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Keeping time with the BPO

A pictoral history


Photos courtesy of the Grosvenor Room at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library.


Late 1830s: The Eagle Theatre at Washington and Eagle opens as the first major music venue in Buffalo.

July 28, 1868: The Metropolitan Theatre at Main near Swan officially changes its name to the Academy of Music after a complete renovation.

January 1876: The great German conductor Hans van Bülow makes the first of his three stops in Buffalo, performing at the Academy of Music.


The front/back covers of the commemorative program for the opening of Kleinhans.


October 6, 1887: John Lund succeeds Carl Adams as the director of “Orpheus,” an all-male vocal ensemble. Soon after his appointment, Lund is appointed conductor of the newly organized Buffalo Symphony Orchestra. At the time of its formation, the orchestra has thirty-three men—some of whom are not professional musicians—and under Lund’s leadership grows in both size and quality over the coming decades. Focused primarily on the classical repertoire, very few contemporary works are played during this time although Lund, a composer himself, greatly admires both Wagner and Tchaikovsky. They perform at the Music Hall at Edward and Main.

September 6, 1901: The Temple of Music serves as the setting of Leon Czolgosz’s assassination of President McKinley. Taking a bullet to his shoulder and another to his midsection, the president makes a brief recovery before succumbing to his wounds eight days after the attack. At the conclusion of the Pan American Exposition, the temple’s magnificent lighted façade and 2,000-seat concert hall are torn down. Its pipe organ, one of the largest of its day, is transferred to Elmwood Music Hall where it is used until 1938.

A collage of images from opening events at Kleinhans.

December 7, 1910: The New York Philharmonic makes its first appearance in Buffalo at Convention Hall under the direction of Gustav Mahler. The program begins with Bach suites arranged by the composer himself, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6: “Pastorale,” and concludes with selections from Wagner’s operatic work including the prelude and finale from Tristan und IsoldeSiegfried Idyl, and the overture from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The Buffalo performance is one of Mahler’s last appearances; he falls seriously ill three months later and dies on May 18, 1911, in Vienna.

A drawing of the Metropolitan Theatre/Academy of Music.


1914: Founded in 1899 by organist and Polish immigrant Boleslaus Michalski, the Chopin Choral Singing Society is officially incorporated as a cultural and educational organization. In 1925 the society commissions the statue of their namesake that stands outside the Buffalo Science Museum for almost five decades before being moved to its eventual location at Symphony Circle. Among its better-known conductors are Leon Olszewski; Arnold Cornelissen, conductor of the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra; and Peter Gorecki. (The Society is still around today and has been under the directorship of Dr. Thomas Witakowski since 1995.)

February 3, 1920: Sergey Prokofiev gives a recital at the Elmwood Music Hall, beginning with Bach and ending with one of his own compositions.

January 29, 1921: Ms. Mai Davis Smith, who also brought Mahler to Buffalo, organizes a concert by Arturo Toscanini with the La Scala Symphony Orchestra from Milan. Although the concert features works by Beethoven, Brahms, and Rossini, the most memorable moment of the concert does not appear on the program. Right after intermission, the conductor leads the orchestra in a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” followed immediately by the Italian National Hymn.

November 4, 1925: Serge Koussevitzky makes a trip to Buffalo with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

April 17, 1928: Maurice Ravel performs in the Statler Ballroom assisted by soprano Greta Torpadie. Later in the year, the Buffalo Symphony begins its 1928–1929 season at the Buffalo Conservatory.

Former BPO conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.


November 7, 1935: After almost a decade of planning, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra begins their inaugural season with Lajos Shuk giving the first downbeat to Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. A virtuoso cellist and past conductor of New York’s Civic Symphony, Shuk has been recruited by Cameron Baird, Chancellor Samuel P. Capen, and Frederick C. Slee. Although Shuk will only stay with the ensemble for two seasons, the fledgling orchestra is able to remain financially viable until funding can be secured from the Federal Music Project of the Works Progress Administration. Highlights from Shuk’s short tenure include an all-Hindemith performance with the composer conducting his own works and playing violin, a performance of Stravinsky’s suite from The Firebird, and guest appearances by former Buffalo Symphony conductors Arnold Cornelissen and John Ingram.

1937: Jessamine E. Long establishes the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, known as the Buffalo Schola Cantorum. In 1945, Cameron Baird becomes the second director of the chorus.

