Music Director JoAnn Falletta and Principal Pops Conductor John Morris Russell present a new season filled with master composers, virtuosic artists, timeless legends
The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra 2020-21 concert season is all about inspiring figures, past and present – master composers, virtuosic artists, and timeless legends of Broadway, Hollywood and the radio. Anchored by a season opener with celebrated soprano Renée Fleming, and the return of master trumpeter Chris Botti in time for a sweet Valentine’s Day serenade, this season is packed with world premieres and classic masterpieces.
A press release said, “With the magnificent musicianship of the BPO performed in the acoustic splendor of Kleinhans Music Hall, audiences won’t want to miss a single note!”
•M&T Bank Classics Series celebrates beloved masterpieces and world-class soloists
The 2020-21 concert season kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, with a sparkling gala affair featuring the return of celebrated American soprano Fleming.
The press release noted, “Renée has captivated audiences worldwide with her sumptuous voice, consummate artistry, and mesmerizing stage presence. Her thrilling performance includes operatic favorites, art songs, and charms from the Great American Songbook. A world premiere by composer Jie Wang celebrating the city of Buffalo, composed as a gift for Kleinhans Music Hall and the BPO, opens this unforgettable program.”
After Falletta’s 20th anniversary celebration last year, the BPO’s traditional gala fundraiser dinner will return to Kleinhans Music Hall following the opening night performance. Gala dinner and ticket packages will be announced at a later date. Inquiries can be made to Megan Smith, special events manager, at 716-242-7825. Proceeds from the gala will benefit the BPO’s “Next Generation Education Fund,” providing opportunities to expand the orchestra’s education and community initiatives.
At 10:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 9, and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, patrons will take a wild journey through the highs of romantic obsession and the lows of love lost with Hector Berlioz’ masterpiece “Symphonie fantastique.” This all-French program also features two illustrative works by composer Lili Boulanger – D’un soir triste (“Of a sad evening”) and D’un matin de printemps (“A spring morning”) – and welcomes back pianist Sara Buechner, who returns to play Saint-Saëns jovial Piano Concerto No. 2 after her critically acclaimed performance in 2018.
At 10:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 23, and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24, young conducting phenom Teddy Abrams leads Antonín Dvořák’s love letter to North America, his well-known “New World Symphony,” with its melodies inspired by African American spirituals and Native American music. Abrams also brings the evocative melodrama “From the Diary of Anne Frank,” composed by his mentor, former BPO Music Director Michael Tilson-Thomas. The work was originally written for narration by Audrey Hepburn who shared the same age as Anne Frank. It tells the story of young Anne – her love of dance, her visions for the future, the tumult that leads her family into quiet hiding, and her sobering final moments.
The BPO will collaborate with combined vocals of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, prepared by music director Adam Luebke, and the Crane School of Music Chorus, prepared by associate professor Jeffrey Francom, in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8. This colossal masterwork combines operatic drama and emotional solo moments in a symphonic experience.
November brings Beethoven’s Fifth paired with a few unexpected surprises. At 10:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 20, and 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21, the BPO takes on Beethoven’s epic and instantly recognizable Fifth Symphony. The masterwork is paired with contemporary composer Joan Tower’s Sequoia, a rhythmic and percussive beauty that pays homage to the great redwood trees of the Pacific Northwest.
Although Sequoia does not sound like Beethoven in any obvious way, she describes a concept of “balancing” within the work, in which she lives in Beethoven’s sound world while staying true to her own. When the work is paired with Beethoven’s Fifth, this concept of “balancing” is brought to life. From giant trees and giant compositions, we turn to giants of rhythm and blues: Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, as American jazz violinist Regina Carter pays tribute in “The Four Sisters: Concerto for Jazz Violin and Orchestra.”
As Buffalo begins to walk in winter wonderlands, guest conductor William Eddins, music director emeritus of the Edmonton (Alberta) Symphony Orchestra, brings “Winter Dreams” at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6. The program is filled with hearty sounds and heartwarming delights. Patrons will take a frosty journey with Glazunov’s “Winter,” a character from his storied ballet “The Seasons.” Then, Marcin Zdunik, a native of Poland, tackles the Weinberg Cello Concerto with its pensive lyricism and impassioned passages of Jewish klezmer. Finally, Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony, known by its sparkling nickname, “Winter Dreams,” connotes tranquil images of snowy hillsides and glowing logs on the fire.
Next, it’s time to ring in the holidays with “Classical Christmas” at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 11, and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12. An annual holiday tradition, the BPO celebrates the season with centuries of classical treasures, including the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, and the traditional carol singalong, an audience favorite. This year, concertmaster Nikki Chooi will delight audiences with the beloved “Winter” from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.”
