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Buffalo Philharmonic's 2017-18 season celebrates power of music around the world, American musical heritage

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Sat, Jan 28th 2017 10:40 am
The new BPO logo.
The new BPO logo.

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's 2017-18 season will feature a celebration of America's musical heritage to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's birth, a theme that's evident in both the M&T Bank Classics Series and the KeyBank Pops Series.

"It's a very exciting time at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra," said music director JoAnn Falletta. "This past season has been marked by high-quality programs, positive press coverage, and enthusiastic support from the community. Each year, we build on the previous year's success, and we've got a great deal to look forward to in the coming season."

Anne-Sophie Mutter Kicks Off Season

The BPO's 2017-18 season begins on Sept. 16 with renowned European violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. Mutter is a four-time Grammy Award-winner who has dazzled audiences all over the world since her debut at age 13. She supports up-and-coming artists through her Friends of Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation, and has had numerous new works dedicated to her.

Mutter's North American appearances are rare, and she has not performed with the BPO since 1989, when she joined the orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

She will perform Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto on a program that will also include Brahms' Hungarian Dances and Weiner's Hungarian Folk Dance Suite. Falletta will conduct.

The opening night gala takes place the same evening, and features pre-concert cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and dinner by Oliver's, premium concert seating, and a post-concert dessert reception.

The gala is sponsored by the Louis P. Ciminelli Family Foundation. Proceeds benefit the BPO's education programs.

M&T Bank Classics Series Contrasts American Classics with European Masterworks

As a student at Juilliard, Falletta had an opportunity to learn from Leonard Bernstein on several occasions, which she described as strongly influential.

"He showed us that the true meaning of music lay not in the veneer of technical perfection but in the beating heart of the deepest human emotion," she said of the experience.

With the centennial of Bernstein's birth in 2018, she has programmed a season to pay tribute not only to him, but to other great American composers who have brought classical music into the modern era.

The first two M&T Bank Classics concerts are devoted to celebrating American masters. On Sept. 29 and Oct. 1, pianist Charlie Albright will be the featured soloist in "Rhapsody in Red, White and Blue." In addition to Gershwin's quintessentially American "Rhapsody in Blue," the program also features Copland's Symphony No. 3 which gave birth to his revered "Fanfare for the Common Man," Ellington's "New World A-Comin' " and John Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine."

The following week's concert, on Oct. 7 and 8, features BPO concertmaster Dennis Kim in Phillip Glass' Violin Concerto No. 1. The program also includes Bernstein's "Three Dances" from "On the Town" and Ferde Grofe's beloved "Grand Canyon Suite."

Five-time Grammy-winning bassist Victor Wooten continues the American theme. A founding member of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, he was named one of the top 10 bassists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. With acclaimed composer Conni Ellisor, he has penned "The Bass Whisperer: Concerto for Electric Bass," which he will perform in his Oct. 21-22 BPO debut led by Resident Conductor Stefan Sanders.

Two more American programs are slated for the second half of the season. On March 10-11, composer/pianist Conrad Tao returns to perform Gershwin's Concerto in F on a program that includes Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story." On April 21-22, "Journey to the New World" makes a profound statement about what it means to be American. The program features Dvorak's iconic Symphony No. 9, "From the New World," and a contemporary work, "Ellis Island," by Peter Boyer. This multimedia work includes actors and video in an exploration of the immigrant experience, using text and images from the Ellis Island Project. Premiered in 2002, it's been performed more than 160 times, including at the Chautauqua Institution, and has been seen by an estimated 200,000 people.

The 2017-18 Classics season does not neglect the European grand masters, nor does it ignore emerging voices from around the world. The BPO's own principal cellist, Roman Mekinulov, will be in the spotlight on Jan. 12-13, performing Saint-Saens' Cello Concerto No. 1 on a program that includes Ravel's beloved Bolero. Next season's celebration of Mozart's birthday will focus on his operatic works, including selections from "The Marriage of Figaro," "Don Giovanni" and "Cosi fan tutte."

