Woods sparkle, Mekinulov shines at BPO concert “Elgar Impressions” (repeats Mother’s Day at 2:30)


Next weekend, BPO will be present in Kleinhans and in the city (see below)

As COVID continues to vex small theater groups, the BPO has been able to perform as planned and audiences appear to be increasing week by week. Last night’s concert, billed as ‘Elgar Impressions’, reminiscent of this Mother’s Day at 2:30 pm, was extremely well received by a large and enthusiastic audience.

Tempers were lifted from the start when BPO Chairman of the Board, John R. Yurtchuk, announced that the concert in early April, when BPO musicians volunteered for a benefit show on Sunday, raised $45,000 for humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Then, after JoAnn Falletta raised her baton to conduct the opening work, the acoustically resonant Kleinhans Music Hall was filled with the warm, mysterious sound of the cor anglais (slightly larger cousin of the oboe) played by one of Buffalo’s finest – Anna Mattix. Mattix has performed in a variety of venues and we missed her on the Kleinhans stage, but there’s no doubting her signature sound. And that’s what we heard at the beginning of Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodály’s “Summer Evening” (say “KOH-dye”). It is a work that makes the wind section shine, because there are no brass instruments, eardrums or percussion. It really is a perfect sonic description of a summer evening.

Music composed around the turn of the 20th century, all tinged in one way or another by Impressionism, is squarely in Falletta’s wheelhouse.

As I have already written, the music composed at the turn of the 20and century, all tainted in one way or another by Impressionism, is squarely in the wheelhouse of Falletta. This concert also offers “program music”, that is to say music that paints a picture or tells a story, and this is what we obtained, for the three works of the concert, with music very approachable.

Well, if I thought Mattix and his English horn were exceptionally resonant, BPO principal cellist Roman Mekinulov produced more sound from his cello than I’ve heard before when he played “Schelomo, Hebrew Rhapsody for cello and orchestra by Ernest Bloch. Mekinulov fans (and we’re legion) know he’s a big guy, with a big personality, and a big sound. But it was something else. As he shared on Facebook ahead of the gig, “It really is the track that defines me, I can hardly wait.” It was worth the wait.

And Mekinulov was surrounded by an interesting orchestra, chosen by the composer Bloch to provide all the nuances necessary to tell the story of King Solomon. Schelomo is written for three flutes, two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets in Bb, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns in F, three trumpets in C, three trombones, tuba, timpani, tambourine, snare drum, bass – drum, cymbals, tam-tam, celesta, two harps and strings. While not exactly “exotic”, any time a composer adds English horn, bass clarinet, contrabassoon, tuba, not one but two harps and celesta to the mix, it’s like give a child the big box of 64 Crayola crayons. There are so many sound combinations.

And that brings us to the final work on the program, Elgar’s “Enigma Variations”. Now, before the concert at Kleinhans on Saturday evening, in the afternoon, we went to the Regal Theater to see the Metropolitan Opera’s performance of Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ broadcast live in HD. And host, soprano Nadine Sierra (who will perform May 21 in “Lucia”) said, like every host, “As enjoyable as it is to watch this opera, nothing compares to a live performance at the Met.” It’s the same message I’ve been preaching from this pulpit for years about Kleinhans. As a radio host on WNED Classical, I’ve played Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” dozens of times. But even the best studio monitors in the world, and certainly not your headphones, earphones or even Sonos or Alexa, can provide the true “surround sound” of being at Kleinhans.

But there is another reason to attend a live concert and it has nothing to do with technology or architecture. It’s your brain. When you listen to the radio, 99% of the time you are distracted. It’s very difficult to stay focused for 40 minutes. A truck rumbles outside, someone calls or texts, you suddenly remember that last piece of pie in the fridge, whatever. When you’re snuggled up safely in your seat at Kleinhans, with your cellphone ‘off’ (not just the ringer off), watching the musicians making music in front of you, you can really concentrate. And that was my “aha” moment with this performance (which, by the way, Falletta conducted without a score in front of her, completely from memory)! I felt like hearing it for the first time.

In this work there is the original theme, then there are 13 variations, each dedicated to, and, if you read the program notes, each designed to describe, a friend of Elgar. The most famous is the “Nimrod” movement (named after the biblical hunter and dedicated to the editor of Elgar named Jaeger (German for “hunter”). It is haunting and emotional but is balanced by a dozen sections completely different. And that’s my point. If you’re distracted, it’s hard to appreciate what Elgar is doing.

Anyway, the concert is repeated this Sunday (today!). Maybe take your mother.

Kleinhans Music Hall is located at “3 Symphony Circle” Buffalo, 14201, where Porter Avenue, Richmond Avenue, North Street and Wadsworth meet at a roundabout. To visit www.bpo.org or call 716-885-5000. Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes with an intermission (full-service bar in the lobby of the Mary Seaton Hall). Masks are strongly encouraged. Let’s protect our musicians!

NEXT: We’re five days away from a super spreader event, with the BPO musicians pumping out not COVID but glorious music all over town. Friday morning (May 13 at 10:30 a.m.) and Saturday evening (May 14 at 7:30 p.m.) at Kleinhans, the program is entitled “Reflections on Rachmaninoff” with this composer’s “Symphonic Dances” (a high-energy work completed right here at Buffle ). Special guest will be violinist Bella Hristova and her 1655 violin Nicoló Amati playing a contemporary work by her husband, composer David Ludwig. The opening work will be more music by Zoltan Kodaly, his Symphony in C.

Then, on Sunday May 15, the musicians of the BPO “moonlight” in events at 3:00 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. demanding that, as a member of the public, difficult choices must be made.

On Sunday, May 15 at 3:00 p.m., a number of BPO musicians come together to form the Camerata di Sant’Antonio Chamber Orchestra which will be joined by special guests, the Amherst High School Concert Chorale for a concert titled ” A Little Night Music” (including atmospheric “Dark Night of the Soul” by Ola Gjeilo) at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 1080 Main Street (across from Anchor Bar) in Buffalo. For more details, find them on Facebook as Camerata di Sant’Antonio.

Sunday, May 15 at 3:30 p.m., the BPO musicians who make up the Artemis Quartet, violinists Amy Glidden and Loren Silvertrust, violist Caroline Gilbert and cellist Eve Eva Herer will return to the Friends of Vienna concert series at Unity Church , 1243 Delaware Avenue (sort of across from Canisius High School) in Buffalo, with a program of Mozart, Shostakovich and black American composer Florence Price. For tickets and information, visit amisdevienne.org.

And finally, on Sunday, May 15 at 5:00 p.m., Shakespeare in Delaware Park presents “PLAY ON!” A nomadic evening of live music and theatre. It is billed as “a collaborative concert experience where visitors move through a series of sets for short performances in beautiful museum spaces. Delight in a roster featuring the famed Buffalo Chamber Players (moonlit BPO musicians), Shakespeare in Delaware Park, and the Vocalis Chamber Choir for an evening of strings, class playing, and choral singing. For tickets, email [email protected] or (716) 856-4533.


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