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BPO audience delighted with Leonard Slatkin and George Li, high energy concert repeats this Sunday, November 3, at 2:30 at Kleinhans

An enthusiastic crowd at Kleinhans Music Hall welcomed the puckish Music Director Laureate of the famed Detroit Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night. Every city that’s lucky enough to have a major symphony orchestra loves its own, and Buffalo’s JoAnn Falletta loves us back so much that she recently signed up for another five years as Music Director. Variety being the spice of life, though, it’s great to hear our BPO perform with a different conductor from time to time, and when that conductor happens to be Leonard Slatkin, an American of international fame, there’s a good feeling in the hall. More on that below.

The evening began on a sad note, however, at the announcement that the BPO’s long-time Principal Violist, Valerie Heywood, had passed away suddenly on October 31st. Her colleague both in the BPO string section and at the Bravo music camps where they taught together, Principal Cellist Roman Mekinulov, called for a moment of silence and then announced that, in Heywood’s memory, her fellow strings would play Bach’s famous “Air” which was then conducted by the BPO’s Assistant Concert Master, violinist Ansgarius Aylward.

I always found Heywood to be one of those souls you meet occasionally who just loved people, life, the world to explore, and, of course, music so there’s no doubt the she would have wanted to get on with the concert. Still, it could have been an awkward transition were it not for Maestro Slatkin, who also took the microphone to discuss how the BPO really is more like a family than a business organization and how touched he was to be there and how impressed he was with both the camaraderie and the musicianship of the BPO.

The BPO really is more like a family than a business organization…

Just as he can masterfully conduct orchestras through a symphony, Slatkin led the audience out of our reverie and into the rest of the evening. With his self-deprecating humor, he said that many orchestras work so hard at introducing new music, struggling to have themes for an evening, but unfortunately all he had to offer was the same old “overture – concerto – symphony” lineup. Ha! Very funny, Maestro. What an overture, what a concerto, what a symphony!

Slatkin then introduced the first work on the program, the overture, as it were, “Circuits” by Cindy McTee, explaining that she is married to the maestro, and he likes to program her compositions because “it keeps the royalties flowing.” Well, one of the jokes there is that any orchestra would love to play “Circuits” –  a five-and-a-half-minute romp which composer McTee herself describes as “unrelenting, kinetic energy achieved through the use of 16th notes at a constant tempo of 152 beats per minute.” Yeah, that’s fast. It bounces around the sections of the orchestra, in a very amusing fashion, and really shows off the percussion section, where only three players handled all these toys: the Almglocken (tuned cowbells),

Regular cowbell, Bass Drum, Cymbals, Glockenspiel, Metal Plate, Snare Drum, Tambourine, Temple Blocks, regular Woodblocks, and Vibraphone. Showoffs. The audience loved it and the applause went on and on.

Regular cowbell, Bass Drum, Cymbals, Glockenspiel, Metal Plate, Snare Drum, Tambourine, Temple Blocks, regular Woodblocks, and Vibraphone. Showoffs. The audience loved it and the applause went on and on.

How can you follow that energetic high? Well, you bring out young pianist George Li, who, among many other prizes, earned the Silver Medal at the 2015 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition (the famous competition that Van Cliburn won in its first year, 1958). The printed program claimed that Li has “staggering technical prowess, a sense of command and depth of expression, effortless grace, poised authority, and brilliant virtuosity far beyond his years.” I always take those kinds of statements with a grain of salt. Well, I’ll be damned if every word isn’t true. He was just what you want in a concerto virtuoso and he played the very popular Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor. It was a moment. The audience loved it and the applause went on and on.

For an encore, Mr. Li played a transcription by Giovanni Sgambati of  a melody from Gluck’s opera ORFEO ED EURIDICE. The audience loved it and the applause went on and on. (Are you starting to sense a theme here?)

Then, following an intermission with a large crowd buzzing in the mezzanine areas, Leonard Slatkin conducted the BPO in a work that hadn’t been programmed since November 2, 2003, the Symphony No. 1 composed in 1908 by Sir Edward Elgar. In the always excellent notes by Edward Yadzinski we read: “Sir Edward might also be known as Sir Merlin of English music. To Elgar goes the credit of rekindling the musical luster of the British Isles in that the flame had been all but extinguished by … German, French, and Russian Romanticism, not to mention Italian opera.” Indeed, it was Elgar who paved the way for other English composers (and their famous works) such as Gustav Holst (The Planets), Ralph Vaughan Williams (The Lark Ascending), William Walton (Orb and Sceptre), and Benjamin Britten (Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra).

One thing English composers have been better at composing, from before the time of Handel to the present, is writing anthems – those stirring tunes that make you think of, as Shakespeare put it, “This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars … This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.” And, right on cue, Elgar begins his first symphony with just such a stirring anthem, marked “Noble and Simple.” Then there’s a nice scherzo, a dreamy adagio, and a powerful finale. Dare I say it again? The audience loved it and the applause went on and on.

The concert repeats this Sunday, November 3, at 2:30 p.m. again at Kleinhans Music Hall 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.

UP NEXT WITH BPO MUSICIANS: There’s a slight “traffic jam” but, fear not, there’s a way around it. On Wednesday, November 6, two different performing groups made up of BPO musicians will be performing, so you’ll have to choose. The Buffalo Chamber Players led by BPO violist Janz Castelo will be performing in the Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall at 7:30 p.m. in Émigrés, a program exploring the immigrant and refugee experience. In addition to music by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Tansman, the concert features works by composer/musical documentarian Mary Kouyoumdjian and Buffalo’s own Roland E. Martin, with both composers in attendance.

At the same time, 7:30 p.m., on the third floor of Buff State’s Rockwell Hall, in the Ciminelli Recital Hall, four women of the BPO who comprise the string quartet named “Artemis” will perform a concert called “Nineteen,” music in celebration of the 100 years since universal Women’s Suffrage in the U.S. with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

So, what to do? Well, it turns out that the Artemis Quartet will perform the same concert just four days down the road, on Sunday afternoon, November 10, at 3:30 p.m. at the “Friends of Vienna” concert held in the Unity Church, 1243 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. The Artemis Quartet features BPO players Amy Glidden, Associate Concertmaster, with Loren Silvertrust, Violin; Caroline Gilbert, Principal Viola; and Cellist Eva Herer. Their program, “Nineteen” will feature music by Ruth Crawford Seeger, Caroline Mallonée, Caroline Shaw, and more. So, problem solved.

UP NEXT AT KLEINHANS: John Morris Russell conducts film scores in POPS GOES TO THE MOVIES (Friday morning, November 8, at 10:30 a.m. and Saturday, November 9, at 8 p.m.). Then, Max is back, as former BPO conductor leads a program of music by Wagner, Liszt (Piano Concerto No. 1 with another young phenom, Drew Petersen, at the Steinway), and Sibelius (Symphony No. 5, which was the favorite symphony of famed WNY artist Charles Burchfield).

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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