There are unseen heroes in the orchestra family. Some of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s heroes work in the basement of Kleinhans Music Hall, but now they are being brought out into the light.
The BPO has named its music library after Bradford Lewis following a substantial gift to the orchestra.
“Without classical music, I wouldn’t be sane. I’ll just put it that way. It’s that important,” said Lewis.
Lewis has been a subscriber to the BPO since 1969 and has seen how far it has come.
“When I was on the board with the orchestra from 1990 to 1995, and in those days in virtually every board meeting the head financial person would get up and say, ‘You realize we are not a going concern. You realize how bad this is.’ It was perpetual doom and gloom,” said Lewis
“It’s a totally different world today. I think the reason for that, number one is [Music Director] JoAnn [Falletta]. Unquestionably, in my mind, she is the finest music director we have ever had. She has done absolute miracles for this orchestra. She has brought us a worldwide reputation.”
Lewis said a team effort is what has propelled the BPO ahead in recent years, emphasizing the impact of Executive Director Dan Hart.
“That combination that she’s formed with Dan has really given us a very strong financial organization for the first time. You are really feeling, ‘We’re not in trouble. We can breathe this week.’ It’s a very rare feeling,” said Lewis.
But it takes more than just a conductor and players to make an orchestra work. Lewis knows this firsthand having spent 15 years volunteering with the music collection at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. He said the BPO’s two full time librarians, Patricia Kimball and Travis Hendra, are people who make the orchestra go.
“The music library down here is one of our nerve centers of the orchestra. It’s really important. Without our librarians, we wouldn’t be on stage,” said Hart.
Falletta said her job wouldn’t be possible without their efforts.
“Literally, nothing could happen on this stage without our librarians. Nothing,” said Falletta. “They are the curators of thousands of pieces that get played every year. Every single piece of music is vetted by these two. Even with our propensity for doing unusual repertoire, their roles are usually difficult. I could not do my job at the BPO, nor could any of the musicians without Travis or Pat.”
“I am so grateful to Brad,” added Falletta. “We have been good friends for a long time. That friendship is based upon our musical passion for music. It has always been incredible to have conversations with him, so it seems appropriate that he is making a special gift to endow, as Dan said, the central nervous system of this orchestra.”
What the librarian job entails may be more involved than most would think.
“Basically, we are responsible for the entire collection owned by the orchestra,” said Kimball. “We are responsible for every piece of music that goes on stage for the orchestra to perform. When I talk responsibility, I mean the care of the materials, but also the preparation of those materials for performance.”
“It’s very rare anymore that we ever do a concert front to back where we just sit down and play some music and go home,” said Hendra. “A lot of times we are adding visual elements or we’re adding a dance component or some other some other extra musical component. All those details have to be sorted out ahead of time. A lot of times we will take the lead with other members of the operations department to sort out those details. If a piece of music is under copyright, we will have to work with the copyright holder to gain permission to do that. To add any extra visual element. To make sure we’re legal.”
Kimball has been working with the orchestra for 31 seasons and has witnessed its growth.
“Our library has grown. During those years, if we were doing a run out concert to a local church or a family concert, a kids concert, we’d say, ‘Here’s a list of what’s in the library to the conductor. Use this music. We can’t rent or buy anything.’ So we had a lot of repetition. Many of the musicians would say, ‘Are we playing that again?’”
Hendra said the library has several works that are rare and hard to replace. It’s their job to make sure they stay in proper shape.
“Our set to Lohengrin to the overture of Act III has the Toscanini ending in it,” said Hendra. “A previous librarian who wrote out the Toscanini ending, it just elongates the ending by about 6 or 8 measures. It ends it more with a bang. Our parts have that. It’s not in Toscanini’s hand, but it’s not something we can easily replace. That’s something we would have to replicate in order to make that happen. So it’s just easier to play those old parts.”
In an age where everything seems to be going digital, physical copies of music still reign supreme in the orchestra world.
“We still have people in the orchestra who don’t own a computer,” said Hendra. “There’s something very magical about a piece of paper. I know it sounds really lame, but it’s really low-tech. If it falls off the stand you pick it up. If a page rips you tape it. It doesn’t need an instruction manual, it doesn’t need batteries.”
“And it can’t be hacked,” Lewis added. Hendra enthusiastically replied, “Well it can be! But in our own unique way with tape and paste.”
Lewis’ contribution will be used in any way that can help the orchestra as a whole, but overall it helps sustain a strong classical presence here in Buffalo. When together in the same room, it is easy to see how they all share similar visions.
“It helps keep the organization healthy,” said Kimball. “That’s the best thing that we could ask for.”
“We can keep pushing the boundaries of what we’re going to do as an organization, “said Hendra. “We can keep trying to make special events and once in a lifetime performances that we otherwise couldn’t do.”
“I’d love if we could add two more violas and a double bass,” Lewis added. Everyone in the room laughed as Hendra added, “You and the orchestra would love it!”
Being recognized is nice, but for Lewis it is about keeping music alive through community support. In addition to his involvement with the BPO, he is a longtime listener and member of Classical 94.5 WNED. He sees similarities in each for how funding is accomplished.
“It was really wonderful when WNED finally came on the air in ’77. It just made all the difference in the world. I think anybody who listens regularly should be a supporter,” said Lewis. “The more of you who are supporting, the healthier the organization is going to be. It’s not some kind of an elite mechanism for people who get together at the back room at the Saturn club and say, ‘Let’s each chip in $100,000 and keep it on the air.’ Those days are gone. Orchestras can’t be funded that way anymore and WNED can’t be funded that way anymore. It’s got to be community-based.”
Hendra points out the intimate relationship the classical community now has with their audience in Buffalo.
“In a lot of other cities, there’s a greater corporate network to rely on those sorts of things,” said Hendra. “We don’t have that network in place. It’s much more important for us to rely on our community and our smaller donors and really make connections with people because then everyone can take ownership with what we do.”
At the end of the day, hearing the music thrive is all that Lewis wants.
“The only reason that (name on the door) ended up was that they gave me several alternatives which involved getting up on a stage, and I said no,” Lewis said, to laughter.
“So this was about the last alternative and they said the library is down in the basement. I said, but nobody is going to see it except the staff and musicians who work there right? And they said fine. I said that’s good. That’s what’s important. Knowing the people who make the orchestra go are the people who benefit the most and if they recognize my name on the door that’s good.”
This contribution is part of the BPO’s Crescendo Campaign which began in 2014. The goal is to increase the orchestra’s endowment to provide a stable, renewable source of income for the organization. The campaign has currently raised $27 million of its $30 million goal.