Renowned conductor Gerard Schwarz rings in the new year with Brahms’ Third on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021 (10:30 a.m.) and Saturday, Jan. 16 (8 p.m.) Brahms’ Third is the shortest of his symphonies, and has long been a favorite of classical music connoisseurs. His friend and contemporary, Antonín Dvořák once wrote, “It is love pure and simple, and on hearing it your heart overflows.”
This program opens with a nautical adventure, Wagner’s well-known overture to the maritime melodrama The Flying Dutchman, and as a special treat, Gerard welcomes his son, Julian Schwarz, who takes on the cello concerto by Arthur Foote, to be later recorded in studio with the BPO for NAXOS Records.
Another favorite yearly tradition, the BPO celebrates the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart like no other. This year, it pays tribute with a semi-staged performance of one of his most cherished lighthearted operas, “The Magic Flute,” on Saturday, Jan. 23 (8 p.m.) and Sunday, Jan. 24 (2:30 p.m.). This special two-hour production, which will be sung in English with subtitles, is presented in collaboration with the SUNY Fredonia School of Music Hillman Opera program. “The Magic Flute” follows Prince Tamino and Papageno as they are sent by the Queen of Night to save her daughter, Pamina, from the clutches of the evil lord Sarastro. Mozart’s comic masterpiece is replete with instantly recognizable themes, including the exuberant high notes of “The Queen of the Night aria.”
In February, the BPO welcomes one of the most internationally celebrated trumpet players, Pacho Flores, with “The Trumpeter’s Call” on Friday, Feb. 5 (10:30 a.m.) and Saturday, Feb. 6 (8 p.m.) Flores is known for bringing his unique energy and sound colors to the trumpet. He shows his dexterity in two contrasting trumpet works: the jubilant and familiar Haydn Concerto, and a simmering new concerto by Mexico’s foremost contemporary composer, Arturo Márquez. The world premiere of Daron Hagen’s “Bandanna Overture” and Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” round out this program.
On Saturday, Feb. 20 (8 p.m.), and Sunday, Feb. 21 (2:30 p.m.), Fabio Bidini, a favorite of BPO audiences, returns to perform Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, his Piano Concerto No. 5, the composer’s last and largest with majestic keyboard flourishes and splendid orchestral expansion. Folk sounds of Eastern Europe round out the program with Enesco’s lively Rumanian Rhapsody No. 1 and Kodály’s Symphony in C, which will be recorded as part of a Kodály project for NAXOS Records.
Some may remember Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto from the film “Shine.” It is known as one of the most difficult pieces in the piano repertoire, written by the composer to showcase his exceptional talent and blindingly fast technique. It starts with a deceptively simple, melancholic melody, but quickly becomes the Kilimanjaro of all piano concertos – one that few soloists attempt. On Friday, March 5 (10:30 a.m.), and Saturday, March 6 a(8 p.m.), the work will be performed by Joyce Yang, a heroine of the BPO after her last-minute fill-in performance in 2012. This thrilling program opens with two works by Kodály: “Summer Evening,” an idyll for chamber orchestra, and “Háry János,” the heroic tales of a daydreaming soldier, both of which will be recorded as part of a Kodály project for NAXOS Records.
On Friday, March 19 (10:30 a.m.) and Saturday March 20 (8 p.m.), a program explosive enough to be called “Classical Fireworks” begins with the well-known “William Tell Overture,” the heroic finale of which is known to many as the theme to “The Lone Ranger.” Then, Pavel Sporcl brings his famed blue violin to Buffalo to play one of the most popular and widely played concertos in history, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Finally, Tchaikovsky’s supercharged Fourth Symphony packs power and punch, rounding out a brilliantly energetic program.
On Friday, April 9 (10:30 a.m.), and Saturday, April 10 (8 p.m.), world-renowned guest conductor Keith Lockhart of the Boston Pops brings George Gershwin’s iconic, jazz-infused “An American in Paris,” his epic love letter to the City of Lights. This light classics program opens with Dvořák’s “American” Suite, written in the same period as his famous New World Symphony, containing similar American folk song elements and themes. The program also features two composers who fled Europe during the World Wars to become renowned Hollywood film scorists: Miklós Rózsa, with his lush Violin Concerto played by the incomparable Tianwa Yang, and Louis Gruenberg, with his spirited Jazz-Suite for Orchestra.
Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony, presented Saturday, April 24 (8 p.m.), and Sunday, April 25 (2:30 p.m.), with guest conductor Guillermo Figueroa, principal conductor of the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, tells the tale of the composer’s travels through Scotland, with a brooding introduction, a lightning-quick scherzo, a sumptuous song without words, and a majestic conclusion.
