For the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, this spring is bringing a crescendo of change. The orchestra is scouting talent, looking to fill three high-profile positions.
It was just announced that Michael Ludwig, the concertmaster, is going to be leaving after this season. The concertmaster is the lead violinist and, in effect, the orchestra’s second-in-command after the conductor. Ludwig, who is the scheduled soloist next Friday and Saturday, is leaving to pursue a solo career.
“Michael’s given us eight fantastic years. He’s been wonderful,” said Music Director JoAnn Falletta. “But it’s been on his mind, to launch a solo career. It’s now or never, if he’s going to make a go of it. So many orchestras have invited him, with great success. He’s been focused on a solo career, and he also wants to do more teaching. It’s sad for us, but we’re happy for him. He’s going to get a chance to do what he really wants to do.”
Ludwig, who grew up in Philadelphia and currently lives there, never quite put down roots in Buffalo. But since 2006, when he arrived here at age 39, he has been part of the soul of the BPO. The concertmaster has considerable influence over the tone of the orchestra, and Ludwig has been in the forefront of the Philharmonic on countless memorable occasions culminating in last spring’s triumph at Carnegie Hall.
Reached on the phone in Virginia, where he is performing Sibelius’ Violin Concerto with Falletta and the Virginia Symphony, he grew nostalgic.
“I’m very happy for the years that I had in Buffalo, and all the wonderful experiences I had with JoAnn and my colleagues. It’s a great orchestra. It’s a very special environment with everyone who is part of the orchestra, part of the community,” he said.
He expressed gratitude for lasting friendships and for all the solo opportunities Falletta and the BPO have offered him. “From the moment we began working together, JoAnn really championed me as a violin soloist,” he said. “That means a lot to me. These years in Buffalo have really been the most fruitful years for me.”
Besides the concertmaster’s chair, two other prestigious positions also are open. The BPO is seeking a new associate conductor because Matthew Kraemer, the associate conductor, is leaving after this season. The orchestra also is thinking it is time to sign on a new pops conductor. That job has been vacant since it was held by the late Marvin Hamlisch.
“We’ve lucked out with Robert Franz and Matt [Kraemer] because they’ve done the pops so well, and the audience has responded well,” said BPO Executive Director Dan Hart. Franz was Kraemer’s predecessor as associate conductor. “They’ve been guys who can do it all – do the classics, then turn around and do pops. But it’s a busy schedule.”
He pointed out that more conductors are now specializing in pops, which is responsible for a large and growing part of the BPO’s audience.
“There used to be just a couple of pops guys – Doc Severinsen, Marvin Hamlisch. Now there’s a group coming up committing themselves to the pop idiom, kind of specializing in it. We’re looking for someone up-and-coming. We’d like someone specializing in pops, to grow that audience. Maybe an arranger, maybe someone who comes from the entertainment world. It’s pretty exciting.”
Hart and Falletta said they have heard from 250 qualified candidates for the job of associate conductor. It shows the appeal the financially stable BPO holds for musicians in an era when many orchestras are struggling.
Ten would-be associate conductors will be auditioning privately with the orchestra over the coming months. Five will visit this week, and five more are visiting later this spring. Among the conductors auditioning this week is Erin Freeman, the director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus.
The search for the pops conductor is more informal. A number of conductors have been invited to appear as guest conductors at Kleinhans over the next year or so, and one of them might wind up taking the job.
With three top job openings, the BPO will look a little different next season, even to the casual concertgoer. A conductor is, of course, at center stage. The concertmaster is directly to the left of the podium.
Happily Ludwig will continue his friendship with Buffalo. In December, he will be returning to the BPO as soloist in the Sibelius Violin Concerto. The concerto will be recorded for release on the BPO’s private Beau Fleuve label. Additionally, he will be at the University at Buffalo for this year’s June in Buffalo new music festival, performing a concerto written for him by Daron Hagen.
Falletta said that for Ludwig, leaving the BPO was a difficult decision.
“He was very comfortable here,” she said. “But if he’s going to do it, he has to go full tilt, take every opportunity that he can get. I think his colleagues are not surprised. They’re going to miss him, but they’re all congratulating him and wishing him well.”
There will be well-wishing all around as the BPO resolves its changes.
“We’re just excited about starting to turn a new page,” Hart said. “Things never happen by design. It’s just happening organically. We’re just looking for an opportunity to take symphony for another level.”