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REM bassist Mike Mills goes classical

With a little help from his friends

Mike Mills and Robert McDuffie

Photo courtesy of the BPO


Mike Mills takes the stage along with band members and his friend, violin virtuoso Robert McDuffie, in a performance of his Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra on November 16 and 17 at Kleinhans Music Hall. Click here for more info.


The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra enjoys a long history of appearing on the stage of Kleinhans with rock musicians. So, you might ask, what’s different about the upcoming concerts on  November 16–17? It’s this: on all previous occasions whenever rock musicians played with the BPO, it was part of a Pops series. When former R.E.M. Bassist Mike Mills takes the stage along with band members and his friend, violin virtuoso Robert McDuffie, in a performance of his Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra, it will mark only the second time that a rock musician has appeared in the Classics series. The first was in 2016 when Stewart Copeland, drummer for the British band The Police, was featured front and center as the drummer in his own composition, the dramatically vivid Tyrant’s Crush, a work that convinced this listener that, yes, rock music can be successfully combined with the sounds of a classical orchestra.


Writing about Mills’ work in the Wall Street Journal, Allan Kozinn says: “Melody is Mr. Mills’s strong suit, and he has filled his work with bluesy themes, propulsive figures and ear-catching riffs. Much of the work’s charm is in its virtuosic solo music, to which Mr. McDuffie brings the same energy, verve and warmth of tone that you hear on his recordings of concertos by Samuel Barber, Philip Glass and John Adams.”


This concert also celebrates the recent eightieth birthday of Joan Tower—widely regarded as the dean of American female composers—with the BPO premieres of two of her works: Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, inspired by the Copeland work, and Tambor, which features the percussion section of the orchestra. About Tambor, the composer writes: “What happened while I was writing this piece was that the strong role of the percussion began to influence the behavior of the rest of the orchestra to the point that the other instruments began to act more and more like a percussion section themselves.”


The program concludes with Mussorgsky’s popular Pictures at an Exhibition. Originally composed for solo piano as a musical memorial to his artist friend, Viktor Hartmann, the work was later orchestrated by several composers, but when Maurice Ravel released his wildly successful version in 1922 on a commission from the Russian conductor Serge Koussevitzky, all the previous versions became historical footnotes.


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