This was the year of the new and the different.
I did not make it to all the musical events I might have hoped to. But many of the happenings I did attend will linger in my mind. The imagination behind these events shows a trend toward experimentation in how music is presented and promoted, a trend that, with luck, will help build audiences. With the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra doing much better than most other orchestras, and multiple musical events a week, we must be doing something right.
Here are some highlights of 2012 that stand out.
In March, the wonderful pianist Richard Goode’s recital at Slee Hall, a co-production with the Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series, was something I will recall with pleasure. He played Schumann, Brahms and Chopin. The hall was packed with all ages. Goode is always great and on this occasion showed that even established classics, played superbly, can be an adventure.
In April, organist Dennis James came to Shea’s Performing Arts Center to join the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in accompanying the 1925 silent film “The Phantom of the Opera.” It was the first time since the 1930s that a live orchestra had performed to a silent movie at Shea’s and it was spellbinding. James’ synchronicity on the Mighty Wurlitzer boggled the mind. It was definitely an event to remember.
June brought Nickel City Opera’s production of Puccini’s “La Boheme.” It was a delightful production, set a record for NCO ticket sales and shows the five-year-old company is on a steady artistic ascent.
In October, the Community Music School held a unique event at Kleinhans Music Hall’s Mary Seaton Room to celebrate the 88th birthday of the school and of famous vocal coach Andy Anselmo. Cabaret acts flew in from New York, including Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano (“The New York Nightclub World’s Most Celebrated Team”), and Anselmo’s current protegee, Caroline Jones. Anselmo recently retired to Buffalo and now that he is not going to New York as much, New York is coming to him. And to us. He makes the city richer by his presence.
October at the BPO was dominated by a memorable visit by Three Dog Night. Band mainstay Cory Wells is from Buffalo, and this was an event that you heard talked about a lot around town. The philharmonic’s rock-themed concerts are not to everyone’s taste, but they draw big crowds and are doing a lot to get new audiences into Kleinhans.
The Metropolitan Opera is starting 2013 with Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda.” The opera, about Mary, Queen of Scots, is new to them. Buffalo beat the Met to the punch by staging “Maria Stuarda” in November at St. Joseph’s University Church. Beyond the music, it was beautiful to behold, with glorious costumes and staging.
November brought another event that had Buffalo buzzing: Veteran poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, a famed Soviet dissident, came to read his poetry in conjunction with a BPO performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13. Not only was the occasion odd and arresting, but there was that beautiful Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2, with Michael Boriskin as soloist. The piano concerto had never been performed with the BPO and it’s a marvelous piece. Boriskin played it with energy and wit.
Speaking of zesty soloists, cellist Zuill Bailey gave, in December, one of the top BPO performances of the year. His unorthodox, passionate approach to a Haydn concerto – a piece that, in other hands, could easily have been staid and conventional – was impressive and showed that it’s possible to put old music in a new light.