A man hailed as an incredible advocate for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is stepping down after 30 years as conductor.
Paul Ferington of Barker will make his last appearance with the orchestra Friday night at Coca Cola Field in Buffalo, having led the orchestra at this event for 19 years. The game starts at 6 p.m., followed by the concert at 9 p.m. and fireworks at 10:15 p.m.
“Baseball, music and fireworks make this a great family event,” Ferington said.
Ferington, 66, has been dedicated to the BPO from the first day he applied for the position, but last winter’s weather and driving home late at night from a concert or rehearsals took its toll.
“Just driving from here to GCC in Batavia is an hour and a half,” Ferington said. “There were no backups to cover these concerts if I couldn’t make it, and I didn’t want to jeopardize any of the orchestra’s appearances.”
The BPO’s music director JoAnn Falletta paid tribute to Ferington on a video played at his most recent concert.
“He has been a tireless promoter of our orchestra and has found many important ways to reach out to the community and bring us new fans and friends. As an educator, he has a very natural and inviting way of letting the audience in on the musical secrets so many might find intimidating.
“In all, he has taken the BPO out of Kleinhan’s Music hall to 66 different locations over the years, all the while making new friends for the music and for the BPO.
“His work is a labor of love,” she said.
Ferington grew up with music. In fact, he could read music before he could read words, he said.
“My mother was a fine musician and church organist for years,” Ferington said. “I started playing piano at 4. I would hear the jingles or a song on TV and duplicate them on my piano.”
He was playing trumpet by fourth grade and French horn in seventh grade. During his junior and senior years, he studied at the Eastman School of Music.
“My parents wanted me to be a lawyer, but I really wanted to study music,” Ferington said. “They were quite distressed and said I’d never make a living.”
Ferington’s father was a dentist, even becoming General Patton’s private dentist.
Ferington went to undergraduate school in North Central College at Napierville, Ill., where his father went. He also met his wife Karen there, who was a music major. She was a singer and he a pianist. They were married in 1971 in Wisconsin.
At North Central, Ferington did conducting as a student and then at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.
When a job opened up in New York’s SUNY system in 1973, Ferington decided he’d been a student long enough and moved to Lockport to accept the position. He became a professor and administrator.
He has since moved to Buffalo State College, where he is an adjunct faculty member teaching online courses.
“That is something I can do right here from home,” he said.
He said he had always wanted to conduct a symphony orchestra, something in which his band director, Bob Cavers of Medina, played a big factor.
“He gave me the chance to conduct the band in my sophomore year,” Ferington said. “It was a really big deal.”
From 1982 to 1986, Ferington conducted the Niagara Falls Philharmonic Orchestra, but it eventually folded.
In the spring of 1985, he received a call asking him to come and audition for the BPO, as they needed an extra conductor.
“I went to the BPO audition and I was selected,” Ferington said. “My first concert was December 1985.”
As he was already working in the SUNY system, Ferington said he made a commitment not to take a salary from the BPO.
“I didn’t want it to look like I was double dipping, in case I had rehearsals for a concert during the day when I was also on the college’s payroll,” Ferington said.
At the time, Jerry Miller of Medina was college president, and because he had a background in theater, he was very supportive if Ferington needed time off for the BPO.
During his musical career, Ferington has conducted the BPO in 485 concerts and taken the orchestra to 66 different venues outside of Kleinhans Music Hall.
The most satisfying part of his career with the BPO was working with young musicians and giving promising performers a chance to put the BPO on their resume.
“There’s nothing like watching the excitement on someone’s face who is new to symphony music,” Ferington said.
Robin Parkinson, director of Education and Community Engagement at the BPO, has worked with Ferington on the BPOvations lecture series at libraries.
“Paul has enjoyed a loyal following of patrons interested in learning more about classical music, and he has introduced many more to the BPO,” Parkinson said. “He has been incredibly generous to the BPO and this series is just one example of his generosity.”
Principle percussionist Mark Hodges has worked with Ferington at Buffalo State, the BPO and in his own program, Druminar, a leadership, development and team building program.
“It is a privilege to have worked with him,” Hodges said. “The biggest message he delivered was , ‘You have to give respect to get respect,’ and everyone I know who has been around him has the greatest respect for the maestro.
“His knowledge and talent are unsurpassed,” Hodges said.
“He will be hugely missed in the BPO,” Hodges said. “Everybody loves Paul. He is one of most respected conductors I’ve ever worked with.”
The Feringtons have two daughters, Meredith, who is on the faculty at Buffalo State College in the Department of Art Conservation and is a bassoonist; and Megan, vice president of ReviveHealth in Nashville, who is also a good singer and dancer, her father said.
Ferington created the first college community orchestra in the city of Buffalo. His online courses are also unique.
“One is music and political action,” Ferington said. “It combines important political events in history with music of that same era. There’s nothing else like it in the country.”
Retirement from the BPO will also give him time to get back to arranging.
“I love arranging and maybe I’ll do some composing,” he said. “I’d also like to work with some young high school students and do some accompanying for them.”
He also plans to travel more to see his two granddaughters in Nashville, and he loves to work outside.
“Cutting the grass gives me time to think and think,” he said. “That’s when I plan many of my concerts.”
Ferington lives on land his parents bought in 1950. His brother, also a dentist, lives nearby in the family homestead.
“I grew up here in the summers,” he said. “The closest grocery store is 17 miles away. It’s paradise.”