive joy in writing the symphony and the time well-spent on the 1877 Bavarian holiday during which he wrote it.

But just to let us know he’s in charge, he ends with a brazen blast from the brass section that Dame Edith Sitwell would describe as “vulgar.” The Kravis audience cheered and gave the Buffalo Philharmonic a standing ovation. What a fine reading Falletta gave to this symphony. Her refined, calm interpretation will be remembered for a long time to come.

The Return of Andre Watts, Jan Jezioro, Artvoice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buffalo Philharmonic Announces 2016-17 Season, Douglas Levy, The Public

Season after recent season, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has continually exceeded itself in programming that is groundbreaking and virtuosic, while engaging soloists and guest conductors who shine new light on old favorites and bring new or seldom heard works to the fore. This assessment is even truer regarding the Classics Season that the BPO announced for 2016-2017.

“I believe that this is our most dramatic season ever, and it also presents the most diverse programs we have offered,” says Music Director JoAnn Falletta. “We have a year of magical events that will dazzle our audiences.”

Headlining the star-studded roster of guest performers are violinists Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman. Bell, for my money, is the finest violinist of his generation. Any performance of standard repertoire works by him is always a revelatory experience. Hearing him play any of the venerable violin concertos is like hearing it for the first time. On Saturday, September 17, 2016 Bell inaugurates the orchestra’s 78th season by playing Max Bruch’s deliciously romantic Violin Concerto, a brilliant vehicle for a violinist of Joshua Bell’s extraordinary talent, at the BPO’s Opening Night Gala.

Itzhak Perlman is more than just a great violinist and international superstar. He is an ingratiating and powerful personality who is known not just as a musician but also as a cultural ambassador and interlocutor on all subjects musical, engaging audiences throughout the world. Perlman comes to Buffalo after a nine-year hiatus, on Saturday, February 25, 2017, to perform what promises to be startlingly unconventional yet highly compelling program that draws on memorable tunes from classic motion pictures, includingCasablanca, Cinema Paradiso, and Schindler’s List. Itzhak Perlman’s appearance is a special concert, not included in the subscription season. However, current subscribers may purchase tickets before they go on sale for the general public.

A major event on December 3 and 4, 2016 is the appearance on the BPO podium Kryzstof Penderecki. The eighty-three year old composer and conductor is known far and wide outside his native Poland, where he has always lived. His Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, St. Luke Passion, Polish Requiem and Anaklasisare among his best known pieces out of a body of work that encompasses all musical forms. Here he will conduct his Concerto for Violin and Cello, with Dennis Kim and Roman Mekinulov, the BPO’s Principal Violinist and Cellist respectively, providing the solo honors. Maestro Penderecki will fill out his program with works by Dvorak and Beethoven.

Two series concert pairs, on October 1, 2, 15 and 16 will be devoted to the music of Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky, perhaps the most beloved of nineteenth century Russian composers. A soupçon of the greatest moments from his oeuvre, including symphonies, concertos, ballets and operas will be presented, featuring pianist Fabio Bidini and the Cleveland Orchestra’s Principal Cellist Mark Kosower.

Devotées of 1980s rock will remember the Police and its drummer Steward Copeland. Since the group’s breakup Copeland has been branching out musically, and audiences will be surprised and delighted to hear his most recent excursion into the symphonic vein, Tyrant’s Crush. Buffalo gets to hear this work on October 28 and 29, 2016, only six months after its world premiere in Pittsburgh.

Following up on their successful collaboration last March with Beethoven’s Incidential Music to Egmont, Irish Classical Theatre Company teams up with the BPO again for three performances on January 20, 21, and 22 of Peter Shaffer’s award-winning play and film, Amadeus. Based on a highly fictionalized account of the relationship between Wolfgang Mozart and Antonio Salieri, the lives and passions of both men are portrayed incisively in Shaffer’s script and reflected movingly with the music of the great genius that was Mozart.

