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Classically Speaking / Music to warm the heart of winter

From Finland, Shanghai, and Russia with love

Violinist Elina Vahala returns to Kleinhans Music Hall, February 10 and 11.


The last time we heard Finnish violinist Elina Vahala in Buffalo was during FinnFest in October 2015, when she performed the US premier of Jaakko Kuusisto’s Violin Concerto with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Vahala had commissioned the fiery free-form piece and performed it brilliantly from memory, with the composer in attendance. On February 10 and 11, Elina Vahala returns to Kleinhans Music Hall to join the BPO in a performance of the boldly melodic and technically demanding Violin Concerto in D minor by Finnish master Jean Sibelius. Written in 1904, this decidedly modernist work is Sibelius’s only concerto and clearly composed for a consummate virtuoso.


The title of the program is Scheherazade, which means that Rimsky-Korsakov’s celebrated symphonic suite based on One Thousand and One Nights, a longtime orchestra staple and audience favorite, is also on the program.   


Rounding out the bill is the Symphony No. 1 (Awakening) by Wang Jie, the irrepressible piano prodigy turned nonconformist composer. Now in her mid-thirties, she has written operas, chamber music, vocal music, film music, a ballet, and several critically acclaimed orchestral compositions while her work has been performed throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. And there is a connection to Rimsky-Korsakov. While at her science boarding school in China she had no access to music except for her smuggled cassette tapes with just three orchestral compositions, one of which was Scheherazade. In the program notes for her piece, she speaks of “insistent muses who command me to write down their music,” continuing, “If you find yourself elated by tonight’s performance, the credit goes to them. If you hate it, well, it’s only fifteen minutes long.”


Conductor Fei-Fei Dong


A return to the Romantics

On February 23 and 24, under the baton of guest conductor Rebecca Miller, the music of Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann return to Kleinhans in a program starring the pianist performing Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor. Winner of the Concert Artists Guild Competition in 2014 and a top finalist at the Van Cliburn competition in 2015, Fei-Fei Dong also conducts a free piano master class by reservation at Kleinhans on Thursday, February 22. The concert also includes a performance of Brahms’ Variation on a Theme by Haydn and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, which is also somewhat reminiscent of Haydn, with whom Beethoven briefly studied in his early twenties.


The Doric String Quartet


Britain’s leading string quartet

Formed in 1998, the Doric String Quartet captured first prize at the 2008 Osaka International Chamber Music Competition in Japan and has appeared in leading concert halls throughout Britain and Europe. On February 13, the Doric performs the Four Quartets by Thomas Adès, the prolific British composer of opera, choral, orchestral, and chamber music, as part of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society series. The quartet is also renowned for its interpretation of Haydn, offering as evidence a selection from Haydn’s Opus 64 quartets, and, as an appetizer to the Slee/Beethoven cycle this month, Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 130 with the Grosse Fuge movement, Op. 133.


Four days and nights of Beethoven

He was a Renaissance man—a respected lawyer, astute businessman, pianist, violinist, violist, and cellist—with deep roots in both commerce and the arts, and a driving force behind the formation of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition to a building bearing his name in the music complex at University at Buffalo’s north campus, Frederick Caldecott Slee and his wife, Alice Slee, are remembered for their legacy of support for what became the Slee Beethoven Cycles. This annual performance of all of Beethoven’s string quartets was inaugurated in 1955, the year after the death of Frederick Slee, by the Budapest String Quartet. The Budapest continued performing the Beethoven Cycle for the next ten years while its members were in residence at UB serving on the faculty of the Music Department. Many other distinguished string quartets have since presented the Cycle including the Guarneri, Cleveland, Jupiter, and Julliard, and this year’s reigning foursome, the Pacifica Quartet. Named “Ensemble of America” by Musical America magazine in 2009, the Pacifica Quartet presents the seventeen quartets of the Beethoven Cycle in six concerts on February 15 through 18 at Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall. For details, go here.            


Philip Nyhuis is a longtime music writer for Spree.


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