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Classically Speaking / JoAnn Falletta and the BPO at twenty years together

Celebrating success and good leadership

Photo by kc kratt


When JoAnn Falletta takes the podium in Kleinhans on Saturday, September 21, it marks the start of her twentieth season as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Falletta has led the orchestra for more than twice as many seasons as any previous BPO music director.


Traditionally, the first concert of the season has been a gala event, with dinner before and festivities afterwards, but this year, the concert is billed as Favorites & Friends: A Celebration of 20 Years of JoAnn Falletta. “We wanted to make this year’s first concert a special event for all of the audience members whom we consider to be our friends and family,” says Falletta. The gala event has been moved to Friday, October 18, in the Hotel Henry on the Richardson Olmstead Campus on Forest Avenue.


The Overture to Semiramide, Rossini’s last Italian opera, opens the concert. Unlike all his other overtures, it makes exclusive use of music drawn from the score. Irresistibly melodic, like almost everything that Rossini composed, it has a joyous quality despite being the overture to a tragedy, which makes it a great way to open the season.


Virtuoso violinist Tianwa Yang returns to perform Camille Saint-Saëns’ ever popular Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra, composed in 1863 for the great Spanish violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate. Yang is the soloist in a best-selling four-disc CD set of all of Saint-Saëns’ works for violin and orchestra; it’s available on Naxos.


The concert takes a decidedly darker turn when pianist William Wolfram sits down at the keyboard as soloist in the Totentanz (Dance of Death) by Franz Liszt. Wolfram is a well-known Liszt specialist, which he has demonstrated to area music lovers on at least two previous occasions. About a decade or so ago, Andre Watts was scheduled to give an all-Liszt recital on the now gone, much lamented Ramsi P. Tick concert series, but cancelled at the last moment. Reached at his home in New York City a day or so before the concert, Wolfram agreed to fill in for Watts, which he did admirably. Fast forward a few years to March of 2013, and Watts again cancelled at the last minute. Once again, William Wolfram stepped in and delivered a ringing performance greeted by a spontaneous standing ovation.


The evening concludes with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8, one of Dvorak’s most inventive works, containing subtle allusions to Beethoven’s Eroica and a wealth of music, infused with the Czech national spirit.


In addition to marking twenty years of leadership by Falletta, this anniversary is equally important as a celebration of the BPO’s renewed fiscal stability. In recent years, many American symphonic orchestras, including several in larger population markets than Buffalo, have either folded or struggled to continue to remain viable; this includes the high-profile Baltimore Symphony, which cancelled its summer season to save money. Under Falletta, and with the managerial expertise of BPO Executive Director Daniel Hart, who celebrates his fifteenth anniversary this year, the BPO has achieved a level of fiscal stability that would have appeared to be almost impossible twenty-five years ago.


“I give the lion’s share of credit to Dan Hart,” says Falletta. “He always puts the music first and then structures the finances around it. The musicians of the BPO have also been an integral part of our turnaround, as has been the leadership of the City of Buffalo, the County of Erie, and all of our donors and the members of our audience who continue to attend and support our orchestra, including the members of our board of directors, both through their financial generosity and sound managerial practices. Our success has attracted national interest, but I don’t think that our path to success is generally replicable. Buffalo is a city of culture, and the people of Buffalo continue to demonstrate, time and again, that they love their orchestra and want to ensure its viability for generations yet to come.”



The Friends of Vienna begin their new chamber music season on Sunday, September 15, at their home in the Unity Church, 1243 Delaware. Fredonia School of Music cellist Natasha Farny and her colleague, pianist Eliran Avni, make up the duo Ekstasis. They will present “Women’s Voices,” an eclectic program by female composers, including some seldom programmed works by nineteenth century composers Clara Schumann and Louise Farrenc, and works by English composer Ethel Smyth (1858–1944), whose music is rarely performed on this side of the Atlantic. Works by the contemporary Russian composer Lera Auerbach and the American Judith Taafe Zwilich are also on the bill, as well as Hommage à Nina Simone, an arrangement of songs by the unique jazz great.


“As for the name Ekstasis,” Farny explains, “we decided to take a chance and use the term Ekstasis—the Greek spelling for ‘ecstasy’—since that summarizes how Eliran and I feel about making music together. The actual definition of the word means ‘standing outside oneself’ and this is our goal for an audience listener: we hope to transport you away from your routine and into another place for the duration of our concerts.”


Ekstasis has performed widely throughout the state and plans to record a CD and to concertize nationally in the coming years.
Information: friendsofvienna.org


The first of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society’s free, Gift to the Community series concerts takes place on Sunday, September 22, at 3 p.m. In what is a first for this series, and a genuine rarity for any classical concert organization, young Chinese virtuoso Hanzhi Wang performs on the accordion. Praised for her captivating stage presence and masterful performances, the groundbreaking young musician is the first accordionist to win a place on the roster of Young Concert Artists in its fifty-eight-year history. Wang’s artistry has also been recognized by contemporary composers, including works dedicated to her by Russian composer Sophia Gubaidulina, with whom she has worked extensively. Information: bflochambermusic.org


After four years in residence at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo Chamber Players is moving its concert series to Kleinhans’ Mary Seaton Room. Artistic director Janz Castelo explains: “Due to the AK’s planned fall closure for its AK360 expansion, the Buffalo Chamber Players needed to find a new home for our concerts. It didn’t take much brainstorming to settle on Mary Seaton Room. The ensemble kicks off its season on September 25 with a program including W. A. Mozart’s Quintet for Horn and Strings in E-flat Major, K. 407, and Antonín Dvorák’s String Sextet in A Major, Op. 48. For tickets and information, visit buffalochamberplayers.org


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