No sooner had we been told to silence our cell phones than the Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, JoAnn Falletta, almost ran to the podium, the orchestra sprang to its feet, and the traditional season opening “O Canada” followed by “The Star Spangled Banner” filled beautiful Kleinhans Music Hall. Then, a delightful surprise. Composer Daron Hagen had arranged, especially for the BPO, a piece called “Bandanna Overture” using themes from his opera BANDANNA and expanding on the original wind band score for full orchestra.
The audience loved it too and when Falletta gestured to the composer in the audience, they roared and clapped even harder.
It was very exciting music which sounded to me like the opening music to either a Jason Bourne or a James Bond film with aerial shots and fast-paced camera work. The audience loved it too and when Falletta gestured to the composer in the audience, they roared and clapped even harder.
Slight Digression: I was intrigued to read that the 1999 opera BANDANNA (libretto by Irish poet Paul Muldoon) modernizes and reframes both Shakespeare’s and Verdi’s OTHELLO, and sets it in 1968 at the U.S.-Mexico border where Police Chief Manuel Morales (Othello) deals with illegal border crossings, problems with his lieutenant Jake (Iago) and marital problems with his wife Mona (Desdemona). Originally produced by the University of Texas at Austin, the pit orchestra for the opera is made up almost entirely of band instruments. This sounds like a winner for a local opera company or large theater program such as the one at SUNY Buffalo. End of Digression.
Following the Hagen, the big Steinway was rolled out on stage for one of the snappiest piano concertos ever composed, the 1931 Piano Concerto in G by Ravel.
Following the Hagen, the big Steinway was rolled out on stage for one of the snappiest piano concertos ever composed, the 1931 Piano Concerto in G by Ravel. If jazz composers Gershwin and French composer Saint-Saens had a love child, it would have been Ravel. You get the jazzy syncopation of one and then you’re spinning all over the keyboard with the other. And, in fact, in 1928 Ravel did meet Gershwin in New York and they became good friends (see photo). Important Note: If you like the Ravel you will also like the upcoming Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 which pianist Sara Buechner will play with the BPO at Kleinhans on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, October 9 and 10.
Soloist Fabio Bidini, a regular Steinway guest artist with the BPO, was made to play this music. He has the delicate touch for the lightning fast runs in the first and third movements and the heart-breaking soulfulness for the middle adagio assai. Adding to that dreamlike adagio was the soloist for the English Horn, here played by the BPO’s Anna Mattix. You might recall that in the popular guitar work, the “Concierto de Aranjuez” or the “New World Symphony,” both composers Rodrigo and Dvořak used the English Horn for the big melody. Ravel, if you don’t know, was a master orchestrator.
Soloist Fabio Bidini, a regular Steinway guest artist with the BPO, was made to play this music.
Then, if there were any doubt of Bidini’s ability to wring the most out of every… single… note, he played Chopin for an encore, the Nocturne No. 2, I believe, savoring each note before moving on. It was an unforgettable moment.
After intermission the BPO took on Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 5, with the opening notes “da-da-da-DAH, da-da-da-DAH!” Falletta, in line with almost every modern conductor, has adopted the newer, faster tempo for Beethoven. But how fast to play the opening movement has been a point of discussion for centuries. According to one anecdote Robert Schumann once consulted a spirit and asked this supernatural entity to knock on the table using the correct tempo for the first two bars of Beethoven’s Fifth. After the spirit had finished the knocking, Schumann said: “I’m sorry, dear table. But the tempo is faster than that!”
Myself? I’m kind of old fashioned. I like the more ponderous opening with a “da-da-da-DAH [pause] da-da-da-DAH [pause].” But after those 8 notes, I’m fine with anything, and Falletta really kept it moving. The performance took 32 minutes. Anything from 30 to 35 is the usual, so this was just on the faster end of the scale.
One reason I like live concerts at Kleinhans, in addition to sound that is superior to your earbuds, is hearing things that you never heard before, and in this case it was the stunning oboe solo in the first movement, played by Henry Ward. It was so good to see the full orchestra on stage again after eighteen months of seeing them in small groups, socially distanced, and only on television or on the internet. What a thrill.
The Friday morning “Coffee Concert” which I attended encores tonight, Saturday, September 25 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 www.bpo.org or call 716-885-5000. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday there will be a “Musically Speaking” event in the main hall one hour before where Falletta and Bidini discuss the music.
UP NEXT AT KLEINHANS: “Music of Motown – Dancing in the Streets” with 19 hits of the 1960s including “How Sweet It Is,” “I Feel Good,” “Higher and Higher” arranged by Jeff Tyzik and conducted by John Morris Russell with vocalists Shayna Steele, Chester Gregory, and Bernard Holcomb. These singers are seriously legit and you can read their bios and see the full program here.
MASKING & VACCINATION PROTOCOLS FOR KLEINHANS MUSIC HALL
In order to further protect the health, safety and enjoyment of all, Kleinhans has a COVID-19 vaccination requirement and a masking policy for all staff, volunteers, performers and audiences at Kleinhans Music Hall. Alternatively, patrons may show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the concert start time. They are serious about this and I’ve seen people, with tickets in hand, refused entry. Details at bpo.org/safety-protocols.
Lead image: BPO, Bidini, and Falletta