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“Buffalo Chamber Players at the AK” returns “classical music” to the wide array of Albright-Knox Art Gallery programs

It was hard to say which group was more thrilled this Thursday evening – the BCP or the AK or the audience! The Buffalo Chamber Players (primarily Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra musicians who perform in varying formations dictated by the music they play), began their 8th season with an inaugural concert (the first of four full-length events planned this season) in their new venue, the spacious glass enclosed auditorium above the “new wing” (built in 1962) of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Avenue.

Having performed their first seven years in the cozy theater of Buffalo Seminary on Bidwell Parkway, the BCP was thinking about a larger venue and the audience was thinking about a cushion or two on those hard wooden pews. Simultaneously, the AK was thinking about adding a “classical” music component, and specifically chamber music, to a venue that has long been associated with jazz. The word classical connotes conservatory-trained orchestral musicians but the use of quotation marks connotes that the music choices last night spanned 400 years and a number of different musical periods (Baroque-Classical-Romantic-20th Century-Contemporary) with one of the three living composers, Buffalo’s Caroline Mallonée, introducing her work from the stage. The other two contemporary composers, Toronto’s Brian Current and SUNY Fredonia’s Rob Deemer had other commitments. And, apparently, composers Handel, Mozart, and Brahms were unavoidably late.

For their part, the Albright-Knox provided first class support, handling promotion, the ticketing, logistics, stage management, and refreshments, all time-consuming tasks which used to be performed by BCP Artistic Director/violist Janz Castelo with his wife, bassoonist Ellen Barnum, assisted by BPO violist Kate Holzemer. It was a lot to do. On a poignant note, for seven years we’ve gotten used to Castelo simultaneously (and frantically) re-arranging music stands and chairs on stage while talking about the next piece of music. We missed that bit of “theater” but he assured us that he didn’t. At all.

The evening opened with a warm welcome from AK Deputy Director Joe Lin-Hill who mentioned that many chamber music concerts involve artists who fly in for the evening, but the Buffalo Chamber Players live and raise their families in Buffalo. Indeed, the BCP mission statement reads, in part, “Through its performances, the ensemble aims to challenge, redefine, and enhance the public’s perception of chamber music while promoting the city of Buffalo and our region as a culturally vibrant place to live, work, and play.”

And it should be mentioned that you would be hard pressed to find a better intermission (or pre-concert event) than strolling the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Unfortunately, the exhibit “Dan Colen: Shake the Elbow” with huge paintings made with chewing gum (yes, that’s not a typo) is only up through October 18th. But, there’s always the permanent exhibit. And, by the time of the next BCP concert on November 19th, the temporary exhibit will be Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s “Ecologies of Drama” (October 10 through January 3).

BCP20150720-0071-1-1024x767To use an old slang expression “This is a class act.”

Castelo is known for searching out interesting music with a great back story. One such work was “Twenty-Six Simultaneous Mosaics” by 20th century American composer Henry Cowell (1897-1965). According to Castelo, who has gone to UB to look up the archives, that work was the opening work on the very first program offered by Lukas Foss’s Creative Associates on their “Evenings of New Music” 50 years ago in that very same AK auditorium with Cowell in attendance. Castelo said that reading the names of composers and performers from that series was humbling. But it was thrilling at the same time to be carrying on a great Buffalo tradition.

“Twenty-Six Simultaneous Mosaics” has five instrumentalists arranged throughout the auditorium and they are to play the music as written, but in any order they wish. The only “control” is the pianist (in this case Roland E. Martin) who, when he is about to “run out of music” raises his hand to signal that it’s about time to stop. The work runs about 8 minutes and the audience loved it.

To give just one more example of the programming, Castelo explained that most of us, when we think of the romantic era composer Johannes Brahms, we think of either his symphonies or his chamber music (duets, trios, quartets, and quintets). “Brahms’ Lullaby” aside, we don’t think of Brahms as a song writer and yet that form might account for half of his output. So we heard two Brahms songs performed by soprano Colleen Marcello. But here’s the BCP touch, that little extra, that connectivity. Earlier in the program, Marcello had sung a famous Handel Aria “Ombra mai fu” in which the singer hopes that no thunder, lightning, or storms disturb a favorite tree from childhood. Later we heard Brahms’ “Stilled Longing” with the line “How solemnly the forests stand!” and following that we heard “Sacred Lullaby” with the repeated refrain “Silence the treetops! My child is sleeping.” Nice touch.

And, relating to Castelo’s experience seeing all the famous names of players and composers who were on that stage in Lukas Foss’s time, Carolyn Mallonée described her piece “How Small I Am” as a reaction to being in an artist colony’s cabin, looking at all the names of those who had preceded her.  Nice touch.

Castelo says that the BCP and the AK are talking about brief, casual performances throughout the gallery, matching up a piece of music with a painting by performing live right in front of the actual painting.  In this digital age, where we hear music on an iPod and look at art on an iPad, this will be a refreshing dose of reality.

The next scheduled, advertised program for the Albright-Knox is tonight’s “M&T First Fridays” with family activities all evening long and tomorrow night’s “Slavic Soul Party!” at 7:30 p.m., part of “Art of Jazz 2015-2016.

The next “Buffalo Chamber Players at AK” event will be “Atmosphere and Texture” Thursday, November 19 at 8 p.m. when, quoting from the classy full color brochure provided, “The ensemble presents a program exploring the use of color and texture in music, with an emphasis on the works of Impressionist and Minimalist composers. The concert includes music by Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Arvo Pärt, and La Monte Young.” Tickets are sold at the front desk the night of the concert or through the Albright-Knox website . If you are an AK member, you can enjoy a handsome discount, but if that’s the case, you’ll be happier calling for your tickets (716-270-8292) rather than using the website.

And, of course, you can see and hear many of the BCP players in their “day job” performing with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in the first of two “Finnfest” weekends with a Saturday night at 8pm and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 series at the BPO’s musical home – the Finnish designed Kleinhans Music Hall.

Photos: Albright-Knox | Buffalo Chamber Players


*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is performing), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the music itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to hear live music, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night of music making. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the performance and the music are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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