Buffalo Philharmonic takes center stage
BUFFALO – Perhaps the highest honor in American classical music is an invitation to perform at New York City’s revered Carnegie Hall.
On May 8, the Buffalo Philharmonic will perform there as part of the concert venue’s “Spring for Music” program. Each spring, five orchestras from across the U.S. are invited to perform on the fabled stage, as part of a week-long festival of good music. The festival provides important recognition to fine orchestras outside New York City while making a small in-road into many New Yorkers’ misapprehension that no culture exists west of the Hudson River.
This week, I’d like to tell you about the coming visit by the Buffalo organization, and about the festival in which they will participate. Then I’d like to share with you some information about what they will be performing at Carnegie Hall, and also in Buffalo’s Kleinhans Music Hall, plus an interview I did with JoAnn Falletta, the Music Director of the BPO. Let’s have ourselves a week of fine music.
SPRING FOR MUSIC
There are many festivals throughout the world, which are called “Spring for Music.” Carnegie Hall’s version began in 2011, making this year’s festival the third season. At the moment, the festival is scheduled to end after the 2014 season, although the fact that it has already virtually sold out the giant performing space, several weeks before the actual concert, might indicate that it deserves an extension.
In writing about last year’s festival, the New York Times said, “Touring Orchestras usually bring their best game to New York, but the weeklong “Spring for Music” festival at Carnegie Hall has upped the ante.”
The piece goes on to state that orchestras applying for the opportunity to perform in the festival are required to submit a creative and unusual example of programming, and to demonstrate that such programming is not unusual in their regular performing season. The selected orchestras receive free rental of Carnegie Hall, but have to pay their own transportation and housing costs.
In return, the Times continues, the orchestras get exposure to national critics and news sources. Their performance is heard nationwide on WQXR radio, including on-demand listening on wqxr.org. Many of the orchestras which have participated have re-awakened support in their local communities, which have been known to take their orchestras for granted. The performances in the festival typically awaken fundraising activities, and in one case gave an orchestra the impetus to support the building of a new concert hall.
This year’s participating orchestras, in addition to the BPO will be the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Albany Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and Washington D.C.’s National Symphony Orchestra.
Both residents and visitors of New York City get an opportunity to attend well-performed concerts with creative and often unexpected programs, in a site where ticket prices often top out at well over $100. Seats at the Spring for Music concerts have a top price of $25.
We spoke, recently, with JoAnn Falletta, who has been the Music Director of the BPO since 1998. Falletta’s appointment made her the first woman to be named music director of a major U.S. orchestra. When she was appointed, she was largely known as a performing artist on guitar and mandolin, although she had been the music director of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra since 1991. In 2011, she was appointed director of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra. After a series of guest conducting spots with the Ulster Orchestra, in 2011 she was appointed its principal conductor, and she is principal conductor of the Brevard Music Festival.
In 2004, the BPO and WNED Classical Music Radio created the JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition. Held on alternating years, the competition brings many of the world’s finest young classical guitarists to Buffalo to vie for the contest’s prizes and for the opportunity to perform a concerto with the BPO.
The animated conductor said, “The orchestra and I are thrilled to be going back to Carnegie Hall. It’s a great place, first because of its beauty and its famously fine acoustics, but also because of its history. Just about every great musician in our country and from abroad have performed on that stage, going all the way back to Tchaikowsky.”
It was announced recently that of all the five orchestras who will be participating in “Spring for Music” this year, more people from Buffalo ordered tickets to their orchestra’s performance than fans of any of the others. “We are so pleased that so many people from Buffalo will be traveling to New York City with us,” Falletta commented. “We feel that we will be having our family with us, and that’s a wonderful feeling.”
Falletta reported that the orchestra’s application for the opportunity to play at Carnegie Hall required that she design and submit two different programs which would be innovative and creative. They also were required to submit programs from their regular concert series, demonstrating that they typically performed innovative and creative music.
The winning program was an All-Russian program, highlighted by “Symphony No 3 (Ilya Muromets) in B Minor” by Soviet composer Reinhold Gliere. “That work has obtained something like cult status,” the conductor said. “It requires an orchestra with more than 100 musicians, and it is more than 80 minutes long, so it is rarely even recorded, let alone programmed on a performance schedule. There are people who will travel long distances and invest quite a bit of time and money to hear it when it is programmed.”
Famed conductor Leopold Stokowski made an abridgment of the giant work of music, which substantially reduced the number of musicians required to perform it, and reduced the length of the work by nearly 50 percent.
