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Classically speaking

A birthday tradition returns, along with explorations of Schumann and Weill

The Verona Quartet makes its Buffalo Chamber Music Society debut on January 15

Photo courtesy of the Verona Quartet


While much of the Asian world rings in the Chinese New Year on February 5, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra gets a head start the first weekend of this month with two concerts featuring pipa soloist Yang Wei in performances of the Butterfly Lovers Concerto. Known as the Chinese lute, the pipa is a pear-shaped four-stringed instrument played by plucking and is commonly used in Chinese classical and popular music. Wei is known as a virtuoso of the pipa. The Butterfly Lovers Concerto was originally written in the 1950s as a class assignment by two young Chinese students, He Zhanhao and Chen Gang, but has since become one of the most beloved Chinese classical compositions. Extending the Asian theme, the program opens with the explosive Train Toccata by Li Yuan and also includes readings of Borodin’s lovely tone poem, “In the Steppes of Central Asia,” and Stravinsky’s The Song of the Nightingale. Originally an opera and then a ballet, Nightingale features a “Chinese March” employing the Chinese pentatonic scale. The ballet, which debuted in Paris in 1920, featured sets, costumes, and curtain designs by Henri Matisse. Ken Lam, music director of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, conducts.


The Heath Quartet brings Britten

February 5 brings a decidedly British string ensemble, the Heath Quartet, to the Mary Seaton Room at Kleinhans Music Hall. The program includes string quartets by Haydn, Beethoven, and Benjamin Britten, the great twentieth century British composer whose works are seldom heard at the Buffalo Chamber Music Society. At this concert, the Heath Quartet performs Britten’s String Quartet No. 1, which the composer wrote in 1941 during a three-year residence in the US. At least two contemporary critics compared the work to that of late-period Beethoven while a prominent musicologist associated Britten’s use of D major with “a luminous harmony of gentle diatonic dissonance.” The Beethoven on the program is the String Quartet Op. 59, No. 3, while Haydn is honored with a performance of the String Quartet Op. 71. In 2013, the Heath Quartet became the first ensemble in fifteen years to win the coveted Royal Philharmonic Society’s Young Artists Award.


A masterclass with Henry Ward

For oboists and all wind instrument fans, your opportunity to be in the presence of oboe greatness also arrives on February 5. At 7 p.m., Henry Ward, principal oboist of the BPO, conducts an oboe masterclass at the Clement Mansion, 786 Delaware Avenue, home of the BPO’s new offices. For admission details, go to bpo.org/event/oboe-masterclass-with-henry-ward.


The Planets and The Poem of Ecstasy

Just over 100 years ago, shortly before the signing of the Armistice ending World War I, the premier of Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite, The Planets, was held at a private concert at Queen’s Hall in London. Despite its title, the work was inspired less by astronomy than by astrology, specifically the purported effects of the other seven planets on the psyches and destinies of earthbound mortals. Holst’s imaginative orchestration and novel sonorities were influenced and inspired by contemporaries Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg as well as Russian romantics like Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov. On February 15 and 16, JoAnn Falletta leads the BPO in a performance of The Planets and The Poem of Ecstasy by Alexander Scriabin. As Stravinsky influenced Holst, so Scriabin’s atonality and musical innovations inspired fellow Russians Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev. Universally acclaimed as one of the most remarkable pieces of music ever written, the lush score of The Poem of Ecstasy is a dramatic distillation of Scriabin’s mysticism and genius.


Evan Palazzo and Elizabeth Bougerol of the Hot Sardines

Photo © Joseph Cultice/Universal Music Classics


The Hot Sardines

BPO Pops conductor John Morris Russell pops into town on February 9 for a concert featuring the Hot Sardines swinging the music of the 1920s. The Sardines’s irresistible rhythms, contagious songs, and exuberant dancing transport listeners back to the days of hot rods, hip flasks, and Lindy Hops. Save the strains of Mozart for another day; on this night, the entire house may be dancing in the aisles!


Especially for kids: Presto Mambo!

On February 3, the orchestra presents the third in this season’s series of BPO Kids Sunday afternoon concerts. Presto Mambo! is an interactive family show starring a kid named Max and a dog named Mambo who dance with the orchestra in a fascinating tour of Latin rhythms. Free fun activities begin at 1:30 p.m. and the concert kicks off at 2:30.


For all music listings, including time, place, and contact information, CLICK HERE.


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