Other major attractions: March 10 and 11, 2017: superlative organist Cameron Carpenter will rock Kleinhans Music Hall with Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings and Camille Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 “Organ”. May 6 and 7, 2017: The BPO explores the incredibly intense sound-world of Richard Wagner through excerpts from his magisterial Ring Cycle. March 22, 25 and 26, 2017, acclaimed Bach interpreter Angela Hewett will be in residence at Kleinhans for a master class and recital featuring theGoldberg Variations on that Wednesday, and soloist in two Bach piano concertos Saturday and Sunday. February 18 and 19, 2017: German Requiem by Johannes Brahms, featuring the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and soloists. November 11 and 12, 2016: Hear the American premiere of Helge Evju’s reconstruction of Edvard Grieg’s unfinished Piano Concerto No. 2, performed by Carl Peterson.

Other great works during the season beyond those already mentioned: Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 “Romantic”; Beethoven: Violin Concerto, Piano Concerto No. 3, and “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6; Gershwin:American in Paris; Scriabin: Symphonies No. 3 and “Poem of Ecstasy” Symphony No. 4; Saint-Saëns: Violin Concerto No. 3; Sibelius: Symphony No. 2; and works by rarely heard Englishmen: William Walton (Belshazzar’s Feast), Ralph Vaughan Williams (Pastoral Symphony), and John Ireland.

To see the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s schedule for the remainder of this season as well as next, go Call 885-5000 for subscription and ticket information.

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra powerful at Kravis, Ken Keaton, Palm Beach Daily News

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra returned to the Kravis Sunday afternoon under JoAnn Falletta, for a concert of classics — Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Brahms Symphony No. 2 in D.

The days of the Big Five orchestras — New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Boston — dominating American concert music are long gone, and the Buffalo band is as fine as any in the world. Maestro Falletta has been their music director since 1998. Though tiny in stature, she is a titan on the podium — surely one of the greatest conductors of her generation.

And the sound of that ensemble! From the opening notes, the orchestra produces a ravishing tone, perfect balance, a huge range of dynamics and absolute precision no matter what the technical demands. Each section plays gloriously, and the first-chair soloists are each superb.

This was the second time this season that the Kravis audience heard Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky — earlier, by Arnaud Sussmann and the New World Symphony. That was a strong performance, but British violinist Chloë Hanslip was even stronger.

Hanslip, not yet 30, has already established herself as a world-class virtuoso with performances on four continents and a series of recordings on Hyperion. Her performance was richly romantic without being self-indulgent, and the sound of her 1737 Guarneri del Gesu was remarkable — silky tone, with a huge range of dynamics that could cut through the entire orchestra.

This concerto is perhaps the most romantic concerto of the entire violin repertory. Its technical demands stretch the soloist to the limits. Those demands hold no terrors for Hanslip, who negotiated the wildest passages with aplomb. But she was best in the lyric heart of the work, especially the songful second movement. And she joined concertmaster Dennis Kim in a duo as an encore, from a suite by Leclair.

Johannes Brahms’ second symphony was completed just a year after his first, a stormy and triumphant work. His second was in a wholly different mold — gentle, graceful, and lyrical, full of pastoral delights.

The opening theme in the cellos and basses seems, from the Buffalo band, to rise up from the earth itself. And throughout the work, Brahms bathes the listener in a warmth that seems to come from Nature herself.

The second symphony is all about balance — a natural progression of sonorities and tempos, and Falletta has all this in her heart. Two of the movements add the phrase non troppo — not too much, surely Brahms’ favorite musical expression. Even the whirlwind at the end of the final movement never spins out of control. Brahms would have been happy.

And if we needed a bit more fireworks, Falletta led a rousing reading of the overture to Bedřich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride for an encore.

BPO Florida trip ‘music to a lot of ears,’ Jim Fink, Business First

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s upcoming three concert Florida performances are as much about fundraising as friend-raising.

The orchestra will be performing on Feb. 7 in West Palm Beach, Feb. 9 in Vero Beach and Feb. 10 in Gainesville. The trip is the third Florida tour for the BPO in recent years and second in the past three years.

