The audience exploded twice on Saturday night at Kleinhans Music Hall, when the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta with guest violinist Tianwa Yang, played two major symphonic works that couldn’t have been more different. On the first half, violinist Yang ripped the audience out of their seats to a standing ovation with her performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D.
Beethoven, that great change agent, who took us from the so called “classical” era of Haydn and Mozart into the “romantic” era with huge orchestras and sweeping symphonies lasting an hour or more, where listening is truly an event. Just last week we reported on one such work, Austrian composer Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 “Romantic.” This week, it was English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 2 “London” which is a very large symphonic poem describing a very large city, filling the second half of the program.
Vaughan Williams composed this symphony in 1914, the last year that England could enjoy a simpler, more pastoral view of the world, before the horrors of the First World War. He revised it, though, in 1920, and dedicated his symphony to another English composer, George Butterworth, who had helped Vaughan Williams in 1914 reassemble the work when the original score went missing.
(An historical note: Butterworth was killed by a shot to the head from a sniper during World War I in one of the bloodiest campaigns in human history, the Battle of the Somme, which last from July 1st to November 18, 1916. In one of life’s coincidences, the 100th anniversary of that battle, which ended Butterworth’s life at the age of 31, was just observed around the world. And a day later, we hear a major artistic endeavor dedicated to him.)
Butterworth composed very sweet English idylls that take us on nostalgic trips to the English countryside. Vaughan Williams could do that too and more. He could write big sweeping English anthems and then a minute later arrange English folk songs for wind instruments. It’s all in his Symphony No. 2. And, as we’ve said many times before, music composed from about 1885 to 1925, give or take, is Falletta’s specialty. Anton Bruckner, Maurice Ravel (who taught orchestration to Vaughan Williams), Richard Strauss, Florent Schmitt, Ralph Vaughan Williams, these are the composers she was born to conduct.
As to the first half of the evening, Tianwa Yang is to violinists what Tom Hanks is to actors.
As to the first half of the evening, Tianwa Yang is to violinists what Tom Hanks is to actors. Absolutely rock solid, bankable, a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Her tone, her intonation, her artistry all impeccable, she has a seamless flow of sound that is balanced and never out of place. But, she can spice things up with pyrotechnics when the moment calls for it.
When an orchestra likes a soloist, after the performance, when the audience is applauding, the string players wave their bows in the air and non-string players often clap one hand against their knee. It’s very unusual for orchestra members to put their instruments down and actually clap both hands, but that’s what they did on Saturday night. So if this were a competition, you know that Ms. Yang would have won both the audience favorite and musicians favorite awards.
Ms. Yang’s violin was made by Giuseppe Guarneri (1698-1744), whose instruments rival Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737) in respect and reverence, and for many prominent players and collectors his instruments are the most coveted of all. Uniquely his own style, many claim that his violins are superior as they often have a darker, more robust, more sonorous tone than Stradivari’s. While Stradivari lived and worked to the age 93, Guarneri died at only 46, and fewer than 200 of his instruments survive. Her particular instrument is on kind loan from Mr. Kei Mei Rin in Singapore (these things can cost over ten million dollars).
Her particular instrument is on kind loan from Mr. Kei Mei Rin in Singapore (these things can cost over ten million dollars).
Guarneri is known as del Gesù (literally “of Jesus”) because his labels after 1731 featured the letters I.H.S. and a Roman cross. While Stradivari’s instruments are called “Strads” those by Guarneri are called “del Gesùs” [say “JAY zoos”]. Over the years, del Gesu artists have included Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Midori, Niccolò Paganini, Itzhak Perlman, Isaac Stern, Eugène Ysaÿe, to name a few. The popular young American violinist, Joshua Bell, who opened the BPO’s season, while a Strad artist, once said to me that he was saving up to buy a del Gesù.
And speaking of Belgian composer Eugène Ysaÿe [say “ee-SIGH”] we heard a hauntingly beautiful encore, the second movement of his second sonata (of six) titled “Malinconia”. Ms. Yang has recorded all six sonatas, and the movement in question is also on her Naxos CD “The Best of Tianwa Yang” which she was autographing in the lobby.
While that work is not on social media, another Ysaÿe encore is, and for an example of her ability to please a crowd, there’s a video of her performing the finale of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D in St. Petersburg, Russia.
There’s a lot to celebrate about Buffalo’s “renaissance,” and part of that is the BPO, finally on secure financial footing, and of course, anytime you are at Kleinhans, you can take your own tour of an architectural landmark (and be sure to stop in the archive room on the second floor to get the full story behind the building).
The concert repeated Sunday, November 20, 2016 at 2:30 p.m. at Kleinhans Music Hall.
Next performances by the BPO include Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker” conducted by the BPO’s Resident Conductor, Stefan Sanders, at Shea’s Performing Arts Center accompanying Neglia Ballet Artists, for the eighth season in a row. The Saturday night after Thanksgiving (take your out-ot-town guests!) performance is at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, November 27 at 2:00 p.m. Orchestra section tickets start at $26 but additional fees may apply. www.sheas.org
Then, on Thursday, December 1, members of the BPO calling themselves the Buffalo Chamber Players present a concert in their (new) home at the Albright Knox Art Gallery. They will present music by a living composer, the legendary Krzysztof Penderecki [say pen-dur-ET-skee], who will be in attendance. Requested by Maestro Penderecki himself, the program includes three works: his Cadenza for solo viola, Quartet for clarinet and string trio, and Sextet for clarinet, horn, violin, viola, cello, and piano. Tickets are $20 general admission and $5 students. www.albright-knox.org
On Saturday night, December 3 at 8:00pm and then Sunday afternoon at 2:30pm, composer Penderecki himself will conduct a concerto for both violin and cello, along with two BPO principals, Dennis Kim and Roman Mekinulov. Both concerts will be at Kleinhans Music Hall – JoAnn Falletta will be attending as an audience member. Tickets start at $29. 716-885-5000 www.bpo.org
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (e.g. you are the parent of someone who is performing), give this concert a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the performance 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 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!