Audiences will delight at the return of Adam Golka after his critically acclaimed last-minute fill-in appearance in 2018. He plays Beethoven’s bold and massive Piano Concerto No. 1, a dance between piano and orchestra reflective of the composer’s early period. The two monumental works are paired with Ernesto Cordero’s Marianda, a short symphonic piece that recreates night and daybreak in the countryside and tropical forests of Puerto Rico.
On Saturday, May 8 (8 p.m.), and Sunday, May 9 (2:30 p.m.), a light is shone on the underwater world in “Debussy & the Mermaid.” Based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of the mermaid who sacrifices herself out of unrequited love for a prince, Zemlinsky’s “The Mermaid” is a lavishly scored underwater fantasy. Debussy’s illustrative “The Sunken Cathedral” depicts the submerged sanctuary of a lost Atlantis, replete with chanting priests and chiming bells. The two nautical works are paired with Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, a work of lyrical beauty and emotional sincerity with dance-like themes and sweet melodic lines, played by the virtuosic Philippe Quint.
On Friday, May 14 (10:30 a.m.), and Saturday, May 15 (8 p.m.), travel back in time to the street fairs of ages past with jovial Russian waltzes, curiosities and enchantment in Stravinsky’s Pétrouchka. The grand, epic work tells the tragic tale of a magical street performer and his puppets, as he meets his demise and journeys from life to afterlife. The program opens with Russell Platt’s “Symphony: For Clyfford Still,” inspired by the abstract impressionist works of the title artist that hang in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and concertmaster Nikki Chooi will mesmerize audiences with his BPO concerto debut, the virtuosic Brahms Violin Concerto.
Last but certainly not least, the M&T Bank Classics series concludes with a work of towering proportion: Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony No. 2 on Saturday, June 5 (8 p.m.), and Sunday, June 6 (2:30 p.m.). Mahler’s “Resurrection” celebrates a fallen hero, his meandering thoughts of retrospect on life, his final judgement and redemption. The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, prepared by Adam Luebke, joins the BPO for this colossal “Classics” season closer.
“This may be my favorite season of programming yet with the BPO,” Falletta said. “From welcoming back my friends Renée Fleming, Tianwa Yang and Fabio Bidini, to presenting so many of the most impressive works of the orchestral catalog – Beethoven, Stravinsky, Mahler and countless others – this season is so inspiring, I can’t wait to share it with our patrons.”
•BPO Pops Series welcomes back favorites of Broadway, Hollywood & radio
2020 marks the 125th birthday of two of Broadway’s greatest lyricists, Hart & Hammerstein. On Friday, Oct. 2 (10:30 a.m.) and Saturday, Oct. 3 (8 p.m.), Principal Pops Conductor John Morris Russell opens the “Pops” season with a celebration of these two lyrical legends. These supreme musical poets crafted the words for legendary productions such as “The Sound of Music,” “Pal Joey” and “Show Boat,” as well as some of the most revered pages of the Great American Songbook, including “Blue Moon,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Lover Come Back to Me,” “Oklahoma” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
The press release said, “In collaboration with composers such as Richard Rodgers, Sigmund Romberg and Jerome Kern, our celebration of brilliant works penned by Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein will bedazzle.”
On Saturday, Oct. 17 (8 p.m.), the BPO boldly goes where no orchestra has gone before, with “The Music of Star Trek.” Audiences will experience the original orchestral scores to the popular sci-fi sensation, spanning over five decades of television and film adventures. The program includes themes composed by many of Hollywood’s legends, including Jerry Goldsmith, Alexander Courage, James Horner and Michael Giacchino, and many of the “backstage” stories of this beloved franchise.
As a special pre-Halloween treat, Disney Concert Productions presents “The Nightmare Before Christmas” on Friday, Oct. 30, with an early 7 p.m. start time for families. The brilliant stop-motion animated collaboration of Tim Burton and Danny Elfman has become a cult classic. The quirky, playful and heartfelt score will be performed live by the BPO, conducted by Russell, as the film is projected on the big screen.
Follow the earnest-but-misguided adventures of Jack Skellington, Halloween Town's beloved Pumpkin King, as he attempts to take over the Christmas holiday. Against the advice of Sally, a lonely rag doll who has feelings for him, Jack enlists three mischievous trick-or-treaters – Lock, Shock and Barrel – to help him kidnap Santa Claus.
This film is rated PG. Patrons are encouraged to wear a costume and enjoy “spirits” at the family-friendly pre-film “Monster Mash” in the Mary Seaton Room. Awards will be given for the best costumes, and other ghoulishly delightful surprises!
