For the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s entire 2020-2021 season, all through the summer, fall, winter, and spring, they have been offering virtual concerts, each a little over an hour long, each affordably priced at $10 per event and available for a whole month. It all started last fall with only string players (who could wear masks while fiddling) and then, as Plexiglas shields were constructed, woodwind and brass players began popping up more frequently, like mushrooms after a rain. And recently, for smaller, socially distanced audiences made up of season ticket holders, there have been some very fine live performances, performed with passion. They were skillfully recorded (not easy to do with classical music) by Grammy nominated Bernd Gottinger, and then made available to stream. The final concert of the “indoor series” begins streaming tonight at 7:00 p.m. but it, as with all the others, will be available for 30 days. Simply visit bpo.org/events and scroll to your heart’s content.
You can even flip through the Program Book which is a content-rich, full color delight. Kudos to the BPO Marketing team for that: Renée Simpson, Kelcie Hanaka, Cary Michael Trout, and V.P. Patrick O’Herron.
I was at Kleinhans for the last three “main stage/ indoor” events and I’m here to tell you that seeing and hearing these super talented musicians was pretty special. And you’ll have your chance this summer when the BPO once again offers free concerts in the parks (details to come later this week). As to the indoor concerts already recorded, I’m glad to recommend each one for a streaming experience. Let’s start with the “season finale” the concert that was recorded on Friday, June 4 and will start streaming tonight, June 8, at 7:00 p.m.
“BPOnDemand: Mahler & Mozart” streams from 7:00 p.m. June 8 through July 8. Click here for your $10 “ticket.” JoAnn Falletta was the conductor and began the program with a contemporary American composer whom she has programmed before, Aaron Jay Kernis. We heard his “Elegy – For Those We Lost” composed for the victims of Covid-19, a work for string orchestra that begins with a melody reminiscent of Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations“ – particularly the “Nimrod” movement which we heard so often following 9/11. But the Elegy also has a tinge of the heart-tugging sections of Howard Shore’s music for the film trilogy “Lord of the Rings.” The piece began at the Yale School of Music as a work for solo piano and was used in a nine-minute video by Esther Shubinski which begins with a black screen and white letters informing the viewer “I lost my dad to covid.” You can view that video here.
It was later orchestrated by Kernis for the Yale Philharmonia which you can listen to here as conducted by Peter Oundjian.
The orchestration is for string orchestra, and I hate to admit it, but after all those streamed concerts early in the fall of 2020 with a whole lotta, I mean a whole lotta music for string orchestra, I was a little set back on my heels. For a moment Kleinhans appeared to me without form, and void; and darkness was upon me, but then Falletta said, let there be flutes, and there were flutes, and oboes and bassoons and clarinets and French horns, and trumpets, too! And the sound was magnificent. Hallelujah! The BPO was back! A little smaller for social distancing, maybe two horns instead of four or five, maybe 4 cellos instead of 6 or 8, but basically back.
And the BPO made good use of the two soloist platforms they built out into the audience to allow wind players to be “front and center” without masks for a work by Czech composer and contemporary of Mozart. It was a Franz Krommer Concerto for Two Clarinets in E-flat Major, with William Amsel and Patti DiLutis of the BPO as soloists. It fits squarely in the classical era and has some dazzling unison runs. And, of course, as I said, pretty much a full classical symphony orchestra.
And, right after clarinet piece, with a little moving of Plexiglas, out came the operatic tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven, winner of many prizes including the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Hailing from Lockport, Kyle was a winner in the 2015 District Auditions held here in Buffalo at the Nichols School (Judges: Melissa Wegner, Tony Kostecki, and Jane Eaglen). Cross your fingers that the Auditions will be back next January, 2022.) But back to Kyle. What a voice! It filled Kleinhans, without amplification. That’s what opera singers do, of course, but I hadn’t actually heard one sing live for over 15 months, and I was appropriately moved.
So, okay he sings in German, but you don’t have to understand the words. It was “Songs of a Wayfarer” (words and music by Gustav Mahler) as arranged by Arnold Schönberg. You can Google the translated lyrics if you want, but basically there are four songs sung by a guy who has been dumped by his big crush. Guess what? Mahler wrote the four after being rejected by his big crush at the time, soprano Johanna Richter. It begins “When my love has her wedding-day, / Her joyous wedding-day, / I have my day of mourning! /I go into my little room, / My dark little room! / I weep, weep! For my love, / My dearest love!” So, you get the idea. Great music, great performance, lyrics are kind of a downer. Mahler was Emo before Emo was Emo.
