THE BASICS: After a successful solo recital last year, pianist Alexander Malofeev returned to Buffalo to perform the popular Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Prokofiev with JoAnn Falletta conducting the BPO at Kleinhans Music Hall. Tickets available for Saturday night, March 5, at 7:30 pm. Visit www.bpo.orgor call 716-885-5000. Runtime: 2 hours with one intermission (full service bar). Proof of vaccination required, masks are optional.
THE SHOW: It took two days and a long time in airports and airplanes to get here, but globe-trotting pianist Alexander Malofeev is young (he turns 21 this October) and full of energy, and so you’d have no idea of all that as he marched across the stage at Kleinhans Music Hall and sat so confidently at the BPO’s Steinway piano. No fussiness, no adjustment of the chair, JoAnn gave him a quick glance, then signaled for the nice musical introduction by clarinet, joined by second clarinet, flute, violins, then all the strings rapidly accelerating like a steam engine and BAM!
We were off on a musical sleigh ride by one of the most imaginative Ukrainian born composers ever – Sergei Prokofiev – beloved for “Peter and the Wolf,” “The Lieutenant Kijé Suite,” the ballet “Romeo and Juliet,” the “Classical Symphony,” and the silent film score to “Alexander Nevsky” (which JoAnn once conducted as the movie played above the orchestra… what a peak experience that was!)
Like Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 was premiered in America. In Chicago, in fact, with Prokofiev himself at the piano. I can’t find a citation, but I’ve heard that he said if he had known how often he would be asked to play it, he would have made it a lot easier. And it’s true. It’s fiendishly difficult, right there in the upper levels, but at the same time, also right up there in popularity.
The ensemble playing between the pianist and orchestra was simply uncanny.
The ensemble playing between the pianist and orchestra was simply uncanny. Part of the credit goes to pianist-composer Prokofiev who knew how to write so that the orchestra can be very busy along with the pianist, with neither overpowering the other. But it’s not a “you play then we’ll play” type of concerto. You really have to be there to appreciate how over and over the piano and orchestra complement each other’s musical activity. Falletta and Malofeev were completely in sync.
It’s hard not to love this work. If you have no idea of what you’re in for this Saturday, you can hear this weekend’s soloist, Alexander Malofeev, perform this 31-minute work recorded on tour with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin here.
Earlier in the week one of the BPO musicians told me that Falletta had warned the orchestra that Malofeev likes to play this concerto fast.
Earlier in the week one of the BPO musicians told me that Falletta had warned the orchestra that Malofeev likes to play this concerto fast. Really fast. Falletta is no stranger to fast tempos, and between the two of them, conductor and soloist, it moved.
If you’d like to know more about this hard-working young man who prefers to practice at night, and would like to get his own apartment so that he won’t keep the neighbors up, the week before he left for Buffalo, he spoke with me from his home and you can listen to that interview, recorded on Zoom, here.
I’ve mentioned that when the orchestra likes a soloist, they wave their violin bows in the air. When they really like a soloist, they even put down their expensive instruments and clap along with the audience. I don’t remember them ever waving bows, clapping, and also stomping their feet! And so we were treated to an encore: Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7, final movement. It was, as expected, a sensational performance, but it’s also, like the piano concerto, a rather percussive piece. Malofeev is quite capable of playing soft, lyrical music, and I wish that he had chosen something along those lines. If you go to YouTube and search under his name, you can find him playing Rachmaninoff’s “Lilacs” or Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons” for two examples.
The concert opened with the orchestra and audience standing for “Shche ne Vmerla Ukrainy i slava, i volia,” (“Glory and Freedom of Ukraine has not yet perished”), the State Anthem of Ukraine. That was a class act. However, the anthem is not that long, and Falletta decided to play that instead of, and not in addition to, the scheduled Overture to “Ruslan and Ludmilla” by “the father of Russian nationalist music” Mikhail Glinka. That overture is only five minutes long; it’s an extremely popular work on radio WNED Classical; and it’s familiar to many for being used over the opening to the TV sitcom “Mom.” I thought that it would have energized the audience for the Prokofiev to follow.
After intermission, we heard the Symphony No. 2 in C minor, by Alexander Scriabin. Falletta and the BPO have recorded Scriabin’s “Poem of Ecstasy” for the Naxos label and this composer, who died young in 1915, is right there in Falletta’s wheelhouse, with his lush late romantic sound infused with early 20th century harmonies. 1915 is, to me, Falletta’s “tonal center” and with the BPO she’s recorded music by Ravel, by Richard Strauss and Florent Schmitt and Vitezslav Novak and Rheinhold Gliere, to name a few. There’s also music by American impressionists Charles Griffes and Frederick Converse. You can see the the full discography here.
UP NEXT ON THE CLASSICS SERIES: ”Tchaikovsky & The Mermaid” on March 19 and 20. Grammy Award-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich, a Strad artist, returns to the BPO to play Tchaikovsky’s beloved Violin Concerto. Also on the program the “lavishly scored underwater fantasy” by Alexander Zemlinsky – “The Mermaid.”
MODIFIED COVID PROTOCOLS: Per the BPO: “In accordance with the changes in guidelines from Erie County, New York State, and the CDC, masks are no longer required for BPO performances at Kleinhans Music Hall, effective today, March 2, 2022. That said, we strongly encourage all patrons to continue to wear masks at all times while in the venue.
At this time, proof of vaccination is still required to attend events at Kleinhans Music Hall.
All staff, volunteers, and security will continue to be required to wear masks and to be fully vaccinated.
For more information on the BPO’s COVID-19 Safety Protocols, please click here. https://bpo.org/safety-protocols/
If you are not feeling well the day of your performance, please stay home and contact the Box Office at (716) 885-5000 to review your ticketing options.”