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Falletta, Mozart and Leslie Odom Jr.: Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra announces 2019-20 season

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Mon, Jan 28th 2019 02:50 pm
JoAnn Falletta conducts the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra last spring during the regional premiere of a trumpet concerto written by Jaakko Kuusisto for principal trumpet Alex Jokipii. (Photo courtesy of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra)
JoAnn Falletta conducts the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra last spring during the regional premiere of a trumpet concerto written by Jaakko Kuusisto for principal trumpet Alex Jokipii. (Photo courtesy of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra)

BPO to feature final words of Mozart, a two-weekend Beethoven festival, Tony Award-winner Leslie Odom Jr., and maestro JoAnn Falletta’s favorites and friends

The Buffalo Philharmonic is throwing a party, and everyone is invited to attend!

The orchestra’s 2019-20 season has been crafted to celebrate JoAnn Falletta’s favorites and friends, revisiting highlights, anticipating the future, and celebrating the musicians of the orchestra and the bond that has developed between the BPO and its home city.

A special event in honor of Falletta’s 20-year tenure as BPO music director will be held on the evening of Friday, Oct. 18.

‘M&T Bank Classics Series’ Celebrates 20 Years of JoAnn Falletta

Falletta’s 20th season begins Sept. 21 with a concert titled “Falletta’s Favorites and Friends: A Celebration of 20 Years.” In 2007, Falletta conducted the U.S. debut of Chinese violinist Tianwa Yang, who returns to perform Saint-Saëns “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.”

Pianist William Wolfram is another artist with whom Falletta and Buffalo have formed a close bond, and he performs Listz’s “Totentanz.” To highlight the talents within the orchestra, principal cellist Roman Mekinulov will perform a work with the yet-to-be-chosen new concertmaster of the BPO.

Violinist James Ehnes is often called “the Canadian Joshua Bell.” His recording of Korngold’s lush “Violin Concerto” won him both a Grammy Award in the U.S. and a Juno Award in Canada. He makes his BPO debut with the piece on Oct. 5 and 6 under the baton of Falletta. The program also includes Dvoƙák’s melodic “Symphony No. 8” and the world premiere of longtime “June in Buffalo” Music Director David Felder’s “Die Dammerungen.”

From the themes of “The Simpsons” and “Desperate Housewives” to the scores of “Batman (1989),” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Edward Scissorhands,” Danny Elfman has written some of the most memorable film and television scores of the past three decades. On Oct. 18 and 19, Western New Yorkers will be treated to his latest work: a violin concerto written expressly for the nimble Sandy Cameron.

Cameron is also an acrobat, and has performed with Cirque du Soleil. Also featured on this program are two works by Richard Strauss: “Dance of the Seven Veils” and “Death and Transfiguration.”

Before Leonard Slatkin’s six Grammys, 33 Grammy nominations, National Medal of Arts, and multiple honorary doctorates, he guest-conducted the BPO on several occasions. After his recent retirement from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre National de Lyon, he has embarked on a tour of symphony orchestras where he got his start. On Nov. 2 and 3, he will take the BPO podium for the first time in decades for a program that features Grieg’s instantly recognizable “Piano Concerto No. 1” performed by pianist George Li, “Elgar’s Symphony No. 1,” and Cindy McTee’s “Circuits.”

On Nov. 15 and 16, it’s the return of another old friend: Maximiano Valdes, Falletta’s immediate predecessor as BPO music director. He will present the BPO debut of 24-year-old piano prodigy Drew Petersen, performing “Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1.” The preludes to acts one and three of Wagner’s romantic opera “Lohengrin” and Sibelius’ swanlike “Symphony No. 5” round out the program.

The saxophone was originally a military band instrument, but has found its way into the symphony hall. One of today’s top concert saxophonists is Timothy McAllister. On Dec. 7 and 8, he will perform two pieces with the BPO: “Glazunov’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone” and Kenneth Fuchs’ “Rush” for alto saxophone and orchestra. Also featured is “Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4,” “Italian”; and “Lyric For Strings” by George Walker, the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize. Thomas Wilkins will conduct.

