THE BASICS: JoAnn Falletta conducts the upbeat “Classical Symphony” by Prokofiev, the fun-loving “Pulcinella Suite” by Stravinsky, and the surprisingly modern sounding Piano Concerto by Grieg with soloist Joyce Yang. At Kleinhans. The Friday morning “Coffee Concert” repeats on Saturday, November 6, at 7:30 p.m. Runtime: Two hours with one 15 minute intermission. Kleinhans Music Hall is 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. Full service bar, coffee, snacks, merchandise. Full vaccination and masks required.
THE CONCERT: After BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta came on stage, she picked up a microphone and informed the audience that a beloved member of the orchestra for 28 years, violinist Dmitry Gerikh, had passed away earlier this week. He grew up in Odessa, Ukraine, came to Syracuse, NY and then joined the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in 1993 under Max Valdes. Gerikh is survived by his wife Nonna, their son, and two grandchildren. She told us how orchestra will miss Dmitry’s jovial spirit, larger-than-life smile, incredible musicianship, and listening to him play the violin music of Paganini.
In his memory, the orchestra played Bach’s “Air” and then held for a moment of silence.
When Falletta returned to the podium a moment later, it was time for a modern (1917) symphony, composed by a 26-year-old Prokofiev, who wanted to bring back the fun and form of a Haydn symphony. No stranger to amusing music (he later wrote “Peter and the Wolf” and the “Lieutenant Kije” Suite) Prokofiev’s youthful symphony is full of frolic ending with a “Molto Vivace” tempo (think 176 beats per minute). I didn’t bring my radar gun I can tell you that Falletta may have broken some speed limit.
Then, it was time for ballet music by Stravinsky, but not one of the big, intense scores such as “The Firebird” or “The Rite of Spring.” In fact, after the Prokofiev, almost half of the orchestra left the stage. No more seven basses or cellos, just four of each. Half the violins, no clarinets, only one flute. This was a nimble chamber orchestra. And it was about to play the suite of music from “Pulcinella.” That’s a ballet about a chameleon character who is always looking out for number one, sometimes pretending to be subservient to higher ups, and sometimes lording it over his peers. He’s a useful fellow to have around since, without a moral compass, he does what other people would do if they could get away with it. The music, like the tricky character, changes rapidly, with a sneer here and a sweet melody there.
After intermission, Van Cliburn competition medalist, pianist Joyce Yang appeared to great applause. She’s a favorite of Buffalo audiences for her command of the keyboard without pounding, her ability to, like boxer Muhammad Ali, “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” and her general “aw shucks, you folks are so nice to ask me back” attitude. Of course we’ve always wanted her back. Especially after her last-minute heroics several years ago.
Joyce Yang answered her phone in Manhattan one Friday evening just as she was about to enjoy some takeout. It was the BPO.
Joyce Yang answered her phone in Manhattan one Friday evening just as she was about to enjoy some takeout. It was the BPO. Headliner pianist Lang Lang was indisposed. Could she perform the mighty Beethoven “Emperor” Piano Concert the very next night? So, she went over to the Juilliard practice rooms (because she didn’t want to keep her neighbors up, that’s so Joyce Yang) worked on the music all night long, caught a red eye to Buffalo, and blew everybody away with her performance.
So, if you were there that night, or at any other Joyce Yang concert since, you know what you’re in for. What I didn’t expect was to hear how Falletta brought out twentieth century sounds such as Rachmaninoff piano concertos and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue that are hidden inside this 1868 piano concerto. There were big, sweeping legato lines in the strings with the piano floating above them. What a sound.
If you only listen to recordings, you’ll only hear what you’ve always heard. To discover new sounds, you need to be in Kleinhans Music Hall for a live concert. And this one repeats Saturday night at 7:30 pm.
BPO BASSES ON THE BUS
You may not know this, but the cutups of any orchestra are usually the trombone players or the bass players. That is why I am so looking forward to hearing “The BPO Double Bass Sextet.” That would be Principal Daniel Pendley, Associate Brett Shurtliffe, Edmund Gnekow, Jonathan Borden, Nicholas Jones, and Gary Matz. They’ll be playing modern works such as “Sixth and Groove Street” by Lex King and Christian Gentet’s “Bass, Bass, Bass, Bass, Bass, and Bass” and classical works such as the “Urlicht” from Mahler’s Symphony Number 2, and music from the Renaissance, and more. And I’m hoping that part of that “and more” is some discussion, because these guys are funny.
By the way, the presenting group is “The Friends of Vienna” whose concerts are usually held at the smaller Unity Church, but if you ever managed to get six double basses in that church, there’d be no room for the audience. So…Road Trip! to the church across the street from the original Anchor Bar, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 1080 Main Street. Tickets (cash only, $14 adults, students $5) are available at the door.
UP NEXT: One of the original “Dueling Strads,” violinist Philippe Quint, joins guest conductor Keith Lockhart and the BPO for American composer Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. Also on the bill are Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” Frank’s “Three Latin-American Dances,” and Dvorak’s “American Suite.” That’s Saturday night November 20 at 7:30 pm and Sunday afternoon November 21 at 2:30.
As we head into the holiday season don’t forget that members of the BPO will be the pit orchestra for Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker” at Shea’s, performed twice over Thanksgiving weekend, and members of the BPO will join the BPO chorus and vocal soloists for the annual performance Handel’s “Messiah” again not once but twice! – November 28 at 7:30 pm at Our Lady of Victory Basilica and December 5 at 2:30 at St. Mary’s in Swormville. Tickets for those concert events are only available through the BPO Chorus. Click here to purchase.