“It’s about getting the name of the BPO out there,” said Dan Hart, orchestra executive director.


To make the trip, the orchestra needed to raise $200,000, much of it from an effort led by current board member and Buffalo business leader John Yurtchuk and past BPO trustee and M&T Bank executive Donald Dussing. The orchestra is also receiving fees from the three venues where it will be performing.

“Financially, the trip will be a net benefit,” Hart said. “But there is an artistic component, the challenge for the orchestra to play in three very different halls.”

Performing pieces by Tchaikovsky and Brahms — both of which the centerpieces of the orchestra’s Jan. 30 and Jan. 31 concerts at Kleinhans Music Hall — is intended to increase the BPO’s following in Florida.

JoAnn Falletta, orchestra music director and principal conductor, said she and her fellow musicians love the challenge of playing in different venues outside of Kleinhans Music Hall.

“You have to consider the hall like an instrument,” Falletta said. “Playing in different halls, you hear things in a different way.”

Both Falletta and Hart agree that given the large number of people from Buffalo either living or spending the winter months in Florida, it makes sense to conduct the occasional tour of the Sunshine State.


This tour was generated by an invitation from the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach. The orchestra played there two winters ago.

Hart said rather than play one Florida concert, additional bookings were made for Vero Beach’s Community Church and the Phillips Center for Performing Arts on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville. The additional bookings help spread out the expenses of taking 75 musicians plus Falletta, associate conductor Stefan Sanders and guest violinist Chloe Hanslip on the tour. The BPO may have as many as eight staffers on the trip.

The Tchaikovsky and Brahms pieces, along with Paul Gay’s “Due Sorelle,” which is being performed in Buffalo and Vero Beach, are being recorded and will be released later this year on the orchestra’s Beau Fleuve label.

“Knowing we are recording these pieces, along with playing before different audiences, definitely puts us on our toes, and that’s a good thing,” Falletta said.

Buffalo Philharmonic To Perform At SUNY Fredonia, Jamestown Post-Journal

 The Buffalo Philharmonic will perform with the State University at Fredonia Masterworks Chorus, Chautauqua Youth Senior Chorus and Chancel Choir of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 9, in the King Concert Hall.

A second performance will take place at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on March 11.

Bach’s grandest and, arguably, his greatest work, the Great Passion will be performed in the original language with supertitles.

“This collaborative project has been more than a year in the making,” said Dr. Mel Unger, director of the SUNY Fredonia School of Music.”We are thrilled to collaborate with the Buffalo Philharmonic and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church of Buffalo. It allows us to bring one of the monuments of Western music to a wider audience, while also providing our students an opportunity to present a major masterwork alongside professional musicians.”

The all-star cast is highlighted by guest soloists William Hite (tenor) and Aaron Engebreth (baritone), with Fredonia faculty soloists Angela Haas, JoeDan Harper, Daniel Ihasz, Julie Newell and Laurie Tramuta. Fredonia’s Sean Duggan will be featured on continuo organ, joined by guest Baroque specialists Michael Beattie, Patricia Halverson and Christopher Haritatos.

“The St. Matthew Passion is a highly dramatic work that presents a poignant story with universal themes of betrayal, murder and redemption that can be felt and embraced by a diverse audience,” said Gerald Gray, SUNY Fredonia voice professor and conductor/artistic director for the project. “I wish to engage the audience in an emotional dialogue, with Bach the dramatist, that is transformative. This collaboration brings together four leading musical institutions in Western New York to present the ‘St. Matthew Passion’ with uncompromising artistic and vocal depth.”

In addition to the 78 Fredonia students singing in the Masterworks Chorus, current Fredonia students Michael J. Hawk, Nicole Moy, William Steadman, Lucille Horn, Michelle Cope and Lucia Helgren, and music alumni Kyle Botsford, a 2010 graduate; Timothy Flynn, a 2004 graduate; Roger VanDette, a 1978 graduate; and Michael Manganiello, a 2012 graduate; will appear in lead and supporting roles. The Fredonia Masterworks Chorus will be joined by the 35-member Chancel Choir of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and the 20-member Chautauqua Youth Senior Chorus.