Falletta will close out the first half of the “M&T Bank Classics” season in traditional fashion with “JoAnn’s Classical Christmas” on Dec. 13 and 14. From Bach to Tchaikovsky, Corelli to John Rutter, the classical tradition is rife with wonderful music to get everyone in the holiday spirit.

2017’s production of “Amadeus” with the Irish Classical Theater was the hottest event of the weekend in Buffalo, with almost 7,000 people coming to see the performance during its three-day run. On Jan. 17-19 2020, the BPO will work with Irish Classical Theater once again, presenting Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” with incidental music composed by Felix Mendelssohn. Vincent O’Neill will star in the production, to be held at Kleinhans and directed by Fortunato Pezzimenti.

This does not mean the BPO will eschew its traditional celebration of Mozart’s birthday, however. On Jan. 25 and 26, the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus will join the orchestra for “Mozart’s Requiem.” The final work of his life is shrouded in mystery and controversy to this day, with questions that may never be answered. The transcendental beauty of the piece has never been debated, however. As a prelude, 19-year-old Buffalo cellist Drew Cone will make his BPO debut, performing “Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C.”

On Feb. 8 and 9, the BPO will honor the rich Jewish tradition in classical music. Noah Bendix-Balgley made history as the first American violinist to become concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He continues to carve his own path with the composition of “Fidl-Fantazye: A Klezmer Concerto,” which he will bring to Western New York in his BPO debut. The “Adagio” from Gustav Mahler’s unfinished “Symphony No. 10” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” complete this program.

Time For Three has racked up views on YouTube, performed everywhere from NPR’s “Tiny Desk” to the Indy 500, and has explored every genre from classical to rap. Comprised of two violinists and a bassist, the group has embarked on a major commissioning of programs to expand its unique repertoire for symphony orchestras, including a bluegrass-classical fusion work titled “Concerto 4-3,” written by Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon. Time for Three will perform this in the group’s BPO debut on Feb. 22 and 23 under Falletta’s baton. Also on the program are “Symphonic Metamorphoses” by Hindemith and “Francesca da Rimini” by Tchaikovsky.

Konrad Skolarski, one of Poland’s leading pianists, made his BPO debut in the fall of 2017. He returns on Mar. 6 and 7 with Rachmaninoff’s masterful “Piano Concerto No. 2.” The BPO also continues its exploration of the works of early 20th-century French composer Florent Schmitt on this program, with Schmitt’s “Musique en plein air” and “Oriane and The Prince of Love,” which will be recorded for Naxos. Debussy’s beloved “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” completes this richly romantic program.

After the opening of the current “BPO Pops Series,” Buffalo was abuzz about Ray Ushikubo, the 18-year-old pianist and violinist who performed Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm Variations” on both instruments. Classics patrons will have the opportunity to enjoy his talents next season on March 21 and 22, when he performs “Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23” under Falletta. With Schoenberg’s arrangement of J.S. Bach’s “St. Anne Prelude and Fugue” and Scriabin’s “Divine Poem (Symphony No. 3),” the program will serve as a tour of classical music history from the Baroque era to the early 20th century.

Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director Gemma New is one of the hottest rising-star conductors in the classical world. She will take the BPO podium on April 3 and 4. Pianists Orion Weiss and Anna Polonsky return to perform “Jeremy Gill’s Concerto For Four Hands,” written for them and commissioned by the BPO. With “Britten’s Four Sea Interludes” from Peter Grimes and Elgar’s “Enigma Variations,” the program pays homage to British composers.

Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” was an instant hit when it debuted in 1910, and its popularity has never waned. The BPO performs this staple of the orchestral catalog on April 18 and 19 on a concert that’s sure to be memorable for many reasons. Buffalo native and Grammy Award-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux returns to perform Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Ares” along with bandeon player Julien Labro. With Khachaturian, more Piazzolla, and Jonathan Holland on the program, it will be a wild ride.

BPO Assistant Conductor Todd Craven, currently in his first season with the orchestra, will make his debut on the “M&T Bank Classics Series” in this concert.

