THE BASICS: On Tuesday, May 11, the BPO began streaming another excellent concert in the BPOnDemand series with a three-work program titled “Dvořák’s Serenade.” To purchase access to the 68 minute concert ($10 per household) click here or visit www.bpo.org As usual these BPOnDemand concerts have a 30 day window and in this case it’s available through June 10 at 7 p.m. 2021). My review is below.
GOOD NEWS UPDATE: For current 2020-2021 season ticket holders with a valid completed Coronavirus Vaccination Card, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing live, with a limited, vaccinated, in-person audience, this weekend, May 14, 15, 16 Friday at 1:00 p.m., Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Kleinhans Music Hall. Current season ticket holders can call (716) 885-5000 or can visit www.bpo.org for details and ticket information. Not a season ticket holder? No vax card? No worries. This weekend’s concert will be recorded and streamed in the BPOnDemand series as “Bizet’s Carmen Suite” starting Tuesday May 25 at 7:00 pm and running through June 24 at 7:00 pm. JoAnn Falletta will conduct Ralph Vaughan Williams’ spiritual “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” and Rodion Shchedrin’s “Carmen Suite,” an arrangement of hit tunes from George Bizet’s famous opera “Carmen.”
REVIEW OF current BPOnDemand: “Dvořák’s Serenade”
This concert once again is heavy on the string sections (they can mask up) but through clever on-stage social distancing and use of plexi-glass shields, features wind players as well for the middle piece on the program. More on that in a moment.
The concert begins with a charming spoken introduction by BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta herself who tells us that the first work on the program, “Mother and Child” by “The Dean of African-American composers” William Grant Still, was, according to Still’s daughter Judith Ann Still, his favorite composition.
It is a work for string orchestra (violins, violas, cellos, and double basses) that is, as you’d expect from the title, a bit of a lullaby, but as you’d expect from William Grant Still who straddled two worlds – classical and popular – it’s a little jazzy with a nice syncopation. It was inspired by a painting by African American artist Sargent Johnson, a 1932 work titled “Mother and Child” and you can see it on the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s website here:
I wish I’d seen the painting before I listened to the concert. It’s very powerful and very minimal at the same time, just as the music is. Pure emotion. It’s worth a click.
I’ll get to the second piece in a minute, but the third and final work on the program “Dvořák’s Serenade” or “Serenade for Strings” will sound familiar to regular listeners of our local public radio station WNED Classical where it has been in “heavy rotation” for decades. According to the BPO program book (easily accessible here) this was composed during a particularly happy period in Dvořák’s life. I have no reason to doubt that, but over the years have come to discount the mood of any major composer at any moment of composition. The Bohemian composer Antonín Dvořák was a consummate craftsman, like Mozart, and produced (almost) instantly recognizable music in (almost) every form, from violin sonata to orchestra to grand opera over his lifetime. Some works do sound “happy” though, and this is one of them.
This performance is simply a wonderful combination of the right composer whom Buffalo audiences love, the right orchestra, the right conductor, and, although I haven’t mentioned it before, the right recording artist.
This performance is simply a wonderful combination of the right composer whom Buffalo audiences love, the right orchestra, the right conductor, and, although I haven’t mentioned it before, the right recording artist – Buffalo’s (technically Fredonia State’s) own Grammy nominated Dr. Bernd Gottinger. Recording classical music is one of the trickiest jobs on this planet and Gottinger gets it right, every time.
And that brings us to the middle work on the program, a real treat for everyone, including the orchestra, and that was Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat major which puts four of the BPO principal players front and center, literally front and center: Nikki Chooi, violin, Roman Mekinulov, cello, Henry Ward, oboe, and Glenn Einschlag, bassoon. Special platforms were in place for the two wind players to stand on (usually they’re in the back behind plexi-glass) and so while they were slightly farther apart than they would have been under pre-pandemic conditions, they were still within earshot of one another.
Sound, as opposed to sight (which moves “at the speed of light”) travels at only 1,000 feet per second. That’s fast, but players at the level of BPO performers hear, think, and react in microseconds. It really helps to be close to your pals for a work “in the concertante style” with multiple soloists.
What does “concertante” mean, exactly? Explaining that is kind of like explaining bitcoin, but in general it’s a fancy term for a musical work that has one or more (usually more than one) solo parts but is not quite as weighty and dependent on the soloist(s) as a concerto. Doesn’t almost every classical work have instrumental solos? Yes, but here they’re more prominent. So why isn’t it called a “Concerto for Violin, Cello, Oboe, and Bassoon”? <sigh> Did you know that “Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency to successfully record transactions on a secure, decentralized blockchain-based network”?
If you’re a regular viewer of WNED-TV you’ve seen a lot of the soloists in this piece on your telly. In various small combos with other BPO performers, in various venues (Niagara Falls, the Buffalo Riverfront, in the TV studios) these BPO players – Chooi, Einschlag, Mekinulov, and Ward – provide continuity between TV programming. And, while not quite as often played on the radio as the Dvořák Serenade, this Haydn should sound familiar.
This more fully orchestrated work features additional wind players than just Einschlag and Ward including our two Polish-born French hornists, Jacek Muzyk and Daniel Kerdelewicz, Principal and Associate Principals, respectively. Even behind plexi-glass, those guys are so good. So good.
In classical music, whenever you see the word ‘Hungarian’ you should get ready for some exciting music inspired by the Roma, or “gypsies” known for their flamboyant fiddle work.
And, I heard something new, always a delight and a reason to hear “live” music. And that was a reminder that Haydn grew up in and for most of his life lived in the “Austro-Hungarian Empire.” In classical music, whenever you see the word “Hungarian” you should get ready for some exciting music inspired by the Roma, or “gypsies” known for their flamboyant fiddle work. And that’s what we get from the BPO’s new concertmaster, Nikki Chooi. It doesn’t dominate the piece, but it’s there. Just wonderful.
So, if you’re suffering from “Zoom fatigue” and are really, really jonesing for live music, it’s coming. But if you have, as I had, a bad attitude about streamed events, these BPOnDemand events are really good. There’s a variety of music, very well played, very well recorded, and the production values of these concerts gets better and better, especially the camera work. Treat yourself.
P.S. A “game changer” for me was to stop watching these concerts on my laptop and to start watching them on my television set. There are several ways to access these concerts (or any streamed event) on your smart TV, but I bought a 10-foot long HDMI cable for under $10 that plugs into the side of my laptop and into the side of my television set. It’s kind of “old school” but very reliable. You can see such a cable here.