On Wednesday evening earlier this week when the Polish pianist Konrad Skolarski came out amidst a small but passionate audience, all sitting on the main stage at Kleinhans around the Steinway concert grand piano, to play a program of hyper-emotional, romantic music almost all in a minor moody key, first by Beethoven (the Sonata “Pathetique” in C minor), and then by Chopin (3 Nocturnes, 2 Scherzos, 1 Ballade) and then, for me, the showstopper of the evening, as an encore, the Prelude No. 2 by Rachmaninoff in C-sharp minor, one of the most beloved of Rachmaninoff’s Preludes (he wrote one in every key) it was a tremendous harbinger for what was to come. It was part of the BPO’s “Center Stage” initiative.
So Saturday night when Skolarski joined the Buffalo Philharmonic to play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, which rivals Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in popularity as one the THE most moving works for piano and orchestra, it all came together, as the audience at Kleinhans Music Hall leapt to its feet as one, with a roar of approval. Buffalo loves Skolarski and he loves to play. In fact, as opposed to “milking the applause” Skolarski almost immediately sat back down at the piano for not one but two encores.
You can tell a lot about a soloist from the behavior and body language of the orchestra when that soloist is playing an encore and this time I saw something different. The musicians seemed to completely relax and go off to into a reverie themselves, and so for those several moments, those of us on stage and those of us in the audience were as one, transported to our individual “happy places.”
The concert repeats this Sunday, March 8, at 2:30 p.m. (did you “spring forward” your clocks one hour?). Visit the box office, www.bpo.org, or call (716) 885-5000.
It was an eagerly awaited return of the pianist whom BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta “discovered” during the BPO’s trip to Poland a few years back. Let me put you on notice that this fellow is a major talent; this weekend was the fourth time I’ve heard him perform; and it’s been on my calendar for months. And for good reason. Skolarski doesn’t just play the piano; he transports us a century or more back in time to the romantic era. Before our cold, robotic, digital age there was a time of passion on stage, and you can go there, if only for a few hours, again this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. at Kleinhans.
Before our cold, robotic, digital age there was a time of passion on stage, and you can go there, if only for a few hours, again this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. at Kleinhans.
Other highlights of the concert include music by two composers squarely in JoAnn Falletta’s wheelhouse of early 20th century French composers – Claude Debussy and Florent Schmitt (whose music the BPO has recorded extensively for Naxos records and will again).
You’ve no doubt heard Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” on the radio, but nothing compares to hearing it live at Kleinhans. And the principal wind players (Christine Bailey, flute; Henry Ward, oboe; William Amsell, clarinet; Glenn Einschlag, bassoon; and Jacek Muzyk, horn) were in top form.
Note: Read below to see what 13 of the BPO winds are playing in Clarence this coming Friday the 13th.
That Debussy was, and will be this Sunday, March 8, followed by a special treat – hearing the BPO’s new concertmaster, Nikki Chooi, as violin soloist in Schmitt’s “Legende” for Violin and Orchestra. Anyone who heard Nikki Chooi jump in to join “Time for Three” in a crazy version of Vittorio Monti’s “Czardas” at the last BPO concert will want to hear him play again. Florent Schmitt was an unusual composer, not a nationalist, but one who embraced all music and so in his “Oriane and the Prince of Love” you can hear both the dreamy French Debussy and the German Wagner (listen to those gruff bass fiddles). Tickets ($39 to $89, $10 for students) are available at the BPO Box Office (716-885-5000 or www.bpo.org).
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
I got the feeling that Skolarski’s solo piano recital last Wednesday flew below many people’s radar. It can be easy to miss these satellite gems that come along thanks to the BPO mother ship providing so many excellent musicians with a “day job.” In the spirit of “I wish I’d known about that” here are four other delights that are “spin-offs” from the main BPO concert series.
Wednesday, March 11 at 7:30: The Buffalo Chamber Players, a shape-shifting group that changes to adapt to the interesting music being played, will return to the Mary Seaton Room at Kleinhans Music Hall for their third of four programs this season, led by BPO violist Janz Castelo who regularly invites his fellow BPO musicians to join him. On Wednesday evening, March 11 at 7:30 they’ll present a concert they’re calling “I Love The 80s” (referring to music composed in the 1780s, 1880s, and 1980s) with music by Mozart, Fauré, and Reich.
