Classically Speaking: Symphonic favorites under the stars
It’s hard to believe that summer is here and another memorable season of classical music has come to an end. Magnificent performances by the American String Quartet at the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, Genkin Philharmonic at University at Buffalo (UB), and Joshua Bell and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) were only the tip of the baton. A rousing festival of new music at June in Buffalo at UB and—appearing in multiple other venues—artists like Carol Wincenc, Richard Goode, and the players of the Camerata di Sant’ Antonio, also ensured it was an exciting and diverse season. Time to kick back, relax, and prepare for September.
Not so fast. Along with the weather, the BPO is just warming up. Summer selections read like a second season with several new programs complementing the familiar Concerts in the Park series. Full details are available at www.bpo.org, but here are some highlights:
On July 13, the BPO kicks off a new program called BPO Summer Nights @ Kleinhans. Three ticketed concerts will be presented in this series. BPOle 2! will be a program of Latin music conducted by Maestro Matthew Kraemer and featuring the Wendell Rivera Latin Jazz Ensemble. Rhapsody in Blue follows on July 20 with a program inspired by the perennial George Gershwin favorite. These two performances will be followed by casual dancing in the Mary Seaton Room.
The grand finale of the Summer Nights series is July 27, and features Maestro JoAnn Falletta conducting Bolero, Maurice Ravel’s famous orchestral arrangement of the Spanish dance of the same name. This seductive sixteen-minute piece is best known for its constant time signature (3/4) and an ever-increasing crescendo that climaxes in a final repeat of the ongoing central theme. All performances begin at 7 p.m. “We hope that folks will come early and enjoy their picnics on the grounds of Kleinhans before each performance,” says Susan Schwartz, BPO director of marketing and communications.
On July 25, the BPO makes an inaugural visit to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga. Maestro Falletta and the orchestra will be joined by concertmaster Michael Ludwig in a performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, or the Turkish concerto. This three-movement work contains an allegro with an additional aperto, meaning a broader, more majestic allegro than is usual in a Mozart theme. The solo violin is introduced in the second movement with a simple orchestral accompaniment. The last movement of the piece, a rondo, is based on a minuet theme from Turkish folk music, which is how the piece earned its nickname.
For those who can’t make the trip to Saratoga, the BPO will preview the Mozart concerto at Artpark on July 15 along with works by Hector Berlioz, Felix Mendelssohn, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Opening the program is Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival Overture,” an 1843 composition that borrows liberally from his earlier opera, Benvenuto Cellini. At the time of its composition, Benvenuto Cellini was considered much too difficult for regular performance; as a result, Berlioz condensed the carnival parts into the overture we know today.
Also on the program are two pieces with distinctively Italian flavor, Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien. Written in 1833, Mendelssohn’s Italian followed shortly on the heels of his Scottish Symphony and incorporates folk melodies to create a countryside atmosphere. Similarly, Tchaikovsky’s 1880 Capriccio Italien depicts his experiences hearing folk and carnival melodies while traveling to Rome. Listen for the bugle that begins the piece; it mimics the bugle that Tchaikovsky heard outside his hotel window on his first morning in Rome.
The finale of the BPO’s new summer programs is an unusual one: BPO Fantasy Camp. Adult amateur musicians who apply and are accepted will spend a day rehearsing and playing with the BPO under Maestro Matthew Kraemer. Each will receive sectional coaching with BPO musicians, get behind-the-scenes tours of Kleinhans, and perform an evening concert alongside professional musicians. According to Schwartz, “this program was created in the belief that one of the best ways to engage our audience is by creating opportunities for active participation in music making.” Who says music camp is only for kids?
As if all of that wren’t enough, the BPO maintains its free Concerts in the Park series. This year’s sponsor is First Niagara Bank. July kicks off on the 3rd with the traditional Independence Day celebration at Coca-Cola Field under the direction of Maestro Paul Ferrington. The program includes many familiar pieces with patriotic themes. Later that week, at 7 p.m. on July 6, the BPO travels to Delaware Park for a concert commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the beginning of the War of 1812. Among the featured pieces on the program will be, of course, Tchaikovsky’s well-known “1812 Overture.”
Tchaikovsky wrote the “1812 Overture” in 1880 to commemorate the successful defense of Moscow against Napoleon’s army in early September of 1812. (Locally, we’re most familiar with the December 1813 Battle of Buffalo, which culminated with the burning of our city.) Historians believe that the overture follows the battle in rough chronologic order. The piece begins with a plaintive “call to arms” by violas and cellos, and is followed by music of increasing attack and retreat that mimics the battle. Originally scored for orchestra and cannon, it features cannon fire interrupting a playing of La Marsellaise as the Russian army disrupts the French reverie. The French plan a retreat but their guns are stuck in the freezing Russian mud and are ultimately turned against them. Over ninety percent of Napoleon’s forces are destroyed as the final celebration of cannon fire ends the piece, and the Russians claim victory.
Other BPO First Niagara Concerts in the Park include performances at the Lancaster Band Shell on July 7 and a lunchtime concert at One M&T Plaza on July 18. So roll out the blankets, open that picnic basket, and enjoy the cool lake breezes—all with some of the area’s best musical accompaniment.
Peter R. Reczek is a scientist and longtime follower of WNY’s classical music scene.