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Belfast to Buffalo

Pianist Barry Douglas makes his Buffalo debut.

Irish pianist Barry Douglas is the soloist in the Tchaikovsky piano concerto

If you were asked what is the most often performed classical music piano concerto in the United States, you probably wouldn’t be very far off the mark if you guessed that it was the Tchaikovsky Concerto No.1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has featured the work no fewer than 15 times in its first 75 years, mostly recently last July, when Chinese pianist Lang Lang, the highest-profile classical musician on the planet, ended the BPO’s year-long, 75th anniversary season celebration with an electrifying performance of the work. Of course, Lang Lang’s season-ending performance was highly unusual, in that it took place in Kleinhans Music Hall in July, long after the regular Classic Series is usually over. It only came about because Lang Lang had been forced to cancel his earlier, scheduled appearance in February, due to illness, a rare occurrence for this much-in-demand artist.

BPO music director JoAnn Falletta will be on the podium at Kleinhans Music Hall this Saturday, February 11 at 8pm, and Sunday afternoon at 2:30pm, when the Irish pianist Barry Douglas makes his BPO debut playing the same Tchaikovsky concerto. The stakes have to be high for any soloist performing the identical work in the same venue, only seven months after Lang Lang, the reigning superstar, delivered the goods.

Douglas definitely has the right credentials. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1960, Douglas studied with Felicitas LeWinter, who was a pupil of Emil von Sauer, and a grand-pupil of the legendary 19th-century wizard of the keyboard, Franz Liszt. Douglas subsequently studied with the Italian-Brazilian pianist Maria Curcio, one of the noted European piano pedagogues of the latter half of the 20th century, who was the last and favorite pupil of Artur Schnabel, who was himself one of the most widely acknowledged great pianists of the first half of the 20th century, and who could trace his own artistic roots back, through his teachers, to Beethoven.

After winning the bronze medal at the Van Cliburn Competition in Texas in 1985, Douglas went on to win the gold medal in 1986 at what is perhaps the most prestigious of all piano competitions, the International Tchaikovsky Competition, where he became the first non-Russian pianist to do so since Van Cliburn won in 1958. Douglas has enjoyed a higher profile in Europe than in America, and since co-founding in 1998 the Belfast-based chamber music ensemble Camerata Ireland, which brings together musicians who live in Ireland and Irish musicians who play and work abroad, and which also enjoys an annual residency in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, he has devoted as much time to conducting as to performing as a soloist.

While remaining the music director of both the BPO and the Virginia Symphony, Falletta just took up her first-ever European position this past September, as principal conductor of the Belfast-based Ulster Orchestra. If her new position encourages the kind of positive synergy heralded by the first-ever Buffalo appearances of artists of the caliber of Douglas, the end result will be a win-win situation for both cities.

The BPO concerts this weekend will also feature the BPO premiere of Richard Strauss’ Die liebe der Danae, Op. 83, a symphonic fragment, as well as a relatively rare performance of that composer’s huge tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra, a work which gained a new high profile in 1968 due to the very effective usage of the theme of its initial section in Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

For tickets and further information, call 885-5000 or visit

Slee Beethoven Quartet Cycle wraps up at UB

Does Buffalo have a favorite string quartet? Older generations, without hesitation, would have nominated the Budapest Quartet, and then later their successors, the Cleveland Quartet, both groups that held the position of quartet-in-residence at the University at Buffalo. Nowadays, luckily, we have, just down the road at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, the Ying Quartet, which has performed frequently in the Buffalo Chamber Music Society series as well as in the Slee Beethoven Cycle, and they are definitely a Buffalo favorite. The Ying Quartet, with its new first violinist, Ayano Ninomiya,will perform the final two concerts in this season’s Slee series, on Thursday, February 16 at 7:30pm, and Sunday, February 19 at 3pm, as well as offering a master class in Baird Recital Hall that is free and open to the public, on Wednesday, February 15 at 7pm.

Advance tickets are $12 general admission; $9 for UB faculty/staff/alumni, and senior citizens; $5 for students. At the door: $20/$15/$8. Tickets are available at the Slee Hall box office, the UB Center for the Arts box office or at any Ticketmaster outlet. For further information, call 645-2921 or visit

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