The symphony evokes four tableaux from the life of Ilya Muromets, who has often been described as “the Russian Robin Hood.” It utilizes tonal language and long, lyrical lines. Falletta said she had chosen for the orchestra to perform the full-length symphony, because she believes that the reduced version takes away the scope and the majesty of the work.
Sharing the program with the Gliere composition will be “Morning Prayers,” one of four movements from a 1990, four-part cycle called “Life Without Christmas,” by composer Giya Kancheli, of Soviet Georgia. Born in Tblisi, the capital of Georgia, Kancheli took advantage of the break-up of the Soviet Empire to move to Belgium, where he is composer in residence for the Royal Flemish Philharmonic.
“This concert will present two very different portraits of Russian mysticism in works which are rarely performed,” Falletta said. “These pieces are examples of the enormous creative Russian consciousness, and will showcase the virtuosity and strengths of the orchestra.
“We’re going to perform the Carnegie Hall program in Buffalo, at 10:30 a.m. on May 3, and at 8 p.m., May 4, at Kleinhans Music Hall,” Falletta reported. “And we’re going to record both works for release on the Naxos label, before we leave for New York City.”
The Gliere recording will be the next in a long line of recordings which the BPO has made under Falletta’s baton. “We’ve just released a CD of music by Duke Ellington,” she said. “It’s quite different from what we typically perform, and we had a wonderful time learning it and working with it.”
I asked if there was anything else of note, in the future of the Buffalo Philharmonic. “We’re hard at work, planning our next tour of Florida, which is scheduled for 2014,” she told me. “Many of our ‘family’ now winter in Florida, which means they miss large pieces of our regular concert season. We always welcome the warm and wonderful opportunity to bring Buffalo to our supporters and listeners. They always tell us it’s like being home, when we bring our music to them.”
Throughout the past winter, the orchestra has offered residents of Western New York the opportunity to travel with the orchestra to New York City. Opportunities have ranged from bus transportation and accommodation in a New Jersey motel, joined with tickets to the Carnegie Hall concert, to accommodation at the Sheraton New York Hotel, backstage tours of CNN and the Music Hall, with post-performance receptions which will be joined by the music director at the Russian Tea Room, which is located very near Carnegie Hall, along with VIP tickets to the concert.
At the time of this writing, there are a few tickets available to the May 8 concert on Carnegie Hall’s website, located in the less prestigious areas of the hall, which may be gone by the time you read this, if you would like to make your own arrangements for transportation and accommodations.
Tickets are still available for both Buffalo performances of the Carnegie Hall program, ranging in price between $31 and $51. Purchase them at www.bpo.org.
There is a very old joke, in which a tourist approaches a native New Yorker and asks “How can I get to Carnegie Hall?”
And the native says, “Practice! Practice! Practice!” Sometimes famed violinist Jascha Heifitz is credited as the direction giver.
The hall contains three performing spaces, the largest of which is called the Stern Auditorium, named for famed violinist Isaac Stern, who famously undertook to lead a campaign to save the epitome of fine music from the wrecker’s ball in 1962. It is located at 881 Seventh Ave., although the main entrance is located around the corner, on West 57th Street.
The Stern Auditorium contains just over 2,800 seats. Volumes have been written about the quality of the auditorium’s acoustics. Also located in the building are the 268-seat Weill Recital Hall, and the 599-seat Zankel Hall. The hall itself presents approximately 200 performances per year, and it is often rented by visiting orchestras and solo acts, both classical and popular, when it is not presenting a performance.
Until 2009, there were a number of artists’ studios and living spaces for artists of various disciplines, within the building. Now that space is used for administrative and educational purposes.
There are a number of other Carnegie Halls, built by Andrew Carnegie. The nearest to our area is on the Boulevard of the Allies, in Pittsburgh. In addition, there are a number of non-concert halls with the same name, often academic buildings of college campuses.
In 1986, the building was completely renovated, resulting in many complaints that the famed acoustics had been harmed. Extensive study turned out that the problem was a slab of concrete which had been embedded under the main stage to strengthen it. Resulting repairs are nearly universally credited with restoring the hall’s sound quality.
The building saw its first performance on May 5, 1891, in a concert conducted by Walter Damrosch, with guest artist Piotyr Illych Tchaikowsky. From 1892 to 1962, the hall was the home of the New York Philharmonic. In 1962, that orchestra relocated to Philharmonic Hall, in Lincoln Center, which now is called Avery Fisher Hall, where it still performs. About 10 years ago, the orchestra contemplated returning to the hall, but major supporters of Lincoln Center made it more profitable for the Philharmonic to remain uptown.
The hall operates today on an annual budget which is estimated at just shy of $100 million.
I think it is safe to say that the Buffalo Philharmonic will stand in very good company when it performs there May 8.
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