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The Beauty of Consistency

Pianist Claudia Hoca makes a half century disappear

Every one of us experiences our own introduction to the aspects of our collective culture that shapes the way that we perceive and understand that culture. I attended my first classical music concert in 1961 while attending the now long-gone St. Stanislaus Parochial School on Buffalo’s East Side. Then, as now, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra tried to engage a younger audience in the appreciation of classical music by bussing students from both city and suburban schools to weekday performances at Kleinhans Music Hall. Prior to attending this concert, my appreciation of the many joys of classical music was confined to the finale of Rossini’s William Tell Overture, due to its use as the theme music for the then popular Lone Ranger TV series.

Dim memories of that experience were brought into sharp focus upon a recent rediscovery of the program from that long ago event. A memory of a small, very young girl sitting in front of a very large piano pouring out an exciting performance of a strange new work sprang back to life.

Claudia Hoca was the amazingly precocious soloist in that long-ago BPO Youth Concert performance, and the work she played was Carl Maria von Weber’s Konzertstück for piano and orchestra. Her performance of what is, in effect, the composer’s third piano concerto was irresistible even to a young boy who knew virtually nothing about classical music. Hoca also performed the Konzertstück that year at the inaugural concert of the Cheektowaga Community Symphony Orchestra.

The CCSO, now under the leadership of conductor John Landis, who is in his 20th year as music director of the group, is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary season. The anniversary concert takes place this Sunday, March 6 at 3pm at Villa Maria College, and Claudia Hoca returns as the soloist in Weber’s Konzertstück, the very same work that she performed in the group’s inaugural concert, a half-century ago.

“I started studying piano with Allen Giles at UB when I was nine and a half,” says Hoca, “and I spent the summer of 1961 at Chautauqua, where I studied three nights a week with Ozan Marsh, the head of the piano department. While studying works by Franz Liszt, I discovered that Weber’s Konzertstück was a favorite of Liszt, who often played the work in his concerts.”

Weber’s Konzertstück, a one-movement concerto in several contrasting sections, established a new model for the concerto, later used by Liszt and many other composers. “After I heard the Konzertstück—I loved all those octaves!—I just had to play it,” Hoca recalls. “I begged my teacher Allen Giles to let me learn it. Giles was a friend of Robert Mols, the founding conductor of the Cheektowaga Symphony, and he invited me to play the Konzertstück at the orchestra’s inaugural concert in the fall of 1961.”

Hoca went on to play with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic in 1963, and to graduate from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where her teachers included the legendary pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski. Later she earned a master’s degree at UB under Leo Smit, receiving top prizes along the way in the Chopin Young Pianist Competition and the Washington International Bach Competition. In the course of her distinguished career as a performer, she has appeared as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Pops, and the Philharmonia Virtuosi of New York. Hoca has also played more than twenty different concertos with the Buffalo Philharmonic under the batons of Semyon Bychkov, Christopher Keene, Kazuyoshi Akigama, Hermann Michael, Carlos Kalmar, and Maximiano Valdes.

Besides performing the Konzertstück, a challenging enough work for any virtuoso pianist to perform by itself in concert and a work that she has not played in public since she was 12 years old, Hoca will be the soloist in the Symphonic Variations by Cesar Franck. Liszt’s best known tone poem, Les préludes, and Sibelius’s rousing Finlandia are also on the program.

All CCSO concerts are free and open to the public. Free will offerings are accepted at each concert to help support the orchestra, and donations are always welcome. For more information, visit

Culture in Cinema Series Features Rare Ballet

The Culture in Cinema Series continues at the Amherst Theatre this Sunday, March 6 at 11am, with a live simulcast performance from the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. Any balletomane who was lucky enough to catch the Bolshoi’s live simulcast of Giselle this past January will not want to miss this Sunday’s simulcast of the classic 19th-century Russian ballet Don Quixote. While performances of the popular ballets of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev are fairly easy to find, a performance of Ludwig Minkus’s Don Quixote outside of Russia is a rarity. Originally created for the Bolshoi by Marius Pepita in 1869, the stunning production features prima ballerina Natalia Osipova in the dual roles of Kitri and Dulcinea.

The Amherst Theatre (3500 Main Street across from UB South Campus) has been specially upgraded to accommodate the Culture in Cinema series. For more information, visit

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