As BPO principal violin Nikki Chooi [say “chewy”] played the notoriously difficult Brahms violin concerto, I had the feeling that we were watching a “dueling violins” smackdown. Not that there was another soloist on stage, but it had that same “You liked that? Watch this!” feeling.
Of course, violin faceoffs are nothing new to Mr. Chooi. Before he was a principal violin with the world-famous Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, he was with the crossover group Time for Three. To understand what I’m talking about, watch him at a recent concert when Time for Three came to Kleinhans. For an encore, they played the wild “Csárdás” [say “CHAR-dosh”] by Vittorio Monti and they had a surprise guest artist leave his seat with the orchestra and re-join his old band.
Go ahead, the video recorded by Bernd Gottinger at Kleinhans is only five minutes long. WARNING: The Csárdás is an earworm.
But back to the Brahms Violin Concerto. It’s difficult for me to talk about it because, growing up, in our family, while Beethoven was God, Brahms was certainly The Archangel of classical music. You didn’t have to say any more than the name “Brahms.” It was simply understood that you were about to be moved in a way that no other composer can affect you. Anyway, hearing this violin concerto was like coming home. And from the leap-to-your feet applause that followed, I don’t think that I was alone.
Now, after a tour-de-force like the Brahms Violin Concerto, at the end of a concert, other violinists might want to take two ibuprofen, maybe ice the shoulder, or take a nap. Not Nikki Chooi. He bopped right back on stage with #13 of the 24 Violin Caprices by Nicolo “ I sold my soul to the Devil to play like this” Paganini. I’ve said it before, but when the professional musicians of the orchestra put down their priceless instruments so that they can applaud with both hands, you know what just happened was something special.
When the professional musicians of the orchestra put down their priceless instruments so that they can applaud with both hands, you know what just happened was something special.
The concert opened with music by the Italian-Argentinian Astor Piazzolla and his “new tango” piece “Tangazo,” not quite as well known as his shorter and more often heard “Libertango” or “Oblivion” but very engaging as it starts with a low grumbling in the basses, passing the sound around the orchestra before finally emerging into the Piazzolla sound that is instantly recognizable.
Speaking of basses, and moving on to another audience favorite on the program, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 “Italian,” one reason I like live concerts at Kleinhans, in addition to sound that is superior to earbuds, is seeing how the sausage is made, on stage, right in front of you. Now, those big bass viols to our right are called “Double Basses” because they so often “double,” in other words, duplicate, what the cellos are playing. Cellos are smaller, their fingerboards are shorter, their strings are thinner, their bows are lighter than double bass’s. So I found it highly entertaining to watch the seven guys playing these lightning fast runs on instruments that are bigger than my refrigerator. Kind of like when the tuba plays “Flight of the Bumblebee.” As the meme tells us: “Aerodynamically the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know that so it goes on flying anyway.” Tubas shouldn’t be able to “take Flight” and Bass Fiddlers shouldn’t be able to play Mendelssohn at a Ferrari, I mean Falletta, tempo. But they don’t know that, and so they do.
The Saturday night concert which I attended encores this afternoon, Sunday, October 24 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. For tickets you could visit www.bpo.org or call 716-885-5000. Or just show up. You don’t want to miss this one!!!
UP NEXT AT KLEINHANS:
The next classical concert with JoAnn Falletta on the podium will again feature a Buffalo favorite, pianist Joyce Yang, the Van Cliburn medalist (and so much more) to play Grieg’s popular Piano Concerto. Similar to this Sunday’s concert, the concerto will be matched with two audience favorites – Prokofiev’s fun and upbeat “Classical” Symphony and Stravinsky’s even more fun and upbeat “Pulcinella” Suite. Come early for coffee and donuts before Friday, November 5th’s 10:30 a.m. concert or come on Saturday night, November 6, at 7:30 p.m.
BPO Rocks presents STEWART COPELAND: POLICE DERANGED FOR ORCHESTRA featuring a founding member of 70s and 80s rock legends The Police. That’s this coming Friday, October 29 at 7:30 p.m.
The BPO Pops Series presents BEWITCHING BROADWAY with three Broadway touring/Disney vocalists belting out songs from WICKED, PHANTOM, SWEENEY TODD and more, the night before Hallowe’en, Saturday, October 30 at 7:30 p.m.
And other non-classical events include a world-premiere, the screening of the movie “Elf,” the 2003 American Christmas comedy film directed by Jon Favreau, starring Will Ferrell, with the BPO playing the soundtrack in concert. That’s Friday December 3, and if you’re still not in the holiday spirit, there’s a one-night-only holiday performance with star of stage and screen Vanessa Williams scheduled Tuesday December 7, all at Kleinhans.
NEW BILLS/SHEA’S TYPE MASKING & VACCINATION PROTOCOLS FOR KLEINHANS MUSIC HALL
“Recent trends in the pandemic continue to concern all of us. In alignment with measures taken by other live entertainment operators including Shea’s and the Buffalo Bills, the BPO will now be implementing a full COVID-19 vaccination requirement and continuing our masking policy for all staff, volunteers, performers and audiences at Kleinhans Music Hall.” That includes Children 12 and over, while those 12 and under need proof of a negative test. Read more here. bpo.org/safety-protocols/