Having heard earlier from Franz Krommer, a contemporary of Mozart, we heard from the boy genius himself, with a work, as JoAnn Falletta told us from the stage, was written during his honeymoon as he and his wife were returning to Vienna from his hometown in Salzburg. I did appreciate her telling the audience that very often the music written by any one composer has nothing to do with that composer’s mental state at the time, but it’s a happy symphony and we know that Mozart was a pretty happy fella having married Constanze (née Weber). The story I like to tell was that the symphony was written in four days. Why? Because upon hearing that the Mozarts were coming to town, the local count announced a new symphony to be performed right there in Linz. This was a total surprise to Mozart, but of course he made it happen, on November 4, 1783, to be precise. This could be called “the surprise symphony” but we’ll leave that to Haydn and go with the title Symphony No. 36, “Linz.”
BPOnDemand | Bizet’s Carmen Suite is still available for streaming through June 24, 2021. Just click here for access.
JoAnn Falletta conducted a program that included the absolutely gorgeous, moving, dream-like “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. It fits in so well with a whole school of turn of the ( 20th ) century British composers including Bax and Butterworth, Delius and Elgar and Holst. They own that style and JoAnn Falletta really owns conducting that genre. Seriously, that one work alone is worth your $10. Try it Mikey, you’ll like it.
Now, as long as you’ve already put your money down for the Fantasia, you might as well give a listen to a different “Carmen Suite” based on tunes from the opera by Georges Bizet. These are not the Carmen Suites 1 & 2 that you’ll hear on our local radio WNED Classical, compiled posthumously by Bizet’s friend Ernest Guiraud which stick very closely to Bizet’s orchestration. No, no, no these arrangements are rather percussion heavy (I recall at least five people banging away at various things at various times) and while you’ll recognize Bizet, it’s much more Rodion Shchedrin in all 13 movements. Not my favorite, but JoAnn is famous for her discoveries and under-performed gems and I guess I’m not going to like them all.
A note on pronunciation, if you ever have to say “Rodion Shchedrin.” First, know that in Russian, unlike French, you say everything you see. Second, think of the “S-H-C-H” in Shchedrin as you might be saying “freSH CHeese.” And think that if the guy who moves the amps for rock concerts had some of that, you might say that the “roadie owned fresh cheese.” Say that out loud and you’re well on your way to correctly pronouncing “Rodion Shchedrin.”
BPOnDemand | American Anthems is a concert dedicated to the Celebration of Erie County’s Bicentennial and was first heard the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. It also streams for 30 days, through July 1, 2021. For your $10 ticket click here.
Guest conductor Jeff Tyzik led a program that began with CALIXA LAVALLEE/Chapman “O Canada” and went smoothly into JOHN STAFFORD SMITH/Tyzik “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The names after the slashes (/) indicate the last names of the arrangers of the music, a wonderful tradition that BPO Principal Pops Conductor John Morris Russell takes seriously and Jeff Tyzik does as well. With well-known melodies that have already been composed, it’s the arranger that makes it happen. And these arrangements were so exciting!
Now, in the list above and below you’ll see “Tyzik” quite frequently, and that’s a good, no, that’s a GREAT thing because he has got a magic touch. You know that feeling you get watching the Olympics and John Williams’ “Fanfare” comes on your television? Or when you’re watching one of those patriotic specials on PBS performed by the National Orchestra? And you just feel great? That’s what Jeff Tyzik arrangements sound like.
The rest of the program follows and it is a real treat.
- E.E. BAGLEY/Hartquist National Emblem March
- GEORGE M. COHAN/Tyzik Give My Regards To George!: A George M. Cohan Medley
- JEFF TYZIK “A Call To Worship” from Pleasant Valley Suite
- Every Time I Feel The Spirit: An Overture in honor of Harry T. Burleigh arranged by Tyzik
- KENNETH J. ALFORD/Hartquist Colonel Bogey March
- Amazing Grace arranged by Tyzik
- W.C. HANDY/Tyzik St. Louis Blues March
- Fantasy on American Themes arranged by Tyzik
- JOHN PHILLIP SOUSA/Tyzik The Stars & Stripes Forever March
So there you have it. Free BPO concerts in the parks will start up soon, but in the meantime you have three (3!) affordable, first rate performances to stream.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (e.g. you are the parent of someone who is performing), give this concert a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the performance is pretty far off base, or the music itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to hear live music, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good music making. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the performance and the music are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Provided that this is the kind of musical performances you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!