“For the double-chorus,” Gray said, “we combine the excellent singers of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church Chancel Choir, under the direction of their organist/choirmaster James Bigham, with select voices from the choirs of the School of Music at Fredonia, to form a superb choral instrument. The Chautauqua Youth Senior Chorus, under the direction of Marjorie Bohn, brings a lovely youthful tone that will delight the audience.”

While Bach had a very specific purpose in mind when composing this work – to present the story of the Crucifixion in music at Good Friday vesper services – Bach’s Passion continues to move audiences nearly three centuries after it was first heard in St. Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, Germany.

“The great works of antiquity, such as the sculptures of Michelangelo or the tragedies of Shakespeare, continue to live as each new generation has their own dialog with these creations,” Gray said. “Such is the case with the ‘St. Matthew Passion.’ When we engage with these works, we are ennobled. It has been over 20 years since this masterwork has been performed in Western New York. Now is our time to share the St. Matthew Passion with a new generation.”

Tickets are available by calling 673-3501, online at, or in person at the Fredonia Ticket Office. General tickets are $25; student/child tickets are $10.

The event is supported by the SUNY Fredonia School of Music, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church of Buffalo and the Williams Visiting Professorship endowment through the Fredonia College Foundation.

“Wild’ new BPO season has richness and resonace — even a rock drummer, Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News

The 2016-17 Buffalo Philharmonic season opens with violin superstar Joshua Bell, a known favorite.

After that, fasten your seat belt.

As the season unfolds, among the soloists Kleinhans Music Hall will welcome is Stewart Copeland, the drummer best known for his years with the Police. Copeland is playing a percussion concerto he wrote.

Also making his BPO debut is the flamboyant young organist Cameron Carpenter. Carpenter, a hotshot performer in the vaudeville mold, will be arriving with his own elaborate instrument to play Poulenc’s Organ Concerto.

And in a special event, violin legend Itzhak Perlman is presenting an evening of movie themes.

How to describe this season?

“It’s a little wild, I think,” laughed JoAnn Falletta, the orchestra’s music director. “It’s incredibly diverse. The variety of things happening. I’m excited about it. It’s full of drama.”

Some of that drama will intrigue even BPO newcomers. Mozart’s birthday in January 2017 will be celebrated with the play “Amadeus” presented in collaboration with the Irish Classical Theatre. This fall will bring a two-weekend Tchaikovsky Festival, including the 1812 Overture complete with chorus. A highlight of spring 2017 will be a narrated exploration of the orchestral music from Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, a visual-enhanced adventure that will be recorded for Naxos.

Another Naxos project involves the challenging music of the mystical Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. It includes the Symphony No. 3, “The Divine Poem,” and the celebrated Symphony No. 4, “Poem of Ecstasy.” According to BPO archives, the orchestra has never before performed either of these symphonies.

Falletta is proud that Naxos has put this music into the BPO’s hands.

“They think of us as an orchestra with big sound,” she said.

Piano fans will have reason to rejoice. A Bach birthday celebration will welcome the British keyboard virtuoso Angela Hewitt, making her first appearance in Buffalo. Kleinhans will also welcome for the first time Mark Bebbington, playing the Piano Concerto of John Ireland; and Carl Petersson, will perform a fascinating piano concerto written by Helge Evju after fragments by Edvard Grieg.

A particularly distinguished debut will take place in December, when the renowned composer Krzysztof Penderecki conducts the BPO. His appearance is the result of a visit Falletta paid with a BPO contingent to Poland in 2015. Penderecki, who wrote the score for the movie “The Shining,” will be conducting his Concerto for Violin and Cello, featuring BPO Concertmaster Dennis Kim and Principal Cellist Roman Mekinulov.

Falletta predicts that Buffalo will love the Polish maestro.

“He is the sweetest man,” she said. “There are photos where he looks very austere and remote, but he is the gentlest and friendliest man. We went to his home.”

