The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's 2015-16 M&T Bank Classics season closes on the first weekend of June with a concert that showcases the internationally renowned acoustics of Kleinhans Music Hall, conducted by BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta.
The concert opens with the world premiere of a piece titled "Sanctuary for the Soul" by Lackawanna-based composer Ron Gardner. He presented the piece as a gift to the Buffalo Philharmonic in honor of the 75th anniversary of Kleinhans Music Hall, which took place in the fall of 2015. The piece was crafted to express the architectural vision of Eliel and Eero Saarinen in music, and to match the emotions of attending a concert at the hall.
Gardner is a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston. This is his first work for orchestra.
Throughout the hall's 75th anniversary season, Falletta has programmed large-scale works to celebrate the hall's sterling acoustics and provide a year of memorable music. The zenith of this effort comes this weekend, with the centerpiece of the concert: Richard Strauss' Alpine Symphony.
The Alpine Symphony is rarely performed due to the scope and scale of the work and to the number of musicians required (120 performers will take the stage). Yet, performing this work is the heart's desire of many professional musicians, who have learned excerpts from it for professional auditions. This is the first time it has been performed by the BPO and only the second time Falletta has conducted the piece.
The beauty of the Alps will be expressed not only in sound, but in images. Musician/photographer Tobais Melle re-traced the Alpine hike that inspired Strauss' masterwork and has developed a visual program to accompany the work. The orchestra will begin the piece in total darkness, having memorized their parts, and the lights will go up gradually to symbolize the sun rising over the Alps.
Melle has developed a series of "Symphonies in Images," which he shows worldwide in collaboration with renowned orchestras and conductors. He enjoys traveling and photography, but he also enjoys quiet times in his home in Munich, Bavaria.
"My programs make symphonic music accessible to people who would otherwise not be attracted to come to an orchestral concert," Melle said on his website. " 'Symphony in Images' draws a different and much larger crowd than just the usual flock of classical specialists, thus widening the orchestra's impact dramatically. Huge audiences have already gladly taken up the invitation to this very special journey."
"The Alpine Symphony is a monumental achievement by Richard Strauss, a tone poem that expresses the essence of Alpine majesty," Falletta said. "The piece was inspired by a mountain climb of Strauss himself, and the spectacular photographs of Tobias Melle will allow our audience to follow in the composer's footsteps, from sunrise to towering forest to fields of flowers to dangerous glaciers and ultimately to the awe-inspiring summit (presented in glorious technicolor music that is Strauss at his unforgettable best). It will be breathtaking, astonishing and gorgeous. Don't miss this amazing journey!"
Also included on this concert is Viteslav Novak's "In the Tatra Mountains." Novak's work is also inspired by a journey, this one through the Tatra Mountains on the border of Poland and present-day Slovakia. Novak was once as popular and renowned in his home country as Leos Janacek but, today, his works are rarely heard. The BPO has been exploring and recording them for the Naxos label all season.
As is traditional at the close of the season, several musicians and staff members will be recognized onstage Saturday night for their long service to the Buffalo Philharmonic.
Suzanne Thomas, principal harp, is celebrating 50 years with the orchestra, as is violinist Mary Louise Nanna. Violinist Diana Sachs has been with the orchestra for 40 years. Violinist Andrea Blanchard-Cone has been with the orchestra for 30 years. Principal music librarian Patricia Kimball is also being recognized for 30 years of service to the orchestra.
The concert, titled "A Journey Through the Alps," takes place at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 4, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 5. One hour prior to each concert, Falletta will host "Musically Speaking," an informal discussion about the concert, sponsored by Uniland Development.
Tickets are available at bpo.org or by calling 716-885-5000.