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Classically Speaking / Saxophones and sounds of the season

The alto sax, holiday happenings, and chamber offerings

Timothy McAllister is the featured soloist in two compositions for saxophone and orchestra with the BPO.

Photos courtesy of the artist and BPO


Think of the alto saxophone and the distinctive sounds of jazz masters like Paul Desmond and Cannonball Adderley might drift through your mind. But because of its pure tone—unlike the growl of a tenor or the reedy insistence of a soprano sax—the alto has also long been utilized in the concert hall. As for the tenor saxophone, Prokofiev used it in his film score for Lieutenant Kijé and briefly and unobtrusively in his ballet, Romeo and Juliet. Vaughn Williams also scored for the tenor in the third movement of his Symphony No. 6.


The sound of the alto sax as a solo instrument is essentially the same in both a nightclub and an orchestra. On December 7 and 8, listeners at Kleinhans Music Hall can judge for themselves as the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra presents saxophonist Timothy McAllister in a program conducted by Thomas Wilkins, who is currently music director of the Omaha Symphony and principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. McAllister is the featured soloist on Rush for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra by Kenneth Fuchs and Concerto for Alto Saxophone by the Russian composer Alexander Glazunov. In 2017, McAllister and JoAnn Falletta recorded an electrifying version of Rush with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Branford Marsalis who, like his kid brother Wynton, is renowned in both classical and jazz circles, frequently performs the Glazunov with orchestras but admits that he often ignores the metronome markings to preserve the beauty of the melodic lines.


The concert opens with the overture to La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie), a melodrama in two acts by Gioachino Rossini which premiered in 1817 at La Scala in Milan. The overture has been featured in several popular films including A Clockwork Orange. The program also includes a performance of Lyric for Strings by the acclaimed concert pianist and prolific composer George Theophilus Walker, the first African-American composer to earn a Pulitzer Prize, the first black graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, and the first to be featured as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra.


The concert finale is provided by Felix Mendelssohn and his Symphony No. 4. Also known as the Italian Symphony, the work was inspired by the composer’s time in Italy during a European tour from 1829 to 1831. As a sidebar to this concert, Timothy McAllister is conducting a classical saxophone masterclass at the Clement House on December 5.

For times and details on this and all other BPO events, go to bpo.org.


Holiday music all month, all over town

When the BPO’s beloved music director takes to the podium in December, you know you’re about to enjoy JoAnn’s Classical Christmas, an eagerly awaited annual event featuring the BPO, the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus directed by Adam Luebke, and a Yuletide contingent of prominent guest soloists. This year’s Classical Christmas takes place on December 13 and 14 and is preceded and followed by a host of other happy holiday events. The Neglia Ballet joins the orchestra on November 30 and December 1 at Shea’s for the eleventh successive annual performance of The Nutcracker with its timeless score by Tchaikovsky. The glorious sanctuary of Our Lady of Victory Basilica is the setting for Handel’s Messiah on the evening of December 1. In the William E. Swan Auditorium at Hilbert College, the orchestra presents a holiday concert on December 3. Back at Kleinhans, December 15 brings the Jingle Bell Jam featuring holiday stories, music, and a Christmas singalong. Later in the week, that jolly old elf John Morris Russell flies his sleigh into town to deliver three days and a night of high-spirited Holiday Pops with the BPO.

For times and details go to bpo.org.



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