Classically Speaking

A month of rich offerings, including Itzhak Perlman with the BPO

Itzhak Perlman

Photo by Akira Kinoshita


Whether or not this February matches last year’s all-time record for coldest month, there are plenty of reasons to abandon the igloos and bask in the warmth of music from movies, music with drama, music with dance, music with romance, and just sheer good music. The big concert of the month (and big musical news of the year) is the return of Itzhak Perlman to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on February 25. In his first appearance here in 1964, Perlman played the Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major under Lucas Foss.


In his six subsequent appearances with the BPO, Perlman played six different violin concertos for three different conductors—Michael Tilson Thomas, Julius Rudel, and JoAnn Falletta. In this month’s concert, Perlman, one of the brightest superstars of the classical musical world, is featured in a program entitled Itzhak Perlman’s Cinema Serenade. Like the violin stars of the nineteenth century who presented concerts featuring themes from popular operas, Perlman is playing music from his favorite motion pictures including Casablanca, Cinema Paradiso, and Schindler’s List (in which he played the violin solos). His love affair with the movies includes an appearance in an Academy Awards presentation and many performances on film soundtracks. President Ronald Reagan presented Perlman with a Medal of Liberty in 1986. The violinist is also the recipient of more than a dozen Grammys, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.


On February 3–4 at the Burchfield Penny Art Center, A Musical Feast mounts The Faust Project: A Staged Reading with Music, presented through UB’s Creative Arts Initiative. A Musical Feast is the acclaimed concert series inaugurated by former BPO concertmaster Charles Haupt in 2006, and this will be the second performance of the current season. The project is based on an adaptation of the Bayard Taylor translation of Goethe’s Faust by writer and director Neil Wechsler, with an original score by composer Nathan Heidelberger. The staged reading condenses Goethe’s original work into an eighty-minute presentation featuring Vincent O’Neill as Mephistopheles, David Oliver as Faust, and Kurt Guba and Josephine Hogan in multiple roles. Heidelberger’s new music is informed and inspired by that of the many other composers who have tackled Faust.


“In all my work, I’m always aware, sometimes painfully so, of the history of what music has come before me,” Heidelberger explains. “With such a rich body of Faust-inspired pieces out there, from songs to operas to symphonies, this project is no exception. Listeners familiar with this tradition will perhaps hear some allusions to other Faust music in my score—to Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade, for example. I’ve also been thinking a lot about Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. Though somewhat different from our own project in character, the Stravinsky is probably the closest parallel to what we’re trying to do, especially in terms of its scale—about an hour-long work for just a few actors and a small instrumental ensemble.” The chamber ensemble includes six pieces—flute, oboe, saxophone, two cellos, and percussion—conducted by Matthew Chamberlain. 


Also on February 4, the BPO presents a concert marking Canada’s imminent sesquicentennial and 150 years of American-Canadian friendship, with music by two iconic American composers—George Gershwin and Aaron Copland—and Canadian pianist Alain Lefèvre in a performance of Canadian composer Andre Mathieu’s Concerto de Quebec. Written in 1943 when the composer was fourteen, the piece was his third concerto for piano and orchestra and is also known as the Concerto Romantique. Mathieu began composing at age four, and, after a recital of his works in Paris when he was seven, French critics dubbed him “a Canadian Mozart.” The celebrated Gershwin work, An American in Paris, is also a tribute to the Canadian French connection while Copland’s Appalachian Spring, originally commissioned as a ballet for Martha Graham, seems quintessentially American. The title is based on a line from a poem by Hart Crane, and the music is partially informed by Shaker melodies. Also on the program is a tone painting by American-born Canadian composer Michael Colgrass entitled “As Quiet As,” a composition of imagined sounds inspired by the composer’s work with schoolchildren. Colgrass, who began his musical career as a jazz musician in Chicago and later worked with Dizzy Gillespie, John Cage, Elliott Carter, Gunther Schuller, and other modernists, is now based in Toronto. 


The following weekend, the BPO celebrates Valentine’s Day with a Pops concert led by John Morris Russell featuring the versatile lyric soprano Lisa Vroman singing romantic melodies from the great American songbook. Meanwhile, in Amherst, another musical lovefest takes place on February 12, when the Cone family is featured in A Musical Family Concert, presented by the Amherst Symphony Orchestra. Doug and Andrea Cone, both violinists with the BPO, perform with their sons Drew on cello and Matt on violin and viola in a program of Johann Strauss and Prokofiev at the Amherst Middle School at 3:00 p.m. While the concert is free, donations are cheerfully accepted. 


Darius Milhaud, who was born in Aix-en-Provence and harbored a lifelong fascination with the history of his birthplace, honored a fifteenth century king of Provence with his composition, La Cheminee du Roi Rene. The suite in seven movements, based on music written for a film in 1939, has long been a classic of the wind quintet repertoire. On February 14, the Buffalo Chamber Music Society concert presents the appealing tones and timbres of the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet, one of the world’s leading wind ensembles, performing this suite in the Mary Seaton Room at Kleinhans. In addition to the Milhaud, the quintet performs flutist Michael Hasel’s arrangement of Mozart’s Fantasy in F minor for clockwork organ as well as wind quintets by Carl Nielsen and the Finnish composer Kalevi Aho. 


On February 18–19, the BPO pulls out all the stops at Kleinhans in a performance of Brahms Requiem, with orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and two splendid soloists, soprano Deborah Selig and baritone Darren Stokes. Written when Brahms was in his mid-thirties, the work was created by Brahms from the text of the German Lutheran Bible. The composer wrote the Requiem after the recent death of his mother and the passing of his dear friend composer Robert Schumann, ten years earlier. Unlike the Latin Requiem, a prayer for the dead, Brahms Requiem is a message of comfort, consolation, and hope to the living. Also on the program, music director JoAnn Falletta has chosen The Peacock: Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song by Zoltan Kodaly. In 1906, Kodaly wrote his doctoral thesis on a study of Hungarian folk songs and later, with his friend and fellow countryman Bela Bartok, he traveled into the countryside to hear and collect Magyar folk melodies, which both composers later incorporated into their works. The Peacock is based on an old tale in which the peacock represents freedom and a brighter future for an imprisoned young man. Kodaly’s music presents the moderato theme, then sixteen variations of varying tempos and temperaments, and then the vivace finale. Because of its theme of longing for freedom, it was banned in 1940 by the Hungarian police. 


For Americans of a certain generation, Herman Hesse’s novel Siddhartha was a transformative coming-of-age experience and a memorable milestone on the quest for spiritual enlightenment and self-discovery. On February 24 at the Center for the Arts at UB, LehrerDance joins with the BPO to present An American Siddhartha: The Way Within. Siddhartha has previously inspired a film, a musical, and many songs, but this groundbreaking dance production will, like the book’s title character, wander through many places. This is reflected in the music, which includes works from varied historical periods—Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Modern—represented by composers such as Bach, Mozart, Brahms, and Schoenberg. The result is a collaboration between LehrerDance director Jon Lehrer and BPO resident conductor Stefan Sanders, who, in addition to JoAnn Falletta, is conducting the orchestra for part of this performance.         


Philip Nyhuis is a musician, freelance writer and P.R. specialist, and longtime contributor to Spree.


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