Because I don’t usually review “one-offs” (since there’s no opportunity for readers to hear a second performance) I didn’t tell you about the really magical, evanescent Buffalo Philharmonic season-opening concert at Kleinhans Music Hall on September 17 titled “Midori Returns” when JoAnn Falletta conducted world-famous violinist Midori in her return engagement with the BPO. After the traditional playing of both the Canadian and U.S. national anthems (complete with audience sing-alongs) the concert opened with an upbeat “Fandangos” composed in 2000 by Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra. It wasn’t announced as such, but did fit nicely with “Hispanic Heritage Month.” If the name Sierra rings a bell, it could be because he has been an integral part of the bi-annual JoAnn Falletta Guitar Concerto Competition, as judge, as composer of the guitar work “Folias,” and because that same “Fandangos” opened the finals concert at the inaugural competition in 2004.
After “Fandangos” Midori appeared to perform the hyper-romantic Violin Concerto by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, famous in the last century for his movie scores. Midori plays quietly but in Kleinhans, you could hear every note. More importantly, her very presence seemed to inspire the orchestra to greater heights. Honestly, and I’ve been going to Kleinhans since the 1960s, the BPO never sounded better. They had a lush sound, but not mushy or muddy, and each solo passage in the orchestra was crisp, clean, and immaculate. One could say that they shimmered.
For some reason, even though the large opening night audience showered her with four enthusiastic curtain calls, Midori declined to offer an encore. But wait, as it turned out, there was a brilliant violin “encore” when, after intermission, Falletta conducted (from memory, without a score) one of her favorite works, “Scheherazade” by Rimsky-Korsakov. Like the Korngold, it’s a hyper-romantic work that uses the entire orchestra, features various sections, and also soloists to great advantage. In that work, the “voice” of Scheherazade” (the sultan’s wife who came up with “1,001 Arabian Nights” stories) was played on the violin by the BPO’s concertmaster, Nikki Chooi. OMG, did he ever rise to the occasion. He’s always great, but here he was 1,001 times great.
Having set the bar incredibly high, I wondered if the BPO could maintain that opening night level of excellence. Short answer: Yes and one reason is that we get more Nikki Chooi!
And that brings us to the most recent concert, the Friday morning September 30 10:30 am “Coffee Concert” (free coffee and donuts are offered in the Mary Seaton Room prior to those concerts). The concert was titled “Destination: Carnegie Hall! The Lukas Foss Legacy” where, in commemoration of his 100th birthday, the BPO celebrated the life and works of Lukas Foss, one of the most important composers of the last century who was the music director of the BPO from 1963 to 1970, and, like his successor at the BPO, Michael Tilson-Thomas, a transformative force in the Buffalo arts scene.
That’s all true, but judging from the sparse audience on Friday, I’m wondering if people stayed home thinking that this concert was going to be one of those edgy, avant-garde, academic, astringent, ascerbic affairs from the 1960s “Creative Associates.” Short answer: It wasn’t. What did it sound like? Aaron Copland’s music. Lovely Americana.
Good news: the concert repeats Saturday evening, October 1 at 7:30 pm at Kleinhans. Now, these two “local” concerts at Kleinhans are a chance for us to hear the music that will be played Monday night, October 3 at Carnegie Hall at 7:00 pm. Actually, JoAnn Falletta turned around on the podium and thanked us all for being there for the “rehearsal” for Carnegie. The concert is billed for New York audiences (and the large Buffalo contingent traveling down to Manhattan) as the “Lukas Foss Centennial Celebration at Carnegie Hall.”
Where is Carnegie Hall? It’s at 881 7th Ave, New York, NY. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? You know the answer: “Practice, practice, practice!” (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
The concert started with Foss’s “Ode for Orchestra” composed after World War II in memory of the fallen and it sounds like movie music, maybe by James Horner (“Legends of the Fall”) or Rachel Portman (“Cider House Rules”) but also like Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome (particularly the section on “The Appian Way” with that steady pounding of the tympani).
The next work, composed originally for the violinist Itzhak Perlman, was “Three American Pieces” and featured the BPO’s Nikki Chooi. Again, very easy listening, very much in the vein of Aaron Copland’s Americana pieces (“Rodeo,” “Appalachian Spring,” or his opera “The Tender Land”).
Then, guest flutist Amy Porter came out with her custom-made 14K white gold flute with rose gold engraved keys to play a work originally composed by Foss for Buffalo’s own Carol Wincenc. Called a “Renaissance Concerto” it featured a small orchestra with an “echo” orchestra (flute and strings) positioned in the balcony.
After intermission, we heard Foss’s Symphony No.1, a work written in his youth, that I found a little meandering, like a lot of American compositions from the last several decades. It wasn’t my favorite part of the concert, but your mileage may vary. What everyone loved, however, was the concert closer, the “Three Dance Episodes from On The Town” by Foss’s life-long friend, Leonard Bernstein. Very jazzy with the tune “New York, New York” embedded in the final movement, so if you get lost on your way to Carnegie Hall, just remember the lyrics: “New York, New York, a helluva town / The Bronx is up, and the Battery’s down / The people ride in a hole in the groun’ / New York, New York, it’s a helluva town!
Good luck on your Carnegie Hall concert, BPO! (Remember this “preview” concert repeats Saturday, October 1, at 7:30 pm at Kleinhans.) The BPO Box Office can be reached at 716-885-5000.