Penderecki, 82, will be conducting Dvorak and Beethoven in addition to his double concerto.

“He chose his program – that’s what he wanted to do,” Falletta said. “It’s astonishing that he’s going to be here.” She added that the Buffalo Chamber Players, led by BPO violist Janz Castelo, will be doing a program in Penderecki’s honor.

The next season wraps up with Sir William Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast.” The choral extravaganza, featuring baritone Kevin Deas, will include notes of nostalgia. The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, now led by Adam Luebke, is marking its 80th anniversary in 2017. And Falletta conducted the ambitious piece in 2000, as part of her very first season with the BPO.

And just as the current season ends with a twist, so does the next season. This June, the orchestra is playing Richard Strauss’ “Alpine” Symphony, which calls for a giant alphorn. In June 2017, the final piece will be “An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise,” which features a bagpipe player.

Here is the Classics Season for 2016-17. All concerts take place at Kleinhans Music Hall and, unless otherwise noted, are conducted by JoAnn Falletta.

• 8 p.m. Sept. 17: Joshua Bell plays one of the violin concertos of Max Bruch. The evening also will have a Spanish flair, with music by De Falla, Rimsky-Korsakov and Granados.

• 8 p.m. Oct 1; 2:30 p.m. Oct. 2: Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” Suite; Piano Concerto No. 1; and Symphony No. 5. The soloist is Fabio Bidini.

• 8 p.m. Oct. 15; 2:30 p.m. Oct. 16: Tchaikovsky festival continues with the “1812” Overture; the Serenade for Strings; the Rococo Variations and the Polonaise from “Eugene Onegin.”

• 10:30 a.m. Oct. 28; 8 p.m. Oct. 29: Mark Laycock conducts percussionist Stewart Copeland in Copeland’s “Tyrant’s Crush.” Also, Liszt’s “Les Preludes” and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9.

• 10:30 a.m. Nov. 11; 8 p.m. Nov. 12: Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, “Romantic,” follows the Piano Concerto in B Minor, written by Helge Evju after fragments by Edvard Grieg. Carl Petersson is soloist in this American premiere.

• 8 p.m. Nov. 19; 2:30 p.m. Nov. 20: Tianwa Yang is the soloist in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Also, Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 2, “Romantic.”

• 8 p.m. Dec. 3; 2:30 p.m. Dec. 4: Krzysztof Penderecki conducts his Concerto for Violin and Cello, with soloists Dennis Kim and Roman Mekinulov. Also, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 and Beethoven’s Overture to “The Creatures of Prometheus.”

• 10:30 a.m. Dec. 9; 8 p.m. Dec. 10: Stefan Sanders conducts “A Classical Christmas.”

• 8 p.m. Jan. 20 and 21; 2:30 p.m. Jan. 22, 2017: The BPO collaborates with the Irish Classical Theatre for “Amadeus.”

• 8 p.m. Feb. 4; 2:30 p.m. Feb. 5, 2017: Alain Lefevre is the soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 3 of Walter Mathieu. Also, Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”; Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”; and Michael Colgrass’ “As Quiet As …”

• 8 p.m. Feb. 18; 2:30 p.m. Feb. 19, 2017: The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and soloists Deborah Selig and Darren Stokes perform Brahms’ “German Requiem.” Also, Scriabin’s Symphony No. 4, “Poem of Ecstasy.”

• 8 p.m. Feb. 25: Violinist Itzhak Perlman, in a special event, performs an evening of movie themes.

• 10:30 a.m. March 10; 8 p.m. March 11, 2017: Cameron Carpenter is the soloist in a concert featuring Poulenc’s Organ Concerto, Saint-Saens’ “Organ Symphony”; and Milhaud’s “Bull On the Roof.”

• 8 p.m. March 25; 2:30 p.m. March 26, 2017: Two Bach keyboard concertos featuring soloist Angela Hewitt. Also, Associate Conductor Stefan Sanders conducts Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” Overture and Symphony No. 5, “Reformation.”

