As many times as you may have heard Schubert’s 8th Symphony, known as the “Unfinished”, you won’t hear it better than when it’s conducted by Leon Botstein (lead image), who will once again lead the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in the second concert of two, this one Saturday night, March 9, at 8:00 p.m. at Kleinhans Music Hall.
The words “shimmering,” or “iridescent,” or “opalescent” only begin to describe the delicate touch with which the musicians approached this often-performed work.
Yes, it has the famous melody which music students remember with some variation on the words: “Schubert / had lots of friends / they called him up / when he was working” the two-fold jokes being 1. He was “distracted” and that’s why he didn’t finish the “Unfinished” Symphony and 2. He composed this work around 1822 but the first telephone call (Bell to Watson) wasn’t made until March 10, 1876. So much for his friends “calling him up.”
But, if all you remember from previous hearings is that theme, there is so much more waiting for you tonight over at Kleinhans.
It’s always good when JoAnn Falletta invites a guest to conduct our BPO because you hear things differently. And one reason for the difference is that Leon Botstein has re-arranged the seating of the orchestra (not the first time he’s done that nor the first time he’s been at Kleinhans). Instead of all the violins on his left and the lower voiced strings on his right, he has Violins I on his left, Violins II on his right, the double basses all the way to the left, and the violas and cellos sort of in the middle.
From the early days of stereo, I’m used to the lower notes coming from the left speaker, so this sounded very familiar.
(By the way, it’s the same left-right arrangement that Ward Stare, Music Director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, uses, and will use again tonight when the RPO has guest violinist Augustin Hadelich back to play the Sibelius Violin Concerto in the Eastman Theater. We heard it last night in Rochester and it’s also very opalescent work.)
The other “OMG I’m so glad we came” moment at the BPO concert on Friday morning was when Anthony McGill, principal clarinetist for the New York Philharmonic, played a work that Aaron Copland wrote for the famous jazz clarinetist, Benny Goodman. This was only the third performance of this work by the BPO, the first time being in 1952 with Benny Goodman himself as soloist. Most people have one or two favorite Copland pieces, perhaps the ballets “Rodeo,” or “Appalachian Spring” or the “Fanfare for the Common Man.” I would say that no matter what your affinity to Copland, you will be very pleased with this piece. It’s not an attempt to write jazz. It’s pure Copland, with those shimmering chords and aching, bittersweet melodies.
When Anthony McGill plays, you forget that he’s playing an instrument. It seems to just be a part of his persona. The only problem is that the work is too damn short! It only lasts 18 minutes. It would have been very cool if Mr. McGill had been contracted to play something else.
After the intermission, Leon Botstein conducted the big Symphony No. 2 in C by another giant of the classical – romantic age, William Schumann.
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 at 8:00 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.