March is Women’s History Month, a time to honor the great achievements of women throughout history, and for the BPO especially, their musical contributions. We are thrilled to share in this annual celebration by recognizing many of the incredible female guest artists, conductors, and composers featured on the 2021-2022 concert season.
We would be remiss not to begin with our own Music Director, JoAnn Falletta, whom many may be astonished to know was the first woman ever to lead a major US ensemble. In her 22 seasons in Buffalo, she has brought the orchestra to new levels of international prominence. The BPO is now a leading recording orchestra for Naxos, the world’s top classical label, and JoAnn was instrumental in the establishment of the orchestra’s own Beau Fleuve record label. In 2004, she founded the JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition in partnership with WNED. In 2018, she made history as the first American woman to conduct an orchestra in Warsaw, Poland’s prestigious Beethoven Easter Festival, as she led the BPO in its first international tour in three decades. She has been the recipient of countless awards, including the top award for Adventurous Programming, 12 GRAMMY nominations and four wins, and the BPO under her direction continues to flourish.
Valerie Coleman, whose Seven O’Clock Shout was featured on this season’s Youth Concert Series, was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. She began playing flute in the fourth grade and immediately became interested in composing music. By age fourteen, she had written three full-length symphonies and had won several local and state competitions. Valerie earned a dual degree in music theory/composition and flute performance from Boston University. Her musical style mixes modern orchestration with jazz and Afro-Cuban genres. Her compositions include works for wind quintet, chamber music, orchestra, concert band, and solo flute. She is currently an Assistant Professor at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.
Also featured on our Youth Concert Series is composer, pianist, organist and music teacher, Florence Price. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, she was guided in early music training by her mother, who was a music teacher. She gave her first piano performance at the age of four and had her first composition published at the age of 11. She attended the New England Conservatory, where she studied organ and piano, and began to think seriously about composition. She moved to Atlanta Georgia in 1910, where she became head of the music department at what is now Clark Atlanta University. Continued racial violence led her to leave Little Rock and settle in Chicago, where she studied composition and organ with the leading teachers in the city, and published four piano pieces in 1928. In 1931, Florence and her husband divorced. To make ends meet, she worked as an organist for silent film screenings and composed songs for radio. During this time, she moved in with her student and friend, Margaret Bonds, who was also an African American pianist and composer. Together, the two achieved national recognition for their compositions and performances. In 1932, she won first prize at the Wanamaker Foundation Awards for her Symphony in E minor, leading to its premiere by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the first composition by an African American woman to be performed by a major orchestra.
In October, we were honored to welcome the return of pianist Sara Buechner, performing the glittering, extravagant piano concerto of Camille Saint-Saëns. In her twenties, Sara earned a bouquet of top prizes at the world’s premiere international piano competitions. She was a Bronze Medalist of the 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and the Gold Medalist of the 1984 Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition. She has commissioned and premiered several contemporary scores and has released numerous acclaimed recordings of rare piano music. She is a faculty member of Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance, and previously taught at the Manhattan School of Music, New York University, and the University of British Columbia. As a proud transgender woman, she also appears as a speaker and performer at important LGBTQIA+ events, and has contributed interviews and articles about her own experience to numerous media outlets worldwide.
In November, the BPO welcomed back Joyce Yang, revered by Buffalo audiences for her heroic moment in 2012 when she replaced Lang Lang, who had fallen ill, on less than 24-hours’ notice. Born in 1986 in Seoul, South Korea, Joyce received her first piano lesson from her aunt at the age of four and quickly took to the instrument. In 1997, she moved to the United States to begin studies at the pre-college division of the Juilliard School. She first came to international attention in 2005 when, as the youngest contestant at just 19 years old, she took the silver medal at the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, also taking home awards for Best Performance of Chamber Music (with the Takàcs Quartet) and Best Performance of a New Work. In 2006, she made her celebrated New York Philharmonic debut alongside Lorin Maazel at Avery Fisher Hall, and made a triumphant return to her hometown of Seoul with the orchestra’s tour to Asia. In recent years, Joyce has focused on promoting creative ways to introduce classical music to new audiences. She continues to share her versatility as a performer in solo recitals and orchestral engagements throughout North America.
Our Beethoven & Rachmaninoff performance this past February began with an overture by contemporary composer Jessie Montgomery entitled Coincident Dances, which pays homage to the hustle and bustle of her hometown, New York City. Jessie is an acclaimed composer, violinist, and educator. She is the recipient of the Leonard Bernstein Award from the ASCAP Foundation. Her works are performed frequently around the world by leading musicians and ensembles. Since 1999, Jessie has been affiliated with The Sphinx Organization, which supports young African American and LatinX string players. She currently serves as composer-in-residence for the Sphinx Virtuosi, the organization’s flagship professional touring ensemble, and she was a two-time laureate of the annual Sphinx Competition. She began her violin studies at the age of 3 at the Third Street Music School Settlement, one of the oldest community organizations in the country. She holds degrees from the Juilliard School and New York University and is currently a Graduate Fellow in Music Composition at Princeton University.
