The coming month, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra promises adventurous concerts, as well as some tried-and-true favorites, and it all kicks off with an opera legend lending her voice to a community effort.
Soprano Kathleen Battle is performing at 8 p.m. Friday, March 8, in a program titled "Underground Railroad: An Evening of Spirituals.' The program commemorates an art form that was born out of slavery and transformed into highly coded messages explaining how to use the Underground Railroad to escape to freedom. After the Civil War, the Fisk College Jubilee Singers brought the spiritual to general audiences during a national tour that raised money for the school. Since then, it has become a part of American culture, performed by musicians of all races.
Battle will make her BPO debut with this concert, conducted by Michael Morgan and featuring the New Beginning Vocal Ensemble, led by Ella Robinson. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the African American Heritage Corridor, which is comprised of the Colored Musicians Club, the Nash House, and the Michigan Street Baptist Church, itself a stop on the Underground Railroad. The BPO's donation will be matched by the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo.
The following evening, pops favorite Steve Lippia is returning to Buffalo with the music of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. Lippia has performed everywhere from legendary jazz club Birdland to private events at the homes of Aaron Spelling and Donald Trump. At 8 p.m. Saturday, March 9, as part of the BlueCross BlueShield Pops Series, he will play standards such as "My Way," "Mack the Knife," "Beyond the Sea," and "Come Fly With Me," backed by the BPO. Erin Freeman, who made her whirlwind conducting debut with the BPO on Feb. 9 filling in for Ron Spigelman, will return to lead this evening filled with retro fun.
The jam-packed weekend continues on Sunday, March 10, with an exuberant Family Series concert. Dance Drum and Fiddle celebrates the remarkable cultural diversity in the Kleinhans neighborhood. Guest artists include Latin American Institute dancers Calvin Rice and Fanny Olaya; the Burmese Community Choir;the African American Cultural Center performance troupe; and violinist Adé Williams. Williams is the 2012 winner of the Sphinx Competition, which encourages excellence among young black and Latino string players. Williams' SugarStrings Trio has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Ebony magazine and the "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams." The African American Cultural Center and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery will offer a pre-concert experience at 1:30 p.m., and the concert begins at 2:30 p.m. On March 12, the concert will be repeated and broadcast to students in more than 60 schools through a partnership with Time Warner Cable.
Béla Fleck has singlehandedly redefined the place of the banjo in modern music. His genre-defying Flecktones have built a devoted following and have performed to more than half a million people annually since the beginning of the millennium. He has earned 14 Grammy awards and has been nominated in more categories than any other musician or group. Fleck will be the guest artist on the BPO's most adventurous program this season, bringing to the BPO his own concerto for banjo and orchestra titled "The Imposter."
This is such a rare musical combination that he knows of only one other, written in the 1960s for Pete Seeger. Matthew Kraemer will conduct this concert, which also features two other BPO premieres: the US premiere of Christos Papageorgiou's "Pyrrichios (War Dance)" and Delius' "Florida Suite." The M&T Bank Classics series concert will be presented at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 16, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 17.
Augustin Hadelich is in the midst of a very busy season of orchestral debuts nationwide. He has made impressive debuts at Tanglewood, with the New York Philharmonic, the Toronto Symphony and the National Symphony. He will make his BPO debut at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 23, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 24. The 29-year-old violinist has won an Avery Fisher Career Grant, Lincoln Center's Martin E. Segal Award, and the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship in the UK. Though worthy feats for anyone, they are all the more remarkable because Hadelich's career nearly ended when, at age 15, he was seriously burned during a tractor fuel fire on his family's farm. Although doctors told him there was a possibility he'd never play again, he went on to enter Juilliard at age 20 and fulfill his lifelong dream of a career in music. He will be performing the ever-popular Brahms' "Violin Concerto in D Major" on a program that includes John Adams' "The Chairman Dances" and Dvorak's "Symphony No. 7." The M&T Bank Classics Series concert will be presented at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 23, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 24.
FlautistCarol Wincenc will join the BPO to present a world-premiere flute concerto written especially for her by composer Geoffrey Gordon, himself a former Western New Yorker. The piece is said to conjure up a scene from "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and is orchestrated with a piano, celeste and a very rich percussion section with more than 16 types of instruments. The program also features Rachmaninoff's "Third Symphony" and Chabrier's "Suite Pastorale." The concert will take place at 10:30 a.m. Friday, April 5, and at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 6, as part of the M&T Bank Classics Series.
All concerts will be presented at Kleinhans Music Hall, 3 Symphony Circle, Buffalo. Tickets are available by calling 716-885-5000 or visiting www.bpo.org.