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Classically Speaking / A Midsummer Night in January

BPO highlights and a tango report

Fortunato Pezzimenti, Vincent O’Neill (Midsummer), and Moshe Shulman

Photos courtesy of the artists


While the holiday season is fast disappearing in the rear-view mirror, we all know that the long, hard winter has barely begun. Luckily for lovers of classical music and of the Bard, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Irish Classical Theatre Company are joining forces once again to ease the bite of:


“The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang

And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,

Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,

Even till I shrink with cold”

As you Like It, Act 2, Scene 1


How better to escape the icy blasts of winter than by enjoying a performance of that quintessentially Shakespearean play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, along with Felix Mendelssohn’s ethereal incidental music to the play, performed by the BPO under JoAnn Falletta and directed by ICTC’s Fortunato Pezzimenti? Even better, BPO audiences will have three opportunities to experience the event at Kleinhans Music Hall on the weekend of January 17–19.


“I’m very much looking forward to working together again with the ICTC and its artistic director Vincent O’Neill,” says BPO music director Falletta. “Vincent was wonderful in our first collaborative effort, together with Lehrer Dance in 2014 in the title role of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, and as Salieri in Amadeus, so I’m looking forward to his performance as Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Pezzimenti, ICTC’s departing longtime producing director, also directed the previous two collaborations.


“Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perfect,” says Falletta, “beginning with the spectacular Overture, which he composed as a stand-alone concert piece when he was only seventeen years old, one of the greatest examples of early musical maturity in the history of classical music. About fifteen years later, when Mendelssohn was music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, he composed incidental music for a production of the play on a commission from the king of Prussia. Mendelssohn incorporated the Overture into the Op. 61 Incidental Music, very skillfully using elements from it in the new musical numbers, creating a score that helps tie the stage action together. We are happy that we will be performing the entire score, including the vocal numbers, featuring Karen D’Angelo as the first fairy and Maria Parker as the second fairy, along the members of the Buffalo Women’s Choir.”


A concert of Mendelssohn’s complete incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream lasts just over an hour, so how do you fashion an abridgement of Shakespeare’s text, which uncut lasts well over two hours, and combine it with the full musical score, include an intermission, and make it fit into a two-and-a-half-hour time frame?


“Working with Katie Mallinson, who is serving as dramaturg for A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” says Pezzimenti, “we started with a script provided by the BPO that had been edited for a previous performance that integrated the Mendelssohn score. MSND interweaves the three-story lines of the fairies, the lovers, and the mechanicals in such a fun and beautiful way that we wanted to make sure that all choices kept that interplay clear and supported. It was important to maintain the iconic speeches, situations, and moments that we all have become familiar with. Katie and I met on a couple occasions to review our progress and after a script was finalized, we called together a group of actors to read the play to see if there might be further emendations necessary.


“We were very pleased with the reading and moved forward with this script. Vincent O’Neill plays Oberon and he is also doubling as Theseus. Other casting includes Aleks Malejs as Hippolyta/Titania, Chris Kelly as Egeus/Quince, David Wysocki as Lysander, Nick Stevens as Demetrius, Kayla Storto as Hermia, Kit Keubler as Helena, Kevin Kennedy as Flute, and David Lundy as Starveling.”


Pezzimenti recently stepped down as ICTC’s producing director and notes that Elizabeth Paladino has assumed the role of general manager, adding “I am now an associate director with the company and look forward to future directing opportunities and visiting my children in Vancouver.”


Mozart’s Requiem

On January 25–26, JoAnn Falletta assumes the podium for a BPO program that has a tie-in to a previous ICTC collaboration. “Mozart’s Requiem found a huge new audience due to its key role in Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus, and the subsequent film which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1984,” Falletta says. “Buffalo audiences also love the Requiem, so we are happy to be able to present it again. The program will also include the BPO debut of the young cellist Drew Cone, an astonishingly gifted young performer whose parents Douglas Cone and Andrea Blanchard-Cone, longtime members of the first violin section of our orchestra, are playing the ever-popular Concerto No. 1 in C Major by Joseph Haydn.”


Tango man goes to Brasilia

Moshe Shulman, the multitalented Russian-born Israeli, Buffalo-based composer, violist, and bandoneon player has been previously featured in Spree, as well as in many other local publications. He’s almost exclusively the face of tango music in Western New York in his role as founder and director of the Buffalo Tango Orkestra, and of Boléo, a string quartet that specializes in the performance of tango music. It’s less well-known that Shulman, an adjunct professor in the Department of Music of the University at Buffalo, also has a PhD from UB in composition and is a prize-winning composer of classical symphonic works.


In October, Shulman traveled to Brazil to attend the world premiere of one of his symphonic concert pieces. One of the most difficult feats for up-and-coming composers is to get large-scale pieces performed by symphony orchestras, at home or abroad, due in large part to the expenses involved and the general reluctance of orchestral organizations to forego  programming the old war horses which can be counted on to draw paying customers.


As Shulman explains, “My composition Then & Now was one of ten pieces chosen by the National Brasilin Symphonic Orchestra as part of a festival that gives young composers a chance to have their symphonic music performed and recorded. Until this opportunity in Brazil arose, the work had been in the drawer for about fifteen years. In looking at the piece again, I wondered what has, or has not changed throughout the years. Questions arose:  Do I still like it? Does it still represent who I am today? Should I keep it the way it is or make changes? These were similar questions to feelings I had when I traveled back to my birthplace in Russia twenty years after having left. Then I discovered that I can be both, belonging and not belonging, present and not present, something like a ghost that decides to be visible or not. A transformation of a child into a grown family man, a realization of one’s Jewish identity is paralleled in Then & Now which was completed this year, in Buffalo.”


Despite some technical difficulties in rehearsals, Shulman’s work was enthusiastically received by the surprisingly large audience, which was much toward a younger demographic. “Being a Russian-born Israeli opens doors that wouldn’t open to others, I think,” says Shulman. “After the concert, for example, someone from the orchestra comes to me and congratulates me in Russian. I never expected to meet another Russian who lives and works in Brazil as a musician. Another musician told me that he just realized that his name, Moises, and mine, are the same name. Suddenly the world has become smaller and commonalities have been found.”



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