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‘Rite of Spring’ finally arrives at UB, Steve Sucato, Buffalo News

Postponed by Buffalo’s November storm of 2014, “The Rite of Spring” will finally take the stage at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts’ Mainstage Theatre on April 21.

A collaboration between the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Richmond Ballet, the concert was initially organized as a celebration for the 20th anniversary of the Center for the Arts. The performance will be the Richmond Ballet’s Western New York premiere.

The troupe, along with the BPO under the baton of music director JoAnn Falletta, will perform three ballets from its repertory including Salvatore Aiello’s critically acclaimed 1993 interpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du printemps” (The Rite of Spring).

Falletta, who has also been the music director of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra the past 25 years, has worked with the Richmond ballet previously, including conducting performances of Aiello’s “The Rite of Spring” in 2013 that marked the ballet/score’s 100th anniversary.

“The passion, energy and superb acting of the dancers will create an experience that will be riveting to our audience – even overwhelming,” Falletta said. “As much as I had studied ‘The Rite of Spring,’ I feel like I discovered what the piece was truly about in seeing their production. People might be wondering why ‘The Rite of Spring’ was such a groundbreaking moment in music and dance history. When they see this production they will completely understand how it changed the course of music and dance forever.”

Staged by Richmond Ballet’s Jerri Kumery, a protégé of the late Aiello, the 36-minute ballet’s story is taken from the rituals and ceremonies of primitive societies. In it, to celebrate the advent of spring and to bring good fortune, a young maiden is chosen as a sacrificial offering and dances herself to death.

While the ballet has seen countless dance interpretations since its Paris premiere in 1913, Kumery said Aiello not only researched ancient tribes from around the world in fashioning his ballet, but interjected noble motivations for its lead character, “the chosen one.”

Dancing the lead role in Buffalo will be retiring Richmond Ballet star Lauren Fagone. Rather than being an unlucky, terrified victim of this primitive ritual, Fagone said the brilliance of Aiello’s version is that she chooses herself.

“She is this fierce being who challenges the very nature of these rituals hoping for future change,” Fagone said.

Joining “Rite” on the program will be choreographer Val Caniparoli’s “Stolen Moments” (2015) set to music by Jean-Philippe Rameau.

“I was intrigued and inspired by the contradiction of composer Jean-Philippe Rameau’s graceful and attractive music to that of his public image where he was reported to have a lack of social grace,” Caniparoli said of the ballet.

Rounding out the production will be Richmond Ballet artistic director Stoner Winslett’s “Ancient Airs and Dances” set to Italian and French lute songs orchestrated by Ottorino Respighi. The ballet, in honor of former New York City Ballet dancer Joseph Duell whose untimely death in 1986 deeply affected Winslett, is for four couples who journey from Renaissance-era formality to shedding their facades in order to reach “a freer, ascended kind of place,” Winslett said.

DANCE PREVIEW

What: “The Rite of Spring,” performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Richmond Ballet

When: 7:30 p.m. April 21 (pre-performance talk at 6:30 p.m.)

Where: University at Buffalo Center for the Arts, Amherst

Tickets: $67 and $47 general; $27 for students of any school; $127 VIP

Info: 645-2787, ubcfa.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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