THE BASICS: The 7:30 pm concert, “Magnificent Mozart,” Saturday, January 22, 2022 repeats this Sunday, January 23 at 2:30 as part of the 2021-2022 Classics Series. The venue is Kleinhans Music Hall, 3 Symphony Circle (where North, Richmond, Porter, and Wadsworth meet) Buffalo, NY 14201 www.bpo.org Box Office (716) 885-5000 Runtime: about 2 hours
FULL VACCINATION is now required for all staff, volunteers, performers and audiences at Kleinhans Music Hall. For the latest information click here.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: This program replaces the originally scheduled semi-staged, English language performance of Mozart’s popular comic opera “The Magic Flute,” a collaboration with SUNY Fredonia, which has been postponed indefinitely. The revised program this weekend, conducted by JoAnn Falletta, in honor of Mozart’s Birthday (January 27, 1756) opened with the exciting overture to Mozart’s popular opera “The Marriage of Figaro” (Le nozze di Figaro), followed by the BPO’s principal clarinetist, William Amsel, as soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, then after intermission opened with a Mozart Symphony, No. 35 in D major (the “Haffner” Symphony) and concluded with a work by a huge fan of Mozart, Tchaikovsky, his (Orchestral) Suite No. 4 in G major, titled “Mozartiana.”
THE CONCERT: Back in pre-pandemic 2018, the Metropolitan Opera staged a version of Mozart’s opera “Cosi fan tutte” that was set in an amusement park with rides and whirligigs and a funhouse feel. That loopy boardwalk spirit was cleverly evoked by JoAnn Falletta in the fast-paced overture to another Mozart opera “The Marriage of Figaro” where on the eve of servants Figaro and Susannah’s wedding, the royal house is abuzz with frenetic activity. The pace was set immediately by BPO Principal Bassoon Glenn Einschlag and we were off!
It was a smaller “Mozart-sized” orchestra we saw, but first rate, with all the principal players on stage, in both strings and winds, including the two principal Hornists, Poland’s gifts to Buffalo – Jacek Muzyk and Daniel Kerdelewicz – and Anna Mattix (phenomenal) who usually plays English Horn joining Henry Ward to make up the two oboes required.
I think that every concert should open with an overture, and this was a winner with all the “A-Team” players onstage.
What I really wanted to hear was up next, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. Why the special interest? When I was in the 8th grade, I played this concerto, with a piano accompaniment (thank you Sue Pfeffer), at the Erie County Music Educators Association auditions. And of course, as a radio Program Host for WNED Classical I’ve played many different recordings over the air. So, I thought I knew this piece. Well… As many times as I’ve written in this space that live beats recordings, I was not prepared for just how true that was hearing the cohesive blend of soloist (BPO Principal Clarinet William Amsel) and the orchestra.
In many other concertos, and this isn’t a bad thing, the feeling is that the soloist and the orchestra are having a heated debate or perhaps they trade challenges back and forth with a sort of musical “Hah! That’s all you’ve got? Listen to this!” But in this performance featuring one of their own, the orchestra was so supportive, in a “We have got your back” manner. Especially in the gorgeous Andante movement, the shimmering strings felt to me like guardian angels surrounding the clarinet melody. Unique. I’ve never heard that sound with this concerto before.
And speaking of sound, Mr. Amsel was playing the Clarinet in A (not “the standard B-flat”) which, while pitched only a half-step lower than the instrument we all played in high school, has a unique growly sound in the lower register and a somewhat smoother tone overall. Well, the smaller audience at Kleinhans loved it as much as I did, with spontaneous applause between movements and at least three curtain calls.
After the intermission, we heard, to my way of thinking, the first of the major, mature symphonies of Mozart (Numbers 35 through 41) composed for a larger, more sophisticated Viennese audience. That symphony, nicknamed “Haffner” after a patron of Mozart, has a rich full sound and, again something you can only appreciate at Kleinhans, look at the drumsticks that the tympanist uses. Usually, the kettle drums are struck with a padded stick but here we heard the unusual sound of bare wood drum sticks. There’s always something new to learn at live concerts.
The concert concluded with a Tchaikovsky work that was inspired by Mozart and uses various Mozart melodies. Usually I love Tchaikovsky, but here, after three truly eighteenth century “classical era” works in a row, I just wasn’t ready to jump forward 100 years to that romantic-nationalist sound. I’m only guessing here, but I imagine that the orchestra felt bad that the planned opera couldn’t go forward so they wanted to load up the concert and give everyone “their money’s worth.” I appreciate that, but sometimes, say with an exquisite three course Mozart dinner , you don’t need any dessert.
Note: Sunday’s 2:30 pm concert will be preceded an hour before by “Musically Speaking” with JoAnn Falletta, offering a chance to learn more about the music. The audience was smaller than usual, most likely due to some combination of a change of program, the recent heavy snowfall, and “snowbirds” who leave town every January. But those of us who did show up were well-rewarded for our efforts.
THE MUSIC OF DAVID BOWIE with the BPO, plus a rock band and three vocalists, at Kleinhans, Friday January 28 at 7:30 pm.
STAR TREK vs. STAR WARS with the BPO Pops conducted by John Morris Russell brings you selections from the original orchestral film scores to these two iconic sci-fi franchises. Saturday, January 29th at 7:30 pm.
BEETHOVEN & RACHMANINOFF with David Alan Miller conducting the BPO in a Friday morning “Coffee Concert” / Saturday evening series with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Jessie Montgomery’s “Coincident Dances” plus guest pianist George Li plays Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” February 4 at 10:30 am and Saturday February 5 at 7:30 pm. NOTE: Ms. Montgomery’s piece is described as “A lively work for a mid-sized orchestra of winds and brass in pairs, four percussionists, and strings. Duration 12 minutes” and you can listen to a version of it here.