Five singers from the Juilliard Young Artist program and a narrator will join the BPO in this captivating presentation from some of Mozart's most popular operas. On Feb. 10-11, Finnish violinist Elina Vahala returns to Buffalo to perform Sibelius' Violin Concerto on a program that includes the treasured "Scheherazade" by Rimsky-Korsakov, and a 15-minute symphony by Chinese-American composer Wang Jie, which she describes as "a journey from yearning and tempest to peace."

A major season highlight will come on May 12-13 with "Carmina Burana." Orff's popular, dramatic work for chorus and orchestra is often used in films, television and commercials. The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus is featured. It's paired with a world premiere of Finnish composer Jaakko Kuusisto's Trumpet Concerto, written for BPO Principal Trumpet Alex Jokipii.

Jokipii and Kuusisto studied together in Finland, and reconnected in 2015 at FinnFest, where the idea for the work was born.

At the end of the 2017-18 season, the BPO will record Ottorino Respighi's most popular works for the Naxos label. On May 4-5, the composer's "Roman Festivals" will be part of a musical journey through Italy, featuring violist Roberto Diaz in Berlioz's "Harold in Italy." Diaz is the president and CEO of The Curtis Institute, and he customarily plays the very viola used in the premiere of "Harold in Italy." However, for this concert, he will play one of only 13 extant Stradivarius violas, the 1690 Tuscan-Medici, commissioned by Cosimo III de'Medici and owned by Cameron Baird, founder of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and the UB Music Department, and co-founder of the BPO.

The final concert of the year, on June 2-3, will feature both Respighi's "The Fountains of Rome" and "The Pines of Rome." Pianist Benedetto Lupo joins in this tribute to Italy, performing Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganinni."

Other season highlights include a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 4; Tessa Lark's performance of Dvorak's Violin Concerto; the return of former BPO music director Maximiano Valdes to lead the BPO in Debussy's "La Mer"; violinist Arnaud Sussmann's BPO debut with Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, one of the most popular concertos in the repertoire; and the first performance in decades of Strauss' "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks" on a program that includes Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Brahms' Symphony No. 1. The season also features the BPO debuts of conductors Ward Stare, music director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, on April 6-7, and Lawrence Loh, conductor of Syracuse's Symphoria, on April 21-22.

KeyBank Pops Series Features Celebrations of Hollywood, Jazz, Swing, Rock 'N' Roll

John Morris Russell enters his third season as BPO principal pops conductor with an exciting and varied season that echoes the American theme of the classics series, with tributes to American film, jazz, swing and rock.

"Pops is all about the panoply of the American musical experience, bathed in the vibrant orchestral colors of the BPO. ... The diverse array of musical styles we present throughout the 2017-18 season are thrilling and virtuosic-it's going to be a wild ride!" Russell said.

The season kicks off with "Disney Live in Concert: Fantasia." Featuring scenes from both "Fantasia" and "Fantasia 2000," audiences will re-live Mickey Mouse's struggles as "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and experience the beauty of Stravinsky's "The Firebird." Russell leads this concert in his inimitable style.

The BPO celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month on Oct. 14 with one of today's leading Latin jazz groups: The Mambo Kings. The Rochester-based group incorporates music by artists as diverse as The Beatles, Tito Puente and Astor Piazzola into their show.

Russell returns to the podium on Oct. 27-28 with the Cirque de la Symphonie performing a Halloween-inspired concert. This highly acclaimed group provides entertainment on and high above the Kleinhans stage. Made up of veterans of cirque-style shows from around the world, the troupe will add a new dimension to classical and popular music.

On Feb. 3, Tony DeSare lends his romantic, swinging and sensual style, and outstanding vocal talents to music by Elton John, Billy Joel and Ray Charles in a concert that culminates with Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."

The Pops turns rock 'n' roll for two concerts next year. On Nov. 11, Super Diamond brings the Neil Diamond concert experience to the symphony hall, with a full band led by Randy Cordero, aka, Surreal Neil, performing hits such as "Sweet Caroline" and "America." AJ Swearingen captured Buffalo's heart when he performed in the 2015 "Sounds of Simon and Garfunkel" show. He returns with Jayne Kelli in a new show, "Fire and Rain," featuring iconic singer-songwriters such as James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.

