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Classically Speaking

BPO honors Leonard Bernstein and American composers

Bill Murray and cellist Jan Vogler bring the performance of literature and music, entitled New Worlds, to Kleinhans on October 11.


This month, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra brings a banquet of beloved American classics, a celebration of jazz standards, a tribute to a rock icon, Afro-Cuban rhythms, a Russian fantasy, highwire circus excitement, and a collaboration between artistic worlds. At the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, the first concert of its ninety-fourth season features string quartets of celebrated composers of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. That concert, presented on October 10 by the celebrated Takacs Quartet, brings the robust and resolute strains of Papa Haydn, father of the string quartet, in his Quartet Opus 76, No. 2 in D minor, affectionately known as “Fifths” because of the falling perfect fifths in the first movement. Also on the program, the Brahms String Quartet No. 3 in B flat major, the composer’s last quartet, and the Quartet No. 11 by Shostakovich.


In another chamber music concert on Sunday, October 29, violinist David Colwell joins pianist Dmitri Novgorodsky in a program of Beethoven, Korngold, and Grieg. Colwell is an acclaimed violinist who is also Assistant Professor of Violin at SUNY Fredonia; Novgorodsky is a Ukrainian-born virtuoso, recipient of many degrees and honors, and currently assistant professor of performance studies at Ithaca College. The concert is presented by Friends of Vienna at the Unity Church on Delaware Avenue.


A former student of Leonard Bernstein at Julliard, JoAnn Falletta has programmed a BPO season that pays tribute to Bernstein and his championing of American composers—during the celebration of the centennial of his birth in 1918. A two-week American Masters Festival includes a Gershwin/Adams/Grofe program September 29–October 1 and continues on the following weekend with a program entitled “Copland’s Fanfare,” including, of course, Fanfare for the Common Man which composer Aaron Copland wrote in 1942 and a few years later incorporated into his Symphony No. 3. Leonard Bernstein, a close friend and strong supporter of Copland’s music, is represented in the program by the Three Dance Episodes from his 1944 musical On the Town depicting three Navy sailors on twenty-four-hour leave in New York City. Finally, one of the earliest orchestral works of the contemporary American composer Philip Glass, Violin Concerto No. 1, is performed by BPO concertmaster Dennis Kim.


On October 3, Stefan Sanders and the BPO honor the rich history of Buffalo’s jazz community with a concert featuring the George Scott Big Band, marking the centennial year of the Colored Musicians Club. The Club was created as a social organization by American Federation of Musicians Local 533, the union formed by Buffalo’s black musicians in 1917 when they were barred from joining the white union, Local 43. The CMC was a magnet for local and visiting jazz musicians and integrated audiences throughout the pre-rock years when much of jazz was synonymous with American popular music. It has continued to thrive as an independent club and destination for musicians and audiences, even after the integration of the two unions into Local 92 in 1969.


During the second week in October, the BPO presents three unusual concerts with a wide range of musical styles. A friendship struck up on a transatlantic flight led to an artistic collaboration between actor Bill Murray and cellist Jan Vogler, a former member of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The performance of literature and music, entitled New Worlds, debuted in California in July and will take place at Kleinhans on October 11 before appearing at Carnegie Hall the following week. The program features Murray singing standards from Stephen Foster, Gershwin, and Bernstein and reciting the writings of Whitman, Twain, and Hemingway while Vogler’s classical trio plays Bach, Schubert, Piazzolla, and Mancini.


Just Imagine, a tribute to John Lennon featuring acclaimed Lennon impersonator Tim Piper, delivers a healthy infusion of Beatles nostalgia at Kleinhans on October 13. The following evening brings an infectious Latin groove to Buffalo when the Mambo Kings share the stage with the orchestra on October 14. Under the leadership of Peruvian native Richard DeLaney, the Rochester-based Mambo Kings have produced several albums and appeared with orchestras throughout the United States and Canada.


Although the BPO concert on October 21 and 22 is entitled Russian Fantasy and features works by Borodin and Prokofiev, the star of the show is really the fantastic electric bass player Victor Lemonte Wooten. Wooten, who started playing bass in a group with his brothers as a toddler, has, through his work with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and as a freelance musician, educator, and author, established himself as a leading figure in contemporary American music and as a nonpareil electric bassist. A few years ago, the Nashville Symphony commissioned Victor Wooten and the composer Conni Ellisor to create a concerto for electric bass. The Bass Whisperer premiered in Nashville in 2014 with Wooten as soloist and is performed at Kleinhans as part of this classical concert conducted by Stefan Sanders.


The circus comes to Kleinhans the weekend before Halloween with astonishing feats of aerial daring and grace accompanied by the power and excitement of the BPO. Cirque de la Symphonie combines jugglers, acrobats, dancers, and other circus performers with orchestral classics for a memorable visual and listening experience. Performances are at 10:30 a.m. on October 27 and 8 p.m. on October 28. On Sunday, October 29, designated a BPO Kids Day at Kleinhans, the show becomes a Symphonic Spooktacular and includes stories and games before the concert and a costume parade down the aisles after the music and gymnastics.


For details on all BPO concerts, visit bpo.org.        


Writer and musician Philip Nyhuis is a longtime contributor to Spree.


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