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Classical beginnings

A new season opens with two BPO debuts, rare music from Berio, and a few Friends

Thomas Hampson

Photos courtesy of the artists and institutions


America’s best known male opera star makes his Buffalo debut this month. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra opens its 2018–2019 season on September 15 with special guest Thomas Hampson, in a program that features the music of Gustav Mahler and Aaron Copland in its first half. The concert continues with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and a quartet of vocal soloists in a performance of Beethoven’s mighty Ninth Symphony—always a special event.


“We are very happy to have Thomas Hampson singing with our orchestra on opening night,” says BPO music director JoAnn Falletta. “It’s something that we’ve wanted to schedule for some years, but it’s never worked out. Growing up in New York City, I’ve been a fan of Tom’s practically my entire life. Not only do I love the velvety, extra color of his voice, but also the way he can subtly convey the emotion of a song with breathtaking drama. When we talked about what works to program, I said to him, ‘you cannot come to Buffalo and not sing some Mahler,’ and that’s how we decided upon four selections from Mahler’s song cycle Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy’s Wonder Horn).”


Mahler composed both voice/piano and orchestral settings of German folk poems for Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Hampson has a well-earned reputation for singing Mahler, and has made more than 170 recordings, including virtually everything that Mahler wrote for baritone voice. Hampson’s first solo recital CD from 1990, featuring Wunderhorn, prompted the New York Times to write, “the performances have a luminous beauty and cast a storyteller’s spell.”


“Tom is a nice, gentle, unhurried man,” says Falletta, “and he was very cooperative in finding out what would work best for us. He’s been a great proponent of Copland’s Old American Songs, so we decided on programming four selections from that work, including ‘The Dodger,’ ‘The Little Horses,’ ‘The Golden Willow Tree,’ and ‘The Boatmen’s Dance.’ In the past, perhaps, these pieces might have been considered a better fit on a Pops program, but nowadays, due in no small part to the advocacy of Tom, they are recognized as a vital part of the Great American Songbook.”


Never one to rest on his laurels, Hampson will, in October, sing the title role in the Canadian Opera Company’s world premiere of Hadrian, a new opera from composer Rufus Wainwright and librettist Daniel MacIvor. Dealing with the relationship of the ancient Roman emperor and his lover Antinous, who drowned in the Nile, Hadrian slips out of time to re-encounter the vision and reality of Antinous and learn the truth about what happened on the Nile.


While several previous BPO music directors have ended the season with a performance of the Symphony No.9 by Beethoven, this will be the third time that Falletta begins a season with the work. “In one sense, we’re getting ahead of the curve in celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven in 2020,” says Falletta. “On the other hand, this is also the right time to do it, particularly Beethoven’s setting of the text by Schiller ‘Ode to Joy’ where ‘All men shall become brothers,’ which is more relevant than ever. You cannot take this work for granted; it is still astonishing and always a discovery.” The soloists for the Ninth are Deborah Selig, soprano; Blythe Gaissert, mezzo soprano; Andrew Skoog, tenor; and baritone Kevin Deas, who has become a BPO audience favorite with some outstanding performances in the past few years.


 JoAnn Falletta


Tchaikovsky’s piano

JoAnn Falletta returns to the podium September 29–30 for a pair of concerts featuring the young pianist Hye-Jin Kim, who makes her BPO debut playing the popular Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1. “The Tchaikovsky concerto is everyone’s favorite,” says Falletta. “It is not only the best-known piano concerto, but also may be the best-known piece of classical music. And that’s because Tchaikovsky uses his significant gift for melody to powerfully communicate with the audience. We invited Hye-Jin Kim, who has already won numerous awards, to perform for us on the recommendation of Fabio Bidini, her teacher at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, who has performed and toured with us many times. Fabio told us ‘she’s amazing!’”


The program also marks the BPO’s first performance of the music of the prolific Greek American composer George Tsontakis. “I’ve known George for a long time,” says Falletta. “He writes fantastic contemporary music that reaches out to the audience. His work Let the River be Unbroken looks back to the folk roots of American music. BPO violinist Amy Licata has a deep background playing fiddle and bluegrass music, and, during the performance, she’ll be featured as she processes through the audience. I’m very happy that the composer will be in attendance.”


The program concludes with another blockbuster, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5. The work received its Russian premiere in January 1945, just as the war in Europe was entering its final months, and Allied victory was finally in sight. “Performing Prokofiev’s Fifth is always challenging, but the work has great meaning,” says Falletta. “Because of when it was written and how it is composed, I like to think of it as celebrating the ultimate victory of the human spirit.”


Modern music at UB

On Tuesday September 11, at Slee Hall on UB’s Amherst campus, conductor Case Scaglione leads the Slee Sinfonietta in a performance of the rarely programmed Folk Songs, a 1964 work by the master of post-World War II Italian music, Luciano Berio. The work features soprano Tiffany Du Mouchelle, a UB faculty member. Since joining the faculty a few years ago, Du Mouchelle has demonstrated an amazing range in her ability to get into a text and convey its essence to listeners. About his Folk Songs, the composer writes: “It is an anthology of eleven folk songs of various origins (United States, Armenia, France, Sicily, Sardinia), chosen from old records, printed anthologies, or heard sung from folk musicians and friends. I have given the songs a new rhythmic and harmonic interpretation: in a way, I have recomposed them.”


On September 27, UB percussion professor Tom Kolor presents the third installment of his Parisian Percussion series, featuring solo percussion works by Jolas, Dufourt, Amy, and Xenakis.


Note: The Slee Hall Box Office is open on Friday September 7 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. for a special ticket promotion: receive one complimentary ticket for every ticket purchased to a UB Music Department concert. The complimentary ticket does not need to be for the same event.


Natasha Farny


Paris visits the Friends of Vienna

The Friends of Vienna begin their forty-second annual concert season, featuring the lowest ticket prices in the area, on September 16 at the Unity Church, 1243 Delaware Avenue. Touring cellist Natasha Farny and Israeli-born pianist Eliran Avni, both faculty members of the Fredonia School of Music, are joined by former UB faculty violinist Yuki Numata Resnick for a program that has a decided French flair: Darius Milhaud’s Scaramouche, for cello and piano, Poulenc’s Improvisations for solo piano, and Ravel’s incomparable Piano Trio. Numata Resnick left her position at UB to concentrate on her leadership role in the after-school Buffalo String Works program, which helps kids largely from immigrant families on the Lower West Side. She performs the fiendishly difficult Sonata No. 4, E minor, “Fritz Kreisler” for solo violin, by the Belgian composer Eugène Ysaÿe. There is ample free parking behind the Church. Information: friendsofvienna.org.      


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