W.A. Mozart: Horn Quintet in E-flat major, K. 407/386c
Gabriel Fauré: Élégie, Op. 24 for cello and piano
Steve Reich: Different Trains
Castelo has a flair for presenting accessible audience-enchanting music that is either new or has been overlooked but is always a delight. That’s not an easy trick to pull off season after season, but he does it. Tickets are $25 at the door; $5 for students. Visit www.buffalochamberplayers.org
Friday March 13 at 7:30: Do you remember the music in the movie “Amadeus?” There’s a moment when Mozart’s supposed rival Salieri has to admit that Mozart is truly a genius. The music that is playing in that crucial scene…
… is from Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 for winds, “Gran Partita.” Now here’s the special news: 13 of the BPO musicians will gather this coming Friday the 13th of March to perform that very work in a setting similar to where it was first performed, this time at the Clarence Presbyterian Church, 9675 Main Street, Clarence, NY 14031 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15, $10 for students. Visit the bpo website or click here.
Sunday, March 22 at 7: The Camerata di Sant’Atonio will be at the Pierce Arrow Museum celebrating composers who could have been “behind the wheel” of some snazzy automobiles at the turn of the 20th century. Artistic Director Chris Weber brings us music by automobile enthusiasts George Gershwin, Giacomo Puccini, and Victor Herbert surrounded by some of the most beautiful cars ever made. The Camerata will be joined once again by special guest soprano Colleen Marcello.
The concert on Sunday, March 22nd, 2020 at 7:00 pm will be at the Pierce Arrow Museum Atrium, 201 Seneca Street at Michigan Ave, Buffalo, NY 14203. The Camerata was founded in 2002 to draw attention to the legacy of Buffalo’s Italian immigrants, and to strengthen the bonds of that community through their musical heritage. For ten years, the orchestra was hosted in the impeccable acoustics of St. Anthony of Padua church behind Buffalo City Hall. Today, they perform music of diverse genres in diverse venues across WNY, often coupled with architectural tours of landmark heritage sites, such as the Pierce Arrow Museum.
Note: There is a Buffalo Sabres hockey game the evening of March 22, so patrons are advised to approach from the north or east to avoid traffic. There is a map with directions on their website, cameratabflo.com.
Doors will open at 6:15 pm and tickets are $20 or by subscription and free for ages 17 and under, or with current college student ID
For information, call 716-856-3626.
Tuesday March 24 at 7: The Women of Vivaldi celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest composers of all time with a vocal program featuring many of Buffalo’s best classical singers — including female Tenors, Baritones and Basses (yes!) joined by Dr. Abigail Rockwood Puehn at the harpsichord, the keyboard instrument that Bach would have played.
Need inspiration? Watch “A Passionate Life,” a 90 minutes program all about Bach with John Eliot Gardiner here
The Women of Vivaldi was founded in 2018 by Suzanne Fatta to promote early music in the Buffalo/ Niagara area, and is one of the few full all-female choirs in the nation. Their performances aim to re-create the soundworld of Antonio Vivaldi’s Venice, but on March 24 they pay tribute to Bach in a fun, birthday atmosphere! (Note: Bach’s “actual” birthday was March 21, 1685.) The program will include the beloved cantata “Wachet Auf;” a scene from the “Coffee Cantata;” music from a birthday fest that Bach threw; and the powerful “Angus Dei” and “Dona Nobis Pacem” from The B Minor Mass. The concert Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 7:00 pm will have audience and performers sitting on the main stage at Kleinhans Music Hall, 3 Symphony Circle, Buffalo, NY 14201. Part of Kleinhans’ “Center Stage” series for details you can click here, or visit bpo.org or call (716) 885-5000. Tickets are $25; $10 for students.
In summary, of course it’s a blessing to have a major orchestra with stable funding and a wide variety of programs, classical, pop, and rock on the main stage at Kleinhans. But remember that the larger organization employs dozens of musicians who affect our everyday lives, as teachers and performers on their own. As much as we enjoy seeing the BPO in its entirety, it’s equally thrilling to hear the individual performers in smaller groups or venues. Not every city has a major orchestra that can provide those “extras.” But we do.
Lead image of Skolarski courtesy BPO