Teddy Roosevelt, who was sworn in as our 26th President right here in Buffalo, advised us to “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Well, that is exactly what the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s Musical Director does. Her personal style is to speak softly, and her “big stick” (actually a few ounces of cork and wood) is her custom conductor’s baton, which she recently used to earn her a third Grammy award for a recording of music by her old friend at the Juilliard School of Music, composer Kenneth Fuchs.
A “big stick” is good, but getting to wave it in front of a bigger than usual orchestra is even better, and that’s what you’ll get this Saturday night at Kleinhans when JoAnn Falletta conducts the BPO joined in the second half by the Women’s Choir of Buffalo in a concert of music by Scriabin and Holst. The pre-concert activities start at 7, and the concert begins at 8.
Sometimes the BPO has had to tighten its purse strings and stick to performing works designed for smaller classical-sized orchestras. But as music progressed 100 years after Mozart and Haydn, composers began to demand bigger and bigger orchestras with more and varied instruments. Nowadays, if a modern orchestra wants to play music composed around 1900 authentically, the guiding rule is “go big or go home.” And, for this weekend’s concert, the BPO is definitely runnin’ with the big dogs. Wow. What an experience.
Usually, along with a tympanist, we get two percussionists, here we get five; instead of two trumpeters, we get six! Instead of five French Horns, we get nine. And crammed in next to those two dozen violins were a celeste (think of Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies), two harps, and an organ for goodness sake, not to mention extra woodwinds of all shapes and sizes, including a new one for me – a bass oboe. What?!? Okay, I had to get “schooled” on this from the BPO’s English Hornist Anna Mattix.
Anyway, there was this Russian composer named Alexander Scriabin, who wrote a dreamy piece called “The Poem of Ecstasy” which is pretty aptly titled and if you like Debussy or Rimsky-Korsakov, you’ll like this one. And that orchestra! Big, big sound.
Speaking of sound, I was completely unaware that, in the balcony, we were surrounded by hundreds of middle schoolers mostly from the Lancaster schools. Not… a… peep. And I mention that because if you’re thinking “Scriabin? Who’s he?” well, these kids loved it, so I think you will too.
Then, after intermission, it was the very famous “The Planets” by Gustave Holst, a 54-minute tribute to astrology (seriously) but here’s the thing. Sure, we get to hear the scary “Mars” music on the radio, and the holly jolly “Jupiter” music, but what about the entire work? That’s why you might want to head over to Kleinhans. The second of the seven movements is called “Venus, the Bringer of Peace” and it is gorgeous. Also, very cool is the finale, which fades out to nothingness at the end, as an off-stage women’s chorus sings. That doesn’t sound so good on the radio or your iPod, but in the superior acoustics of Kleinhans, it shimmers to the very end.
One final reason to go: the BPO is auditioning violinists to become their next “Concertmaster” and Ms. Eunice Keem was back for the second time sitting in the #1 spot. She’s not flashy and has a beautiful tone when she plays.
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 www.bpo.org or call 716-885-5000. The concert starts on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. but come at 7 to hear directly from the artists in “Musically Speaking” and to experience activities from the Buffalo Museum of Science and more.
Note: For a musical contrast to the “big” concert at Kleinhans on Saturday night, you might want to check out the rescheduled Buffalo Chamber Players concert this Sunday, February 17, at 3 pm at the Albright Knox Art Gallery. Members of the BPO who play as the BCP will perform Robert Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 47 and his Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, both composed in a very prolific year for Schumann, 1842.