• 8 p.m. April 8; 2:30 p.m. April 9, 2017: John Axelrod conducts Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony. Also, Honegger’s “Pastorale d’ete” and Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto No. 3, featuring Benjamin Beilman.

• 10:30 a.m. April 21; 8 p.m. April 22, 2017: Natasha Paremski is the pianist in Beethoven’s Concerto No. 3. Also, Scriabin’s Symphony No. 3, “The Divine Poem,” and Philip Rothman’s “Starsplitter.”

• 8 p.m. May 6; 2:30 p.m. May 7, 2017: Wagner’s “World of ‘The Ring.’”

• 10:30 a.m. May 12; 8 p.m. May 13, 2017: Christopher Wilkins conducts the Piano Concerto of John Ireland, with soloist Mark Bebbington. Also, Weber’s Overture to “Der Freischuetz,” and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2.

• 8 p.m. June 3; 2:30 p.m. June 4, 2017: Baritone Kevin Deas is the soloist in a program featuring Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast”; Elgar’s “In the South.” and Peter Maxwell Davies’ “An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise.”


Violinist, BPO make it a memorable night, Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News

Kleinhans Music Hall is alive this weekend with the kind of epic concert that few saw coming. Saturday night’s concert drew what looked like close to a full house, and the applause echoed into the night.

The soloist is Chloe Hanslip, a violinist in her late 20s. She is playing the crowd-pleasing Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, and she has her own way with it. To conclude the concert, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director JoAnn Falletta conducts Brahms’ Symphony No. 2.

The concert starts with the world premiere of an attractive modern piece, the finale from “Due Sorelle” by Paul Gay, who was in attendance and took a bow at the end. “Due Sorelle” is a ballet inspired by a photos of mysterious sisters Gay glimpsed in a historic house in Boston, Mass.

You really don’t have to worry too much about the context. Just enjoy the music, which has a serene feel calling to mind the turn of the last century. The Philharmonic performed it with loving precision, and the colors sparkled. It does make you curious to hear, and see, the entire ballet. Whatever the rest of the piece is like, I admire the composer for writing music this lovely.

The Tchaikovsky concerto, in stark opposite to that first piece, is something many people know inside out. It’s not easy to put a new spin on this music, but I would say that Hanslip did.

Hanslip is a pretty and demure figure with her long gown and Victorian hairdo, but she takes a bold and individual approach. From the first notes sounded on that historic Guarneri violin, you knew she was a little different. She took command of the piece, giving it rubato and elan. The word “klezmer” came to mind more than once, as the concerto proceeded. Is that so bad to say? I like it when the classical and pop worlds cross.

The drama wasn’t all Hanslip’s doing. Tchaikovsky builds it into this concerto, and she knew enough to capitalize on it. She would play with whispery delicacy one minute, then dig into the instrument the next. It was admirable how Falletta and the Philharmonic followed her, giving her space to be herself. Watching the performance, you are drawn into her interactions between the musicians of the orchestra. One super-quiet interlude she shared with John Fullam, the orchestra’s principal clarinetist, can make you catch your breath.

The excitement built through the last movement. This is a whirl of a piece, and Hanslip was dazzling in the subtleties – the flashes of light and shadow, the lightning-fast triplets. There was tremendous excitement. The coda went over the edge, as you knew that it would. Falletta briefly went airborne. Hanslip wrapped up the piece with dash, and the full house thundered to its feet, applauding.

Everyone clapped and clapped and Hanslip returned three times, bowing gracefully, acknowledging Falletta and the orchestra. I was surprised there was no encore. Then again, how would you top that performance?

Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 was a good chaser. What a luminous symphony this is. It always seemed to me full of the feel of summer, and in January, it’s powerful therapy.

Falletta and the orchestra gave this music room the way they had given Hanslip room. It has to unfold as if on its own, and it did. It gives you good opportunities to appreciate the musicians’ gifts. The French horns play a central part in the pastoral feel, adding touches of color and light. The start of the slow movement spotlighted the glorious sound of our cellos.

