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A New Day for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

Over the past year, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has been taking some steps to refresh its image and bring new patrons through the doors of Kleinhans to experience an orchestra performance for the first time.

Last August, Patrick O’Herron came on board to oversee the orchestra’s marketing. Since that time, he has been busy working to promote the diversity of programs that the BPO offers outside the scope of traditional classical music to encourage new visitors to come check out a show.

Earlier this year, the BPO launched its newly overhauled website with several upgraded features. In an effort to make it easier on newcomers to take that first dive into a live symphonic performance, they developed several quick informational resources. A “Where to Start” page focuses on frequently asked questions, walking you through everything from where to park, what time to arrive, how long a show typically lasts, which shows are kid-friendly, and where to find more information about the music you will hear in advance of the show.

The “Philharmonic 101” page aims to make that first visit as seamless as possible for newcomers and ease any anxiety about being a first timer at the orchestra. The page gives recommendations for the best shows to attend if you’re new to a symphonic performance and familiarizes readers with the range of programs offered – from Classics, to Pops, to holiday and performances for kids. You can also find information on ticket prices, what to wear, concert length, and food and drink.

In addition, the BPO is focusing on promoting their variety of “nontraditional” performances along with the classics. The orchestra will soon release its new Rock, Film, and Kids programs, which are a great way for first timers and families to familiarize themselves with Kleinhans and the orchestra from a different angle. For classic rock fans, the BPO Rocks program has “The Music of Pink Floyd with The Machine” coming up on May 3. The BPO Pops program will feature “May the Fourth be with you: The music of Star Wars” appropriately on May 4 (and May 5). The orchestra will also feature its annual Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra Side-by-Side concert at the end of April, where local young musicians will perform alongside their mentors in the orchestra.

BR recently interviewed Patrick O’Herron, Director of Marketing, to learn more about what the BPO has to offer newer audience members this season:

BR: For those who have never attended a BPO performance, what makes that first experience special?

Patrick: Since moving back to Buffalo in the fall, I’ve reconnected with old friends and made new ones, many of whom tell me that they don’t really attend BPO concerts, or that they haven’t been in years. My mission then, of course, is to invite them to a concert as my guest. I’ve had so many friends attend this past year, many of whom would tell me initially that the BPO “isn’t really their thing,” and then come out of the performance absolutely in awe. There’s a reason that our die-hard patrons rave about the musicianship of the BPO, and it’s because they really are that good! And to hear them play in the near-perfect acoustics of Kleinhans Music Hall is really something special.

BR: From the BPO’s perspective, why is it important to bring newcomers in? How does having new listeners in the audience make a performance special for the musicians?

Patrick: Orchestras worldwide are at a critical pass. Our traditional audience is aging out. There is a need to adapt the orchestra model to draw in newer patrons. That doesn’t mean that we need to turn every performance into The Music of Beyoncé Live with the BPO (but gosh, I hope we do that program someday!)—classical music is still alive and relevant and darn good entertainment—but we do need to meet the changing demands of our consumers, meaning more flexibility in subscription options and varied programming to meet every taste. The BPO is a mission-driven organization, and a large part of that mission is presenting best-in-class live symphonic music to the broadest possible audiences in Western New York and beyond. And for our musicians, performing on stage each week is what they do. It’s what they live for. It’s incredibly inspiring for our musicians to be able to share their gift with all of us, and it’s especially uplifting when a new patron experiences a concert, particularly a concert of classical repertoire, and voices just how much they enjoyed it.     

BR: How does the BPO’s diversity of performances make it accessible to newcomers or those who don’t usually listen to classical music?

Patrick: I think the most prominent example was our presentation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in collaboration with Shea’s this past year. We brought in more than 7,500 patrons over the 3 days of performances, the majority of which were new to the BPO. It’s fun to see the movie, of course, but the magic of those performances was the live experience of hearing John Williams’ magnificent score. What those patrons were really experiencing, and loving, was the work of a 21st century American composer, and the showmanship of a live orchestra playing it! And we’ve got much more where that came from with your BPO!

BR: What are your favorite “non-traditional” performances for newcomers to check out?  Any coming up that you recommend?

Patrick: Maestro JoAnn Falletta does a very nice job putting together a Classics season that is filled with familiar favorites as well as new and unexpected works. For example, in December, we’re presenting a program called Classical Sax featuring a work for alto saxophone—an instrument that has made its home in the jazz world but that you rarely see in the symphony hall. We’re also presenting a violin concerto by famed film composer Danny Elfman, whose scores to Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and The Nightmare Before Christmas are sure to be familiar to some. The featured violinist, Sandy Cameron, was once an acrobat for Cirque du Soleil, though we don’t anticipate she’ll be doing any acrobatics in our hall. But if you do want acrobats, heck, we’ve got those too! Principal Pops Conductor John Morris Russell has put together a flashy Pops season opener called Cirque Fiesta with the acrobats of Cirque de la Symphonie. And coming off of our sold-out performance with Tony and Emmy-winning actress Kristin Chenoweth this past month, I’m excited that another Broadway megastar, Leslie Odom, Jr., of Hamilton fame, will be joining us next season. Between classics, jazz, popular music, rock music, Broadway, Hollywood, and just about every other genre, the BPO really does have something for everyone.  

BR: Any other “newcomer friendly” initiatives you’d like to mention?

Patrick: Given the wild success of Harry Potter this past year, you’ll be seeing more live orchestra with film performances from your BPO. We’re also about to announce our BPO Rocks series, which is chock full of tributes to some of my all-time favorite classic rock bands. And for our youngest listeners, the BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York’s BPO Kids series is a hoot! The concerts are fun and casual and only about an hour long. They all follow a theme with visuals and narration. Plus, we offer a chance to get the wiggles out with free-form activities in the hour leading up to the concert, including our wildly popular instrument “petting zoo,” where kids get the chance to try out the instruments in the orchestra for themselves. It’s great fun!

If you haven’t been to see the BPO perform yet, there’s no time like the present to check out your first show. Visit the BPO’s website to find an upcoming event that intrigues you and dive in.

This content is part of a sponsored series in partnership with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Written by Sarah Maurer

Sarah Maurer

I moved to Buffalo to attend Canisius College in 2007 and began writing for Buffalo Rising as a journalism intern in 2010. Working with Newell and meeting numerous entrepreneurs, activists and everyday folks who were working to make their city better made a huge impact on my decision to stay here. After witnessing all the positive development and grassroots initiatives happening in neighborhoods throughout the city, I was inspired to pursue a term of service in AmeriCorps and a career in Buffalo's non-profit sector. I currently work in the housing department at the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY and am excited to be a part of their ongoing efforts to revitalize the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood. I also volunteer as the project coordinator for Artfarms Buffalo. I continue to write for Buffalo Rising because I love having the opportunity to stay connected to those working toward positive changes for the Queen City.

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