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At BPO a young phenom named Drew with an old friend named Max create magic; hear it again this Saturday night

THE BASICS: Former BPO music director Maximiano Valdés returned for a special engagement, which encores this Saturday night at 8:00 at Kleinhans Music Hall, conducting the Preludes to Act 1 and 3 of Wagner’s romantic opera Lohengrin; Sibelius’ crystalline Symphony No. 5; and Liszt’s hyper-romantic Piano Concerto No. 1 featuring a stunning young pianist – Drew Petersen (lead image). For tickets call 885-5000 or visit You can read about the program in advance here.

Runtime: 2 hours with one intermission

THE CONCERT: The music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra just before JoAnn Falletta’s tenure was Maximiano (“Max”) Valdés (say “vahl-DEZ”), who occasionally “gets back together with the band” to conduct his old friends at the BPO, and the result, as always, was a beautiful thing. Chilean born Valdés is also an opera conductor which is almost a requirement when conducting the music of 19th century “mad genius” Richard Wagner (say “REE-kard VAHG-nur”).

How wonderful are the first two pieces on the program? Let me say this: The Metropolitan Opera has invested multi-multi-millions of dollars into broadcasting live operas into movie theaters and the music for their lead sponsor, Bloomberg Philanthropies, is taken from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, the Prelude to Act 1. When you want to build dramatic tension and guarantee an audience’s attention, that’s about as good a place to start as any. Then, for the audio logo to those satellite broadcasts, the Met uses a stinger from Wagner’s Lohengrin, only this time, the Prelude to Act 3. Regardless of what you may have heard about Wagner’s politics or personality, there is no disputing his inventive musical genius. And, with a full complement of brass instruments on stage, it was thrilling. You can hear those two short pieces again this Saturday night.

Regardless of what you may have heard about Wagner’s politics or personality, there is no disputing his inventive musical genius.

Then, the mighty Steinway grand piano came out and the very young, very talented Drew Petersen sat down at the piano, to dazzle everyone with the music of Hungarian born, but like conductor Max Valdés, a citizen of the world, Franz Liszt (say “List”). Apart from the excitement of a live performance, and apart from hearing music better than any stereo system (not to mention earbuds or Alexa), one reason that I go to concerts is to hear music I thought I knew, but differently.

Now, three of the composers on the program were born within a few years of one another. Wagner was born in 1813, Liszt was born in 1811, and Chopin was born in 1810. Chopin? Is he on the program? Not exactly. But when I was listening, what I heard was Chopin piano music accompanied by a Beethoven orchestra. I mean, what’s not to love? The power and glory of the great Beethoven (admittedly born in 1770), with the flights of fancy of Chopin. If you’ve always wished that Chopin wrote more than just two piano concertos, well, if you close your eyes, you can imagine that this is Chopin’s 3rd concerto. On the other hand, if you’ve always been slightly disappointed in Chopin’s orchestral parts to his piano concertos, well, Liszt delivers on the count too.

Drew Petersen, still studying at the famed Juilliard School of Music in NYC, was all over that keyboard.

And Drew Petersen, still studying at the famed Juilliard School of Music in NYC, was all over that keyboard. There was a lot of conversation about him at intermission. He’s very good. And you could tell that the musicians liked him too. That says a lot.

Then, after intermission, it was time for the Symphony No. 5 by Finnish composer Sibelius. Before conducting that work, Valdés picked up the microphone and spoke eloquently about the recently passed BPO violist Valerie Heywood, who led the viola section during his tenure. Then, in a moment of pure poetry, he went on to talk about music and its counterpart  – silence. Of course, he was referring to the silence when a musician is no longer with us, but also the silence that Sibelius uses so effectively in his 5th symphony. So, please, be sure to silence those cell phones and unwrap any throat lozenges, because you won’t want to disturb the evanescent moments.

It’s always good to visit Kleinhans and the BPO when a guest conductor is on the podium.

It’s always good to visit Kleinhans and the BPO when a guest conductor is on the podium. Max is technically a “guest” but as the saying goes “Treat your family like guests and your guests like family.” Max was, and always will be, family.

Kleinhans Music Hall is located at “3 Symphony Circle” Buffalo, NY 14201 where Porter Avenue, Richmond Avenue, North Street and Wadsworth meet at a traffic circle. Visit or call 716-885-5000. The concert on Saturday starts at 8:00 p.m. but there’s almost always free pre-concert entertainment in the Mary Seaton Room across the lobby starting around 7:00 as well as a “Musically Speaking” event an hour before the concert on the main stage if you want to learn more about the music you’re about to hear.

UP NEXT: Along with other events (visit a program called Classical Sax  will be heard Saturday, December 7 at 8:00 pm and Sunday, December 8 at 2:30 pm at Kleinhans) with conductor Thomas Wilkins on the podium, when the sax busts boundaries, becoming the featured woodwind of JoAnn Falletta’s friend Kenneth Fuchs’ “Rush” and Glazunov’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone, both played by classical saxophonist Timothy McAllister.

Speaking of JoAnn Falletta, JoAnn’s Classical Christmas follows the Friday morning/Saturday evening schedule on Friday, December 13 at 10:30 am and Saturday December 14 at 8:00 pm. Come see Kleinhans beautifully decorated at this annual holiday favorite when Maestro Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus celebrate the season with centuries of classical treasures (and probably a little sing-along, too).

Wrapping up the calendar year, John Morris Russell’s Holiday Pops this year offers two morning concerts in a row, Thursday, December 19 at 10:30 am AND Friday, December 20 also at 10:30 am, then Saturday, December 21 at 8 pm and Sunday, December 22 at 2:30 pm

Lead image| Drew Petersen | Photo Credit Dario Acosta

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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