In 2020, the classical music world unites in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of one of its masters: Ludwig van Beethoven. The BPO presents a festival of his music during the first two weekends in May. Another favorite BPO pianist, Norman Krieger, will return to the orchestra, while Roman Mekinulov and the new concertmaster will be highlighted again along with New York Philharmonic pianist and UB professor Eric Huebner in the triple concerto. The BPO will perform Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 6,” “Pastoral,” and his “Symphony No. 7,” used to great effect in the final speech in the Academy Award-winning “The King’s Speech.” The festival will also showcase a different side of Beethoven with the overture to his ballet “The Creatures of Prometheus,” and the Overture to “Leonore No. 3,” from his sole opera “Fidelio.”

Falletta will be on the podium both weekends.

The season closes on May 29 and 30 with the return of violinist Augustin Hadelich, who performed with the BPO in 2013 during his American debut season, has since won a Grammy Award, and earned recognition as one of the most respected violinists of this time. He will perform “Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto” on the 1723 “Ex-Kisewetter” Stradivarius violin owned by Buffalo philanthropists Clement and Karen Arrison, on loan to Hadelich through the efforts of the Stradivari Society of Chicago. The program also includes “Berlioz’ Roman Carnival Overture” and “Brahms’ Symphony No. 4.”

Falletta said, “When I try to sum up these past 20 years in Buffalo, words are inadequate. I am relying on this season of music to speak for me. I’ve programmed it to express my admiration for the musicians I work with; my respect for my board and staff; my love for our audience and my adopted hometown; my joy in the many friendships I have made; and my pride in what we have all achieved together over these past two decades. I invite all of Western New York to come together and join the musicians and me in celebration of this milestone, and of our future together.”

JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition returns

Falletta found her passion for music through the classical guitar. One of her signature achievements in Buffalo has been the JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition. Designed to launch the careers of young classical guitarists, each iteration has brought some of the top talent in the world to the region, and has helped foster a local interest in the often-neglected instrument.

On June 2-6, guitarists will gather once again in Western New York to face off for first place. Eight guitarists will perform in the semifinals at the WNED studios, broadcast live on air. Three will be selected to perform at the Saturday night finals with the BPO, from which a winner will be selected. 

Leslie Odom Jr. Headlines Pops Series

Principal Pops Conductor John Morris Russell returns to the podium with a varied season featuring the best of pops, from Hollywood to Broadway and ragtime to rock.

Russell kicks off the season on Sept. 27 and 28 with a nod to Hispanic Heritage Month – and a twist. Cirque de la Symphonie returns to the BPO with “Cirque Fiesta,” featuring dazzling circus artistry and humor, set to the best of familiar classical music from Spain and Latin America.

On Oct. 12, a brand-new show comes to Kleinhans: “The Paul Simon Songbook,” with music from his groundbreaking solo career and all of his hits with Simon and Garfunkel.

Conductor/trumpeter Byron Stripling return on Oct. 26 with “Byron’s Ragtime Band,” a high-energy show featuring the music of Scott Joplin, Louis Armstrong and other innovators in American music.

Whether it’s Indiana Jones fighting his way through the Temple of Doom, Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader for the fate of the galaxy, or E.T. and Elliott flying through the night sky on a bicycle, all of Hollywood’s most thrilling moments have been intensified by an equally heart-pounding score. Russell celebrates this music on Nov. 8 and 9 with “Pops Goes To The Movies.”

Classical Mystery Tour has thrilled symphony audiences in Buffalo and coast-to-coast with its faithful portrayal of the music of The Beatles. They return to the BPO on Nov. 22 and 23 under the baton of BPO Assistant Conductor Todd Craven.

It’s all leading up to “Holiday Pops” Dec. 19-22. Russell, “Mr. Christmas” himself, is back on the podium for more holiday favorites and surprises. The coming season will once again feature a Thursday morning performance in addition to the ultra-popular Friday morning performance.

The second half of the pops season kicks off with a tribute to the Queen of Soul herself. Last autumn, the world mourned Aretha Franklin. Her nationally televised funeral featured tributes from the leading lights of American public life and was watched by millions of people.

