OPUS NUMBER ZOO at THE ALBRIGHT-KNOX

Buffalo Chamber Players Serve Up a Musical Menagerie

by Jan Jezioro

The March of Silenus by William Holbrook Beard

To celebrate the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s exhibition, Menagerie: Animals on View, the Buffalo Chamber Players (BCP) will offer a concert of chamber music in the gallery’s auditorium on Thursday March 30 at 7:30pm. For their program, Opus Number Zoo, a whimsical look at animals in music from the Renaissance to the contemporary, the resident music ensemble of the Albright Knox will be joined by the Vocális Chamber Choir, along with special guest Dennis Kim, Concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO).

BPO violist Janz Castelo, the founder and the artistic director of the BCP, has a well-earned reputation for developing interesting concert programs which manage to combine the unexpected and the unfamiliar, with very popular works, as the program for this evening’s concert demonstrates. “The works on this concert present the various ways composers have incorporated animals into their music”, says Castelo. “These range from the explicit imitation of animal sounds, to textual references, and more subtle allusions and symbolism. It is a fun program, full of great musical imagery.”

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704), an influential, early baroque Bohemian-Austrian composer, was also one of the most startlingly innovative composers of his era. BPO concertmaster Dennis Kim will, no doubt, be more than ready for the challenge of the high level of difficulty of the solo part in Biber’s Sonata Representativa, where the composer invokes instrumental impressions of many animals. including cats, cuckoos, and frogs. The work’s penultimate movement, the ‘Musketeer’s March’ characterized by a drone accompaniment with percussive interjections, also appears in his later, most popular work, Battalia, one of the earliest musical works which manages to successfully convey the confused nature of warfare.

French composer Francois Poulenc first heard Guillaume Apollinaire, the highly influential half-Polish, half-Italian poet, and severely wounded French army World War I veteran, read his poetry in 1919, shortly before his death due to the lingering effects of his war injuries and the Spanish influenza. It inspired him to compose his Le bestiaire (Cortège d’Orphée), a song cycle for chamber ensemble, most often heard nowadays in a version for voice and piano, which loses much of its original effect. Poulenc himself said that “Apollinaire’s voice is like that of his works, melancholy and joyful at the same time. This is why my Apollinaire songs must be sung without emphasizing the ludicrousness of certain phrases. Le Bestiaire is a most serious work.” The original scoring called for the singer to be accompanied by a flute, clarinet, bassoon, and string quartet, and that is the combination that will accompany baritone Michael Manganiello in this performance.

The title for this evening’s entertainment is that of a very early work by one of the most delightfully mischievous post-World War II European composers. Italian composer Luciano Berio composed his Opus Number Zoo, for speaker and wind quintet in 1951, right at the beginning of what became his highly successful professional career. The four-movement work, to texts by Rhoda Levine, has a strongly neo-classical aura, reminiscent in many respects of Stravinsky’s epoch-making 1920’s chamber masterpiece, L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale). The five instrumentalists: Nicole McPherson, flute; Andrew Seigel, clarinet; Anna Mattix, oboe; Ellen Barnum, bassoon, and Sheryl Hadeka, horn, will recite the texts, which have been accurately described as “so shiny on the surface, but with a real nasty little undercurrent”.

James Burritt, the artistic director of the Vocális Chamber Choir, which he founded in 2002, will lead his dedicated, professional ensemble in rarely programmed choral works by the Renaissance composers Josquin des Pres and Adriano Banchieri, and the Romantic era giant, Felix Mendelssohn, that feature a focus on the animal world.

As mentioned earlier, Castelo has demonstrated a remarkable ability to combine both unusual and popular works in his programs. Franz Schubert’s beloved Trout Quintet is arguably the most popular chamber music work in the entire chamber music repertoire. As BPO bass player Bret Shurtliffe explains: “The Trout Quintet is a joy to play because, in my opinion, it’s some of Schubert’s best work, as it combines his excellent chamber writing with his best lieder. It has a light and bouncy mood and even the slow movement refrains from melancholy, instead focusing on joyous beauty.  Along with its lovely melodies and textures, the Trout was written for a group of amateurs. Because of that the parts aren’t extravagantly difficult. The musicians are allowed to enjoy themselves and just experience the music, without having to focus as much as they would for other works by Schubert”.  For this performance, Brett will be joined by Amy Licata, violin, Janz Castelo, viola, Eva Herer, cello and Susan Schuman, piano.

Tickets: $20 ($15 for AK members); Students: $5. Information: www.buffalochamberplayers.org

The Arditti Quartet Takes No Prisoners

On Friday March 31 at 7:30pm the Arditti Quartet will make a welcome return to Slee Concert Hall on the UB Amherst Campus. Founded in 1974, the quartet, a frequent visitor to Buffalo, is the most acclaimed string quartet performing new, and contemporary music on the planet. Violinist Irwin Arditti, the eponymous founder of the quartet, will be joined for the UB event by his longtime colleague’s, violinist Ashot Sarkissjan, violist Ralf Ehlers, and cellist Lucas Fels.

All the works on the program will be area premieres, and some will undoubtedly also be US premieres. Particularly intriguing is Bitácora capilar, a 2014 work by Hilda Paredes, one of Mexico’s leading composers, a former resident composer in UB’s prestigious June in Buffalo Festival, and the wife of Irwin Arditti. The Silk House Sequences, a 2015 work by one of the leading contemporary British composers, Harrison Birtwistle, will make its Buffalo premiere. UB professor of composition David Felder, longtime director of the June in Buffalo Festival, will be represented by the premiere of a new version of his work Netivot, which features a video component by Elliot Caplan.

Tickets: $15/10 seniors, students; free for UB students. Information: www.slee.buffalo.edu