The BPO paced the symphony nicely and the last movement built, as the Tchaikovsky had, to great excitement. This symphony can claim one of the great symphonic endings of all time, and you felt the power. Falletta went airborne again, bringing it home. The crowd loved it.

So much, in fact, that the BPO played an encore – the overture to Mikhail Glinka’s “Ruslan and Ludmila.”

What a memorable concert. It repeats Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in Kleinhans Music Hall.

Itzhak Perlman highlights Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra schedule, Jim Fink, Business First

A combination of some of classical music’s biggest stars and a cutting-edge selection of works highlights the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2016 M&T Bank Classics series.

“It is a varied season.” said JoAnn Falletta, orchestra music director and principal conductor. “It may be the most variety, musically, we’ve put together in a season.”

The season includes 17 themed “classics” including return visits from such stars as violinists Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman and Stewart Copeland, drummer from the Police. It will also see the orchestra play along as members of the Irish Classical Theatre Co. perform the play “Amadeus” and the recording, for the Naxos label, of two pieces by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin.

“I’d say it is very different and very diverse,” Falletta said. “People will find a lot of surprises and I think they will have a lot of fun with it. Every piece has some sort of drama attached to it.”

The season begins on Sept. 17 with the opening night gala featuring Bell.

The other highlights include:

• Two weekends of celebrating Tchaikovsky on Oct. 1 and Oct. 2 and Oct. 15 and Oct. 16 including the playing of the “1812 Overture” on the second weekend dates.

• Copeland will perform his self-penned “Tyrant’s Crush” on Oct. 28 and Oct. 29.

“I don’t think the orchestra will have to play ‘Roxanne’,” Falletta joked.

• Noted pianst Carl Petersson will perform with the orchestra on Nov. 11 and Nov. 12.

• Tianwa Yong, a rising classical star, has been booked for a pair of Nov. 19 and Nov. 20 Kleinhans Music Hall concerts.

• A special pitch, made by Falletta — in Poland, convinced noted conductor Krzysztof Penderecki to cross the Atlantic Ocean and lead the orchestra on Dec. 3 and Dec. 4. This will be Penderecki’s first time in Buffalo and he hand-picked the three pieces that will be performed.

“This should be a special treat,” Falletta said.

• The traditional “Classical Christmas” with associate conductor Stefan Sanders leading the orchestra is set for Dec. 9 and Dec. 10.


• “Amadeus,” the joint BPO/Irish Classical Theatre production, has been booked for Jan. 20 to Jan. 22.

“It will be very dramatic,” Falletta said. “We will be playing the pieces they refer to in the play.”

• George Gershwin’s “American in Paris” highlights a pair of concerts set for Feb. 4 and Feb. 5.

• Brahams’ “Requiem” featuring the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus along with Scriabin’s “Symphony No. 4” will be performed on Feb. 18 and 19. The orchestra will record “Symphony No. 4” that week.

• Perlman returns to play with the orchestra on Feb. 25. He will perform selections from such movies as “Schindler’s List.”

• Organist Cameron Carpenter, who has a specially created orchestral organ, will guest star with the orchestra on March 10 and March 11.

“This may be the first time a true concert organ will be on stage with the orchestra in Kleinhans,” Falletta said.

• Sanders will conduct the orchestra on a Bach-themed concert(s) that will be performed on March 25 and March 26.

• Beethoven takes the centerstage for concerts booked for April 8 and April 9.

• A second Beethoven selection and along with Scriabin’s “Symphony No. 3” will be played on April 21 and April 22. The orchestra, with Falletta, will also record “Symphony No. 3” for Naxos.

• Wagner’s “World of the Ring” — which features selections from four pieces including “Die Walküre” will be performed on May 6 and May 7.

• Mark Bebbington, a noted pianist, will guest with the BPO on May 12 and May 13.

• The season concludes on June 3 and June 4 with William Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast” that concludes with a bagpiper walking on stage from the rear of Kleinhans Music Hall.

“That alone makes for a very dramatic piece,” Falletta said.