One can't celebrate American popular music without including swing. On Jan. 20, Buffalo favorite, Byron Stripling, brings "A Night at the Cotton Club" to the Kleinhans stage. Stripling has worked with The Count Basie Orchestra and the bands of Dizzy Gillespie and Dave Brubeck. He sings, plays trumpet, and leads this concert, which will also feature a singer and tap dancer, in music inspired by the famed Cotton Club in its heyday when Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway performed there.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra returns Feb. 16-17. The band that made "Moonlight Serenade" a standard brings its signature sound to Kleinhans once again.

John Morris Russell brings two one-of-a-kind programs to the BPO next season. On March 3, "A Night at the Oscars" celebrates the best of movie music: Miklos Rozsa's 1959 score to "Ben Hur;" Henry Mancini's smooth "Moon River," which found its way from the "Breakfast at Tiffany's" soundtrack to the American songbook; James Horner's score for "Titanic;" and John Williams' decades of work with the "Star Wars" franchise. Patrons will have the opportunity to walk the BPO's red carpet, stay for an Oscars after-party, and meet Russell.

On April 14, the entire community will be part of the action with "Buffalo Sings." The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus joins with the BPO and other Western New York vocal ensembles to celebrate the songs everyone loves to sing. The audience will get to sing along throughout the show.

In the lead-up to the concert, the BPO will be on the hunt for the talented Western New Yorker who will become the "Buffalo Sings" champion and make a BPO debut at this concert. The search will focus on the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," composed by Buffalo native Harold Arlen.

The KeyBank Pops season concludes with the traditional Star-Spangled Spectacular. Stefan Sanders leads the BPO and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus in this celebration of all things American, just in time for Memorial Day.

Start Your Weekend at BPO

When the BPO started offering Friday morning concerts more than 10 years ago, it was hard to foresee how popular they'd become. Today, the Coffee Concert Series is well-attended by groups from churches, communities and schools. With complimentary coffee and doughnuts available in the Mary Seaton Room an hour before the 10:30 a.m. concerts, these events have a social dimension valued by their patrons.

This season, there will be 12 concerts presented on Friday mornings:

  • Rhapsody in Red, White and Blue, Friday, Sept. 29
  • Cirque de la Symphonie, Friday, Oct. 27
  • Debussy's La Mer, Friday, Nov. 17
  • JoAnn's Classical Christmas, Friday Dec. 8
  • John Morris Russell's Holiday Pops, Friday Dec. 15
  • Bolero!, Friday, Jan. 12
  • Glenn Miller Orchestra, Friday, Feb. 16
  • Schumann & Beethoven, Friday, Feb. 23
  • Dvorak's Violin, Friday, April 6
  • Fire and Rain with AJ Swearingen and Jayne Kelli, Friday, April 27
  • Viva Italia, Friday, May 4
  • Star-Spangled Spectacular, Friday, May 25

BPO For the Holidays

The holiday season is the most anticipated time of year at the BPO, with many families maintaining concert-going traditions for decades. Next season, Falletta will be on the podium for Classical Christmas on Dec. 8-9. Russell, "Mr. Christmas" himself, has a special treat planned for Holiday Pops: a reading of "The Polar Express," with the book's illustrations projected above the orchestra, while the BPO plays the score from the film. However, this is only one of many holiday treats planned for the concerts taking place Dec. 15-17. On Dec. 10, the ever-popular Jingle Bell Jam will delight families with young children as part of the BlueCross BlueShield BPO Kids series.

The BPO's New Look

The BPO will have a fresh new look for the new season. Crowley Webb and designer David Buck donated services to the BPO to help rebrand the orchestra. After several months of research and design, the orchestra unveils its new logo along with the new season.

"I am very excited about our new logo, because it vividly reflects the heart of our organization - our wonderful musicians," Falletta said. "They - and their music - resound in the logo and reach out to the audience with energy, color and joy."

Subscribe now for best seats

As always, a subscription to the BPO is one's best value. Patrons who subscribe save substantially on handling fees, lock in seats early, and get the first chance to add other concerts to a package before the general public. With Western New York's most flexible ticket exchange policy, tickets can change when one's schedule does.

Single tickets will go on sale for all events on Aug. 12. Subscription packages range from as few as five concerts to full seasons of Classics and Pops. To subscribe, call 716-885-5000 or visit bpo.org.

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