On Saturday Nov. 14 (8 p.m.), audience favorite Jim Curry returns with the distinct folk-country-rock sound of two-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter John Denver in a tribute performance. Curry sings all the hits of John Denver’s legacy, including: “Annie’s Song,” “Rocky Mountain High,” “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” “Take Me Home Country Roads.”
It all leads up to “Holiday Pops” on Thursday, Dec. 17, and Friday, Dec. 18, at 10:30 a.m.; Saturday, Dec. 19, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 20, 2:30 p.m. Audiences will revel in seasonal classics, traditional favorites, a little bit of humor, and lots of holiday cheer with Russell. Complete with a carol singalong and a visit from St. Nick himself, “Holiday Pops” is a musical tradition to share with family and friends.
On Saturday, Jan. 30 (8 p.m.), Windborne Productions presents a tribute to a one-and-only voice that touched hearts and inspired souls, “Whitney Houston: The Greatest Love of All.” Houston sold more than 100 million albums and was the most-awarded female act of all time, with hits including “How Will I Know,” “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” “I Will Always Love You” and “The Greatest Love of All.”
Then, Botti is back! On Saturday, Feb. 13 (8 p.m.), Chris Botti returns to Kleinhans Music Hall in time for Valentine’s Day weekend, bringing his crystalline and poetic trumpet sound. For over two decades, the Grammy Award-winning master trumpeter and composer has amassed a variety of honors, including multiple Gold and Platinum albums, to become the nation’s largest selling instrumental artist. Stay after the performance to dance the night away with your Valentine as a live band plays in the Mary Seaton Room at the BPO’s annual “Sweetheart Dance.”
On Friday, Feb. 26 (10:30 a.m.), and Saturday, Feb. 27 (8 p.m.), put on the Ritz and set your watch back 100 years to the time of dimly lit cabarets and speakeasies of New York, Paris, Berlin, London, Chicago and Atlantic City – it’s Prohibition! Experience the roaring 1920s in all its decadence, with vintage imagery and jazzy favorites from Irving Berlin, Edith Piaf, Josephine Baker and others.
On Saturday, March 27 (8 p.m.), Russell returns with a retrospective of music from the greatest James Bond films and spy-fi classics that will leave guests shaken, not stirred. Hits made popular by Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Gladys Knight, Paul McCartney and Adele, including “Skyfall,” “Live and Let Die,” “For Your Eyes Only,” “Tomorrow Never Dies” and “Goldfinger,” all in their original orchestral splendor.
The world-famous Glenn Miller Orchestra returns to Kleinhans by popular demand Friday April 16 (10:30 a.m.), and Saturday, April 17 (8 p.m.). With its unique jazz sound, the GMO is one of the most popular and sought-after big bands in the world today.
On Friday, April 30 (10:30 a.m.), and Saturday, May 1 (8 p.m.), Russell brings the Sultans of String, Canada’s JUNO Award-nominated cultural ambassadors of world music, as they serve up their signature genre-bending mélange of Spanish Flamenco, gypsy jazz, Middle Eastern folk, and Cuban rhythms. Fiery violins dance with rumba-flamenco guitar, while bass and percussion lay down unique grooves. Acoustic strings meet with electronic wizardry, bringing audiences to their feet with the need to dance.
Finally, the “Pops” series closes with Western New York’s Memorial Day tradition, Friday, May 28 (10:30 a.m.), and Saturday, May 29 (8 p.m.), as the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus joins the BPO for “Star Spangled Salute,” a program filled with red, white and blue pageantry, the annual “Salute to the Armed Forces,” and a few new spins on patriotic favorites.
“This ‘Pops’ season, we celebrate everyone’s favorites and give a fresh new take on the greatest of American music,” Russell said. “Your BPO performs the soundtrack to our lives, with everything from Broadway to rhythm-and-blues, rock and roll, jazz, and as always, a few wonderful surprises. It’s a knock-out season of all-time greats performed by the incredible musicians of the BPO, and I can’t wait to share it all with our fun-loving ‘Pops’ fans.”
•Subscriptions now available
Subscribers save on handling fees, receive priority access to special events before they are made available to the general public, and can take advantage of a flexible ticket exchange program. First-timers can receive a discount of up to 30% on “Pops” and up to 50% on “Classics” subscriptions. Packages range from five concerts to full series. To subscribe, call 716-885-5000, visit bpo.org, or stop by the Kleinhans box office between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays or 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. Single tickets to all BPO events will go on sale in August.
For more information, visit bpo.org.