Classically speaking / Finishing the year in spirit and style

Holiday favorites and international stars enliven December



A remarkable pianist performs Beethoven

This month arrives at a crescendo early on December 1 as the Buffalo Philharmonic presents Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, featuring international recording artist Sara Buechner as soloist. Beethoven dedicated the work to the remarkable Prince Louis Ferdinand, a Prussian nobleman, whose life was convincing proof that an extraordinary pianist and composer can also distinguish himself as a heroic military officer. Louis Ferdinand wrote piano trios and quartets as well as several compositions for piano, strings, wind instruments, and orchestra; his pianism was greatly admired by Beethoven. He died at thirty-three on the battlefield in the Napoleonic Wars after refusing to surrender to the commander of the French cavalry.


Sara Buechner


Like Prince Louis, Sara Buechner has also had two careers, the first as the young classical pianist David Buechner, who enrolled in Julliard at seventeen and later became an acclaimed artist performing fifty concerts a year. In the late 1990s, David Buechner became Sara Davis Buechner and, unable to find acceptance and work as a classical performer, began teaching. In the early 2000s, she hired a new manager and returned to the stage and a renewed performance career. A dual American-Canadian citizen, Buechner has performed as a recitalist, chamber musician, and soloist in every North American state and province while also recording and teaching. The concert is conducted by Rossen Milanov and the program also includes Schubert’s Symphony No. 9.


The Rolston String Quartet plays music from three centuries

The Buffalo Chamber Music Society has enriched the musical life of Buffalo for ninety-four years by presenting some of the world’s finest string quartets. This month’s stellar example is the Rolston String Quartet, which has received critical acclaim and enthusiastic audience recognition throughout North America, Europe, and Israel. Founded in 2013 at the Banff Center for the Arts and Creativity’s Chamber Music Residency by four young Canadian musicians, the Quartet has won several prestigious international prizes including the coveted Cleveland Quartet Award. On December 4, the Rolston String Quartet appears at the Mary Seaton Room at Kleinhans Music Hall playing quartets from three different centuries by Mozart, Ligeti, and Brahms.


The Rolston String Quartet: l-r: Luri Lee (violin), Hezekiah Leung (viola), Jonathan Lo (cello), Emily Kruspe (violin)

 Photo by Bo Huang


The String Quartet no. 2 in A minor was one of a pair of quartets (the other being No. 1 in C minor) that Brahms published as Opus 51 in 1873 after years of composing and revising his efforts to master the form. The result was his ability to distinguish his quartets from the powerful influence of Beethoven and even to create within them the advanced harmonies that later influenced the quartets of twentieth century composers such as Schoenberg and Bartok. Nearly a century earlier, in 1785, Amadeus Mozart had composed the fifth of his six quartets dedicated to Haydn: The String Quartet No. 18 in A major, K. 464. The epitome of High Classical composition, the quartet was greatly admired by the young Beethoven, who was in turn influenced by its perfection of the form and its highly developed counterpoint. The twentieth century piece on the program is the String Quartet No. 1, “Metamorphoses nocturnes,”  by Hungarian composer György Ligeti. Written in the early 1950s before the composer left Hungary in 1956, and inspired by Bartok’s third and fourth quartets, Ligeti’s work is written as one continuous movement. The Bartok inspiration came solely from the composer’s scores, since performances of his work were banned by the communist puppet government at the time.


Here come the holidays

Music of the season arrives at Kleinhans on December 7 when the BPO and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus present JoAnn’s Classical Christmas. This year, BPO music director JoAnn Falletta is combining some classical Christmas favorites with several works the orchestra has never performed before. The familiar pieces include a small suite from The Nutcracker, selections from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, and Leroy Anderson’s A Christmas Festival.


Less familiar music features the orchestra’s first performance of Carol Symphony by Victor Hely-Hutchinson, a British composer born in Cape Town, South Africa who later became a conductor, pianist, and music director at the BBC. The third movement of the symphony includes the “Coventry Carol” a lullaby sung by the mothers of the boys under two years of age who were ordered killed by King Herod. The famous painting, the Massacre of the Innocents, by Dutch Golden Age painter Cornelisz van Haarlem, is a depiction of that horrific event.


Another seldom performed composition is Anglo-Welsh composer Peter Warlock’s “Bethlehem Down,” a carol or choral anthem often heard in the Anglican church during the Christmas season.


In a recent description of the concert named for her, Falletta offers more surprises: “We’re also incorporating five Polish Christmas carols this year. And that’s really in honor of our visit to Poland, the wonderful people there, the reception they gave us, and the great success we had in March. They sent us twenty Christmas carols and we’re doing five of them. I sent out a call to the Polish community to find out which ones were favorites. Some have elements of wistfulness and melancholy and, of course, we’ve never done any of these before. We’re also incorporating fun things like Prokofiev’s The Troika from Lieutenant Kijé and I imagine driving through the winter in a three-horse sleigh.”


The concert features the orchestra’s interim concertmaster, Charles Wetherbee, in a solo performance of the ‘Winter’ concerto from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. The following week, John Morris Russell conducts the BPO and Philharmonic Chorus in four exuberant Holiday Pops concerts on December 13, 14, 15, and 16.


Choral music all over town

For those who glory in the beauty of the vocal music of the season, the Buffalo Choral Arts Society presents All Is Calm, All Is Bright at three different venues. Meanwhile, the Vocalis Chamber Choir performs two concerts entitled A Vocalis Christmas, including one at the Karpeles Manuscript Museum at North and Elmwood. For all concert locations and times, go to and      


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