The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is playing a program this weekend that, on paper at least, looks crazy.
It starts with an overture by the 19th century Russian composer Reinhold Gliere. Then it moves on to Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto, with pianist Joyce Yang as soloist.
After intermission, there is music by Gershwin: a suite from “Porgy and Bess” called “Catfish Row,” then the “Strike Up the Band” overture.
Saturday’s concert brought a poignant addition. Bernard Fleshler, an anchor of the viola section for many years, died recently. His colleagues in the viola section paid tribute to him with a reverent, heartfelt performance of an arrangement of Mozart’s “Ave, Verum Corpus.” Fleshler was a wonderful man, and it was a beautiful tribute. His wife, longtime BPO violinist Clementina Fleshler, was playing in Saturday’s concert.
The Mozart, introduced by music director JoAnn Falletta, was followed by a moment of silent prayer.
To read about the proceedings, they sound scrambled. In real life, though, the evening worked out.
As one other concertgoer mentioned, perhaps we are used to switching gears quickly. We pretty much live on “shuffle” mode, with things coming at us from all sides. The intermission between the Beethoven and the Gershwin, too, helped cleanse the palate. In any case, I would say that the good-sized crowd Saturday liked what they heard.
Joyce Yang, a pianist in her mid-20s, is a friend to Buffalo. She has performed on the Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series, and she stepped in at the last minute with the BPO when the famous Chinese pianist Lang Lang canceled. People here know her and like her.
She did not disappoint us Saturday. Lovely in a shimmering silver gown, Yang gave a satisfying performance of the massive Beethoven. The tender slow movement, especially, was putty in her hands. She shaped the caressing phrases with sensitivity, savoring the soft fall of the notes. Falletta and the orchestra backed her with exquisite tenderness.
As for the other two movements, Yang did them her own way. The situation was similar to what we experienced when Yang played the Rachmaninoff Second. She does not have the brute strength these testosterone-laden pieces call for, but she finds ways of compensating. In the Beethoven, she got a great momentum going (the last movement was thrillingly fast). She shapes crescendos so that the music has room to expand, and she can build the volume without killing herself. She has conviction and drive.
The piece had a great finish, and the audience, after a few moments, stood and cheered.
Gliere’s Overture to “Gyul’sara,” which began the program, is a winner. The BPO is taking Gliere’s Symphony No. 3 to Carnegie Hall in the spring, and his music is worth exploring. This overture, 15 minutes long, brimmed with atmospheric Russian themes and colorful percussion. The ending was a blast, a barrage of percussion that built to a crashing ending.
The Gershwin pieces were also crowd-pleasers. Like the Gliere, the music spotlighted many of the individual players. Hearing Gershwin in Kleinhans Music Hall is a tremendous experience. The architecture goes with the music, and you are transported back in time.
So many things added to the fun: the brass arrayed along the back wall, the banks of percussion, concertmaster Michael Ludwig’s “Summertime” solo, and the slow-drag solo by principal clarinetist John Fullam. (No Gershwin performance at Kleinhans is complete without a down-and-dirty solo by Fullam.) Timpanist Matthew Bassett and percussionist Dinesh Joseph earned their money this evening.
The riotous concert repeats today at 2:30 p.m.