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3 Generations of American composers Kleinhans – which one is “the greatest?”

JoAnn Falletta is still in town wrapping up a two-weekend “American Masters” series with music by three generations of modern composers – Aaron Copland (1900-1990), Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), and Philip Glass (born 1937) – all of whom studied at one point in Paris with the famous teacher Nadia Boulanger [say “boo-lawn-JAY”]. There are many Boulanger stories told by various composers in which she told them not to be a second-rate imitation of the past, but a first rate him or herself. Composers who took that to heart and created what we now think of as “iconic” soundscapes can be heard this afternoon at Kleinhans Music Hall.

Each of the three works by the three composers is what people in the classical biz call “accessible” meaning that you really don’t need to know anything about classical at all to get a big thrill out of not just one, but all three pieces. Which is “the greatest?” If you had to vote after hearing the concert, you’d have to say: “Uh, all three?”

It’s no coincidence that all three composers on today’s program composed for movies. What sets film composers apart is that they know how to deliver a powerful, clear, emotional impact to a large audience in the least amount of time.

And, just as at last week’s concert series, for the opening “On the Town: Three Dance Episodes” by Leonard Bernstein and then even more during the concluding work, Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3, the BPO brass section was bigger than ever (four trumpets, five trombones) not to mention five percussionists plus kettle drums, two keyboards, two harps, and a huge woodwind section, almost twice as big as usual. Basically, the BPO threw everything they’ve got at this music.

By the way, saying that Falletta is “still in town” is to let you in on a little secret: she is in demand to guest conduct orchestras all over the world, which, in part, led to the two-weekend “American Masters” concert series which wraps up today. As she explained, European orchestras are always eager to play and European audiences are always eager to hear American music, and she thought “Well, why not here in Buffalo, too?” Having said that, she has programmed multiple “American” concerts before and the BPO has produced on the NAXOS recording label several CDs each concentrating on composers Copland, Ellington, and Gershwin. So, they were ready for this concert.

For the first time ever, the BPO played music by Philip Glass.

But there was something new at this concert. For the first time ever, the BPO played music by Philip Glass. Known as a composer of so-called “minimalist” music, Glass prefers the term “structured” music, and it has a distinctive, haunting, repetitive quality. Over the years I’ve gotten pushback when I say that if you like music of the Baroque era then you should love Glass but (finally! vindication!) I was gratified to read in the program notes by the BPO’s Edward Yadzinski: “Glass opens the curtain on his first violin concerto… in his familiar minimalist style, although with a decided glance back at the Baroque Era … Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach.  We should give Philip glass major credit for revealing the remarkable similarity between minimalist techniques and the revered showcase pieces of the Baroque masters.”

I would add that the second movement is remarkably similar in structure and effect on the audience to a Baroque “Greatest Hit” –  Albinoni’s famous “Adagio” with its repetitive descending bass line. That adagio has been used in movies from the 1980s (Gallipoli, Dragonslayer) to 2016’s Manchester by the Sea. It expresses everything from wistful longing to absolute devastation. In conversations, the soloist for the Glass work, the BPO’s concertmaster Dennis Kim (lead image) said that when he’s played the work before, he has looked out into the audience to see people weeping. You could have heard a pin drop. The audience was right there.

At intermission, many audience members were heard exclaiming that they’d never heard anything by Glass before but that they really liked it. A huge standing ovation and four curtain calls should let the BPO know that we want more Philip Glass!

Of course, part of the appeal is that Dennis Kim really “sold” the work. And afterwards, he played a virtuosic showstopper called “Applemania” by Aleksey Igudesman (check out the videos of the comedy team “Igudesman & Joo” on YouTube).

Kleinhans Music Hall is located at “3 Symphony Circle” Buffalo, 14201 where Porter Avenue, Richmond Avenue, North Street and Wadsworth meet at a traffic circle. Visit or call 716-885-5000. The concert starts at 2:30 p.m. but there’s almost always a “Musically Speaking” event an hour before if you want to learn more about the players or the music as well as free entertainment across the lobby in the Mary Seaton Room.

What’s next? A chance to see comedian/actor Bill Murray with a small classical combo (piano, violin, cello) reading from great American literature and singing from the “Great American Songbook.” Think of it as “Bill Murray unplugged” Wednesday, October 11, at 8:00 p.m. at Kleinhans.

And, here’s something that might fly under the radar but shouldn’t: 2016 JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition bronze medalist Alec Holcomb returns to Western New York as a highlight of the BPO’s annual Canisius College’s on-campus performance series. Stefan Sanders will conduct a program featuring Rodrigos’s famous Concierto de Aranjuez and one of Beethoven’s lesser performed symphonies – Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60. It’s all Wednesday, October 25 at the Montante Cultural Center at Canisius College, 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through Canisius.

*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!

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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