September 12, 1939: The cornerstone is laid for Kleinhans Music Hall after ground was first broken on October 17, 1938. Buffalo architects F. J. and W. A. Kidd are primarily responsible for the interior while Eliel Saarinen and his son Eero handle the master plan and most of the exterior. Funding for the new hall is stipulated in the wills of Edward L. Kleinhans and his wife Mary Seaton Kleinhans in the amount of $710,000, soon matched by almost $600,000 in Public Works Administration funds. The dedication of the new concert hall takes place on October 12, 1940, under the baton of second music director Franco Autori.

March 20, 1945: Autori gives his last performance as the Music Director of the BPO. The program features the Buffalo premier of Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with poet Carl Sandburg as narrator. Forty years later, Autori once again conducts Lincoln Portrait at the BPO’s 50th Anniversary Gala, this time with Senator Daniel Moynihan narrating.

The interior of the Edward/Main Music Hall; the Music Hall exterior.

December 3, 1946: After taking over for Autori in 1945, new music director William Steinberg conducts Shostakovich’s Lenigrad Symphony No. 7. The live performance is recorded and becomes the BPO’s first commercial release.

October 22, 1954: Josef Krips makes his BPO debut by conducting Verdi’s La Traviata. His appointment comes after a season under the direction of conductor-in-residence Izler Solomon and another of various interim guest conductors.

Summer 1964: Arthur Fiedler hires the Buffalo Philharmonic to tour with him as the “Boston Pops.” After a successful season, Fiedler rehires the BPO for the 1965 summer, this time touring as the “Buffalo Pops.”

January 1967: Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz allows the BPO to use an image of Schroeder in its fundraising campaign. The actual notes from Beethoven’s Sonata No. 11 are seen above the pianist’s head.

May 1, 1967: Lukas Foss takes the orchestra to Carnegie Hall for the first time in the group’s history. (Michael Tilson Thomas later eclipses Foss’s four trips to New York with twelve of his own, most notably a 1976 tour with Sarah Vaughan.)

March 1968: After twenty-two years, the BPO makes its second recording during Foss’s fifth season as music director. The LP includes Foss’s own Baroque Variations on Bach as well as Cage’s Concerto for Prepared Piano with soloist Yuji Takahashi. During his eight-season tenure, Foss makes a lasting impression on the musical landscape of Buffalo through the Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at UB as well as his programming.

Gustav Mahler,
who was here in 1910.

Arturo Toscanini,
who performed in Buffalo in 1921.

Maurice Ravel,
who was here in 1928.



July 25, 1974: Michael Tilson Thomas and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra play at the opening dedication of Artpark. A cultural and creative haven since its inception, Artpark still remains the official summer home of the Philharmonic.

January 1977: The BPO records the LP Gershwin on Broadway under Maestro Thomas. Woody Allen is so impressed with the work that he asks to use some of the tracks in his movie Manhattan.

October 20, 1979: Julius Rudel takes over for Michael Tilson Thomas and sets the tone for his tenure with a gala concert featuring Beverly Sills and a CBS Masterworks recording of Christmas music. One year later, Rudel’s lyric delicacy is highlighted in an all-opera program featuring tenor Placido Domingo.

November 16, 1985: The Buffalo Philharmonic celebrates its fiftieth anniversary with Semyon Bychkov on the podium. After serving four seasons as the associate conductor, the energetic and dynamic Bychkov builds on the momentum of the anniversary gala with a successful trip to Carnegie Hall and the Orchestra’s first-ever European tour in 1988.

October 24, 1987: Chilean-born Maximiano Valdes makes his American debut with the Philharmonic. Two seasons later he takes over as music director, a position he will hold until 1998.

1989: Kleinhans Music Hall is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

November 14, 1998: After a season as the designate, JoAnn Falletta makes her first podium appearance as the Philharmonic’s music director. Although claims will later be made that Marin Alsop at the Baltimore Symphony is the first female conductor of a major U.S. orchestra, Falletta’s appointment predates hers by almost a decade.

March 3, 2007: The Buffalo Philharmonic gives the world premier performance of John Corigliano’s Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan. The live recording of the concert garners three Grammy nominations.

February 8, 2009: The BPO wins two Grammys for the “Best Classical Performance” and “Best Classical Composition” for its CD John Corigliano: Mr. Tambourine Man—Seven Poems of Bob Dylan.


From Buffalo Spree, April 2009.



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