Next weekend features BPO both at Kleinhans and around town (see below)
While COVID continues to vex smaller theatrical groups, the BPO has been able to perform as scheduled and audiences seem to be growing week by week. Last night’s concert, billed as “Elgar Impressions,” which encores this Mother’s Day at 2:30 pm, was extremely well received by a large, enthusiastic audience.
Spirits were lifted right off the bat when BPO Board Chair John R. Yurtchuk announced that the concert in early April, when the musicians of the BPO volunteered for a Sunday benefit performance, had raised $45,000 for humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
Then, after JoAnn Falletta raised her baton to conduct the opening work, the acoustically resonant Kleinhans Music Hall was filled with the warm, mysterious sound of the English Horn (slightly larger cousin of the oboe) played by one of Buffalo’s finest – Anna Mattix. Mattix has been performing at a variety of venues and we’ve missed her on the Kleinhans stage, but there’s no mistaking her signature sound. And that’s what we heard at the start of “Summer Evening” by Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodály (say “KOH-dye”). This is a work that allows the wind section to shine, as there is no brass, no tympani, and no percussion. It really is a perfect sonic description of a summer evening.
Music composed around the turn of the 20th century, all tinged in one way or another by Impressionism, is squarely in Falletta’s wheelhouse.
As I’ve written before, music composed around the turn of the 20th century, all tinged in one way or another by Impressionism, is squarely in Falletta’s wheelhouse. This concert also features “program music,” meaning music that paints a picture or tells a story, and that’s what we got, for all three works on the concert, with very accessible music.
Well, if I thought Mattix and her English horn were exceptionally resonant, BPO principal cellist Roman Mekinulov delivered more sound out of his cello than I’ve heard before when he played Ernest Bloch’s “Schelomo, Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra.” Fans of Mekinulov (and we are legion) know that he’s a big guy, with a big personality, and a big sound. But this was something else. As he shared on Facebook before the concert: “It is truly the piece that defines me, I can barely wait.” It was worth the wait.
And Mekinulov was surrounded by an interesting orchestra, chosen by composer Bloch to provide all the nuances necessary to tell the story of King Solomon. Schelomo is scored for three flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets in Bb, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns in F, three trumpets in C, three trombones, tuba, timpani, tambourine, snare-drum, bass-drum, cymbals, tam-tam, celesta, two harps, and strings. While not “exotic” exactly, anytime a composer adds English horn, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, tuba, not one but two harps, and celesta to the mix, it’s like giving a kid the big box of 64 Crayola crayons. There are so many sonic combinations.
And that brings us to the final work on the program, Elgar’s “Enigma Variations”. Now, before the concert at Kleinhans on Saturday night, in the afternoon we went to the Regal Theater to take in the Metropolitan Opera’s performance of Puccini’s “Turandot” broadcast live in HD. And the host, soprano Nadine Sierra (who will be starring May 21 in “Lucia”) said, as every host does, “As enjoyable as it is to watch this opera, nothing compares to a live performance at the Met.” It’s the same message I’ve preached from this pulpit for years about Kleinhans. As a radio host on WNED Classical, I’ve enjoyed played Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” dozens of times. But even the best studio monitors in the world, and certainly not your earbuds, earpods, or even Sonos or Alexa can deliver the actual “surround sound” of being in Kleinhans.
But there’s another reason to attend a live concert and it has nothing to do with technology or architecture. It’s your brain. When you’re listening to the radio, 99% of the time you’re distracted. It’s very hard to stay focused for 40 minutes. A truck outside rumbles by, someone calls or texts, you suddenly remember that last piece of pie in the fridge, whatever. When you’re snuggled safely in your seat at Kleinhans, with your cellphone “off-off” (not just ringer off), looking at the musicians making the music in front of you, you can really focus. And that was my “aha” moment with this performance (which, by the way, Falletta conducted without a score in front of her, completely from memory)! I felt as if I were hearing it for the first time.
In this work, there’s the original theme, and then there are 13 variations, each dedicated to, and, if you read the program notes, each tailored to describe, a friend of Elgar’s. The most famous is the “Nimrod” movement (named after the Biblical hunter and dedicated to Elgar’s editor named Jaeger (German for “hunter”). It’s haunting and emotional but is balanced by a dozen completely different sections. And that’s my point. If you’re distracted, it’s hard to appreciate what Elgar is doing.
Anyway, the concert repeats this Sunday (today!). Maybe take your mom.
Kleinhans Music Hall is 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. Runtime: 1 hour 45 minutes with one intermission (full-service bar across the lobby in the Mary Seaton Room). Masks are highly encouraged. Let’s keep our musicians safe!
UP NEXT: We’re five days from a super spreader event, with the BPO musicians spreading not COVID but glorious music all over town. Friday morning (May 13 at 10:30 am) and Saturday evening (May 14 at 7:30 pm) at Kleinhans, the program is called “Reflections on Rachmaninoff” featuring that composer’s “Symphonic Dances” (a high energy work completed right here in Buffalo). The special guest star will be violinist Bella Hristova and her 1655 Nicoló Amati violin playing a contemporary work by her husband, composer David Ludwig. The opening work will be more music by Zoltan Kodaly, his Symphony in C.
Then, on Sunday, May 15, the musicians of the BPO “moonlight” in events at 3:00, 3:30, and 5:00 pm requiring that, as an audience member, tough choices might have to be made.
Sunday, May 15 at 3:00 pm a number of BPO musicians re-combine as the Camerata di Sant’Antonio Chamber Orchestra who will be joined by special guests, the Amherst High School Concert Chorale for a concert titled “A Little Night Music” (including Ola Gjeilo’s atmospheric “Dark Night of the Soul”) at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 1080 Main Street (across from the Anchor Bar) in Buffalo. For details, find them on Facebook as Camerata di Sant’Antonio.
Sunday, May 15 at 3:30 pm, the BPO musicians who make up the Artemis Quartet, violinists Amy Glidden and Loren Silvertrust, violist Caroline Gilbert and cellist Eve Eva Herer will make their return to the Friends of Vienna concert series at the Unity Church, 1243 Delaware Avenue (sort of across from Canisius High School) in Buffalo, with a program of Mozart, Shostakovich, and Black American composer Florence Price. For tickets and information visit friendsofvienna.org.
And, finally, Sunday, May 15, at 5:00 pm Shakespeare in Delaware Park presents “PLAY ON! A Nomadic Evening Of Live Music And Theater.” It’s billed as “a collaborative concert experience where visitors move throughout a series of settings for short performances in beautiful museum spaces. Revel in a roster featuring the celebrated Buffalo Chamber Players (moonlighting BPO musicians), Shakespeare in Delaware Park, and the Vocalis Chamber Choir for an evening of strings, class acting, and choral singing.” For tickets email firstname.lastname@example.org or (716) 856-4533.