For the second time in two weeks, I found myself in Kleinhans Music Hall this past Saturday for a concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. When I last saw them, they played music by Gershwin, William Schuman and Buffalo-native Philip Rothman: evocative, picturesque, not particularly substantial.
This time, things were far more serious. After opening with Kodaly's dancy Marossek Dances - a late and unfortunate replacement for Einojuhani Rautavaara's Isle of Bliss - Lynn Harrell joined the BPO for Elgar's Cello Concerto: a sweeping, dramatic 30-minute work that's become a cornerstone of the cello repertoire. Harrell, who turns 67 next month, soldiered his way through the intensely physical piece; if his performance lacked the passion and presence of a Yo-Yo Ma, I give him props for even attempting to pull it off. After an enthusiastic standing ovation, Harrell spoke charmingly about how good it was to be back in Buffalo ("I have so many old friends here...I can't believe how old everyone's gotten!") then played the Gavotte from Bach's Cello Suites.
But, the main course came after intermission, when Music Director JoAnn Falletta led the BPO in Brahms' 4th Symphony: a true test for any orchestra. (See my post about the NY Phil's performance with Maazel in 2007.) Indeed, this is music that requires disciplined, empassioned playing from all parties, including the conductor. (As if to put aside any doubts as to her authority, Falletta conducted the symphony from memory.) And, aside from some occasional warbling in the brass, the BPO unleashed a top-flight performance, surging and shining like some great metropolitan orchestra.
This, for me, was the real eye-opener: that this symphony, which I've seen played by Philharmonics from New York to Berlin, can get a completely legit performance by this regional orchestra on the shores of Lake Erie. And, while most Buffalonians may not have known the difference, it says a lot about the dedication and heart on the part of these musicians to want to pull off a performance of this quality, not knowing who might be in the audience. (It also says a lot about Brahms' thoroughness in providing them with a proper roadmap.)
For her part, Falletta, whom I got speak to briefly after the concert, deflected all praise to the musicians. "They played the heck out of it, didn't they? Gosh, they worked so hard on it. I'm so proud of them." As she should be.More pics on Flickr.