Guest conducting Schumann’s Cello on Fri. Apr. 1 and Sat. Apr. 2 is Elizabeth Schulze, whom longtime BPO patrons will remember as the BPO’s former Assistant Conductor. Elizabeth currently serves as the Music Director and Conductor of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra. Since the beginning of her career, she has been a spirited advocate for music education, spanning from elementary to university students. She conducted, taught and mentored students at the National Symphony Orchestra’s Summer Music Institute for more than a decade, and also conducted the American Composer’s Orchestra in LinkUp educational and family concerts inat Carnegie Hall and throughout New York City. She was an artist-in-residence at Northwestern University and has guest conducted the orchestras of the University of Maryland, the Manhattan School of Music, and Catholic University of America, and has guest lectured at the Juilliard School. She holds honors degrees from Bryn Mawr College and Interlochen Arts Academy, a graduate degree in orchestral and choral conducting from SUNY at Stony Brook, and was the first doctoral fellow in orchestral conducting at Northwestern University. In 1991, she was the recipient of the first Aspen Music School Conducting Award.
Nicole Cabell brings her soprano to Brahms’ German Requiem on Sat. Apr. 23 and Sun. Apr. 24. She was a student of the Juilliard School, but only for a very brief time, as she was asked to join the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where she remained for three years. After winning the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in June 2005, she made her London début at The Proms, singing Benjamin Britten’s “Les Illuminations” with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. She has established herself as one of the leading lyric sopranos of her generation, with successes in many of the key roles for her voice type, including as Musetta (La bohème), Pamina (The Magic Flute), Adina (The Elixir of Love), and Micaëla (Carmen). She has performed in some of the world’s greatest halls, from the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera, where she performed Giulietta in I Capuleti e I Montecchi opposite Joyce DiDonato, to the Opéra National de Paris, where she recently sang her first Mimì in La bohème.
Guest violinist Bella Hristova joins the BPO in a very special performance of her husband, David Ludwig’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in Reflections on Rachmaninoff on Fri. May 13 and Sat. May 14. Bella is a young musician with a growing international career, performing on a rare 1655 Nicolò Amati violin. Born in Pleven, Bulgaria, she began violin studies at the age of six. At twelve, she participated in master classes with Ruggiero Ricci at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. In 2003, she entered the famed Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and in 2010, received her Artist Diploma from Indiana University. She is the recipient of numerous prizes and awards, including a 2013 Avery Fisher Career Grant, First Prize in the 2009 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, First Prize in the 2007 Michael Hill International Violin Competition in New Zealand, and was a Laureate of the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. A sought-after chamber musician, she performs frequently with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and is an alum of the Bowers Program. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and their beloved cats.
Wang Jie has emerged as one of today’s most evocative musical voices. Her new work, The Winter that United Us, was composed as a gift for Kleinhans Music Hall and will premiere at our June 11 performance with Renée Fleming. Ranging from elegant to campy, Wang’s works are powerfully engaging, richly orchestrated, and rhythmically vibrant. Born and raised in Shanghai, she thrived as a piano prodigy from age five. Years of hard work earned her a scholarship from the Manhattan School of Music, and graduate studies at the Curtis Institute of Music. While a student, her tragic opera Nannan was showcased by New York City Opera’s annual VOX festival. Her concert opera From the Other Sky was the centerpiece of the American Composers Orchestra’s season opening concert at Carnegie Hall. In addition to her successes in concert halls, Wang was named a Schumann fellow at the Aspen Music Festival, where she studied with Christopher Rouse and Marc-Andre Dalbavie in the Master Class program, and a McCracken Fellow at the NYU Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Other honors include multiple ASCAP Awards, citations from BMI, Opera America, American Music Center, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and most recently, a Koussevitzky Prize from the Library of Congress and the Elaine Lebonbom Prize from Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Finally, America’s soprano Renée Fleming returns in a celebrated engagement, one night only on Sat. June 11. Many may be surprised to know that Renée grew up in nearby Rochester, New York. She received her undergraduate degree from the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam and continued her studies at the Eastman School in Rochester as well as the Juilliard School in New York City. One of the most beloved and celebrated singers of our time, she is renowned for her sumptuous voice, consummate artistry, and compelling stage presence. She made her professional debut in Salzburg, Austria in 1986. Two years later, she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. She has performed countless roles worldwide, including Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Marguerite in Charles Gounod’s Faust, the Marschallin in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, and the title role in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. Awarded America’s highest honor for an individual artist, the National Medal of Arts, as well as four GRAMMY awards, she brought her voice to a vast new audience in 2014, as the first classical artist ever to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl. She continues to perform in opera houses, concert halls, and theatres around the world.
To learn more about the BPO’s commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity, and access, please visit bpo.org/idea.