Sitting at our table, tucked in the back corner, I commented to my wife that the woman seated across from us looked like the Wicked Witch of the East in her black and white stockings — only without Dorothy’s house resting awkwardly on top of her.
We were, after all, attending the annual Encore gala at Genesee Community College, a dinner and Christmas concert featuring the always impeccable Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
It turns out the joke was on me. As I stuffed a fifth crab cake into my mouth, I remained ignorant that the theme of the evening was “The Magic of the Season, the Mystery of Oz.” This woman, who agreed with us that a lack of knee-deep snow at this year’s event was a welcome change, had playfully dressed the part.
Later, after I realized my gaffe, I felt like the Scarecrow, wishing I had a brain.
The Encore is one of my favorite events of the year, one that my wife and I have been privileged to attend twice. It is a first-class evening of dining, delighting, and desserting. It is also a chance for us to escape the responsibilities of parenthood for a few hours and engage in conversations that don’t revolve around nap schedules, teething rings, or Mickey Mouse.
The event serves as a fundraiser for the Genesee Community College Foundation’s scholarships. This year’s recipients were Brandon Henshaw of Brockport, Thais Matte of Brazil, and Alex Uptegrove of East Bethany. According to Christopher White, who co-chaired this year’s committee with his wife, Gina, the foundation will surpass $1 million in awarded scholarships this year.
The food, as always, was superb, but the highlight of the event is, without question, the BPO concert. And the musicians didn’t disappoint.
Once again led by guest conductor Paul Ferington, the orchestra dazzled with performances of Georges Bizet’s “Prelude from L’Arlesieene, Suite No. 1,” Ottorino Respighi’s “La Boutique Fantasque,” and Randol Bass’s “Bellringer’s Holiday.”
Soloists Karen D’Angelo (soprano) and Loren Silvertrust (violin) displayed grace, power, and precision. D’Angelo, an opera singer and voice teacher, particularly demonstrated superb command on Mozart’s challenging “Alleluia” with beautiful, high runs. Silvertrust, who joined the orchestra in 2010, deftly handled Jean Sibelius’s “Humoresque.”
Following the traditional Christmas carol sing-along, which included classics like “Joy To The World” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” Ferington introduced an encore at Encore. Saying only that the extra song “fit the theme of the evening,” he waved his baton through “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
My wife and I have each sung that song to our children, but never with a professional orchestra backing us. And while it may not be a holiday favorite, its dreamful optimism matches the Christmas spirit.
Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me