On Feb. 1, the BPO presents “Respect: A Tribute to Aretha Franklin.” Franklin’s career was so rich and varied that it will take three vocalists to accurately portray its depth. Through music and visuals, the story of this American icon will unfold.

On Valentine’s Day weekend, Russell leads a tribute to his predecessor: Marvin Hamlisch. Known for his scores to “The Sting,” “A Chorus Line” and “Sophie’s Choice,” Hamlisch served as the BPO’s principal pops conductor from 2000-07, and frequently returned to guest-conduct until his death in 2012. Hamlisch is one of only two “PEGOTs” in history, winning a Pulitzer Prize, an Emmy Award, a Grammy Award, an Oscar Award and a Tony Award. To this day, he is also the only non-director or screenwriter to capture more than three Academy Awards in one ceremony.

The BPO’s annual “Sweetheart Dance,” open to all ticketholders, will follow the Feb. 15 performance.

Doo-wop music bridged the gap between the jazz and swing of the first half of the 20th century, and the rock ’n’ roll that has dominated the scene since the mid-20th century. The Doo-Wop Project is comprised of stars of “Jersey Boys” and “Motown: The Musical” and takes audiences on a journey from foundational tunes of groups such as the Crests, Belmonts and Flamingos through their influences on the sounds of Smokey Robinson, The Temptations and The Four Seasons, all the way to “DooWopified” versions of modern musicians like Michael Jackson, Jason Mraz and Maroon 5. Russell leads the group in it BPO debut on March 27 and 28.

Leslie Odom Jr. electrified Broadway audiences as the original Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” lending a depth and pathos to the show’s complex anti-hero. He won the Tony Award for Best Actor in the role, and has gone on to release an album, star in commercials, sing at the Super Bowl, and act in the 2017 film “Murder on the Orient Express.” He has also developed a highly successful symphonic show, featuring the best of Broadway and the American songbook. If you missed him at the 2018 Shea’s Performing Arts Center gala, you can be “in the room where it happens” with the BPO on April 25.

Another “Pops Series” staple is the Memorial Day concert featuring an All-American program. Russell will again lead this concert on May 22 and 23, starring The USO Show Troupe. The group is part of an American tradition that goes back over 75 years to its humble beginnings in the muddy camp shows of the South Pacific. The troupe features a roster of professional entertainers hailing from Broadway, Off-Broadway, national tours, television and film. It serves more than 300,000 active duty service members and their families in over 350 performances across 75 cities in seven countries and 26 states annually.

The “Pops Series" closes on June 13 with a show that highlights “Leading Ladies of Broadway.” A cast of Broadway stars will join the BPO to sing music made famous by Broadway’s biggest female stars and composers. Craven will lead this warm and witty program.

“The 2019-20 ‘BPO Pops’ series has it all: a panoply of the American musical experience bathed in the rich orchestral colors of our orchestra,” Russell said. “I’m thrilled to introduce our pops fans to extraordinary new artists and shows, as well as beloved favorites. It’s going to be a party!”

Subscriptions Now Available

The BPO stated, “Savvy music lovers in Western New York already know that a BPO subscription is always your best value. You’ll save substantially on handling fees, you’ll have access to the most flexible ticket exchange program in the region, and first-timers can receive a discount of up to 30 percent in ‘Pops’ and up to 50 percent in ‘Classics.’ ”

Packages range from five concerts to full seasons of “Pops” or “Classics,” with 16 different options. To subscribe, call 716-885-5000, visit bpo.org, or stop by the Kleinhans box office. Single tickets to all of these events go on sale Aug. 10.

About Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Society Inc. provides a resident, professional, major symphony orchestra of artistic excellence and integrity to enrich the quality of life in Western New York through the presentation of live symphonic music and other musical events that educate and entertain the broadest possible audiences within and beyond the Western New York region. Since 1940, the orchestra’s permanent home has been Kleinhans Music Hall, a National Historic Landmark designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen with an international reputation as one of the finest concert halls in the U.S. Since its inception in 1935, the BPO has served as Buffalo’s cultural ambassador.

 Falletta is the music director of the Grammy Award-winning orchestra, which presents more than 120 concerts each year. For more information, visit bpo.org.

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