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Genuine Gold

BPO concertmaster Michael Ludwig

BPO concertmaster Michael Ludwig plays the Korngold Violin Concerto

Sometimes it takes a while for a masterwork of the symphonic repertoire to be recognized. An example of just such a work was featured recently by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra when music director JoAnn Falletta led outstanding performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 that were unfortunately diminished only in the work’s final movement by a subpar performance by the guest soprano, who was suffering from bronchitis. Audiences today are mystified when reading about the initial negative critical reception of this symphony, which has since become the composer’s most beloved and frequently performed work.

BPO audiences will have no less than three opportunities this weekend to reconsider the merits of another masterpiece, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto, a work that suffered from similar critical misunderstanding after its premiere, with BPO concertmaster Michael Ludwig as the featured soloist on Friday at 10:30am, Saturday at 8pm, and a Sunday at 2:30pm.

Born in 1897, Korngold was a genuine child prodigy in pre-World War I Vienna, composing a ballet at the age of 11, Der Schneemann (The Snowman) that proved a sensation when performed at the Vienna Court Opera. He went on to develop a successful career in Europe as an opera composer, before the rise of Nazism caused him to move to America in the 1930s, where he became a successful composer of movie music, winning several nominations and two Academy Awards for his scores.

After World War II ended, Korngold decided to give up writing for films and resume composing for the concert hall, with mixed critical results. His exquisitely beautiful Violin Concerto, which makes effective use of thematic material from several of his film scores, was premiered in 1947 by the great Jascha Heifitz to popular acclaim, but it had a mixed reception by East Coast critics who found it old-fashioned. One unfairly slammed the work by saying it was “more corn than gold.”

Luckily, the concerto was championed a few decades later by the conductor Andre Previn. His recordings with Itzhak Perlman and Gil Shaham, the latter of whom was the soloist for the work’s only previous performances by the BPO, helped return the concerto to the mainstream classical repertoire.

Schumann’s Symphony No.3 “Rhenish” and Webern’s early tone poem, Im Sommerwind, are also on the program.

Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus

The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus explores new territory under its director Erin Freeman on Friday, April 11 at 8pm, in Westminster Presbyterian Church. The Buffalo Chamber Players will join the Chorus for the area premiere of The Armed Man: “A Mass for Peace” by Karl Jenkins. The Welsh composer spent his first 50 years as a working jazz and jazz-rock saxophonist, until the release of his breakthrough, crossover vocal work Songs of Sanctuary in 1995. That work, featuring lyric-less, harmonized vocal melodies, carefully stylized as to pitch and timbre, played against an orchestral background, became the first in his Adiemus project, which has since resulted in six bestselling studio recordings.

The Armed Man, an antiwar work based on the Latin Mass, was commissioned to mark the millennium and is dedicated to the victims of the Kosovo crisis. It makes use in its first and last movements of the 15th-century French secular song “L’homme armé,” the most popular tune used for musical settings of the cantus firmus of the Mass by Renaissance composers, with over 40 known examples surviving. The work has been incredibly popular worldwide since its premiere in 1999, with both professional and amateur musicians.

Battalia, baroque composer Herich Ignaz von Biber’s vivid tone poem, and Brahms’s motet, Warum ist das Licht Gegeben, will also be performed.

Stockhausen Premiere

It’s not often that a student’s masters of music degree recital features the US premiere of a significant work by one of the giants of post-World War II contemporary classical music. That will be the case, however, when UB percussionist Ross Aftel performs Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Strahlen (Rays), an alternate ending to the composer’s opera Sonntag aus Licht, at UB’s Slee Hall this Saturday, April 12 at 7:30pm. Aftel describes Strahlen as “a 35-minute work for solo vibraphone played together with nine other projected voices, with the 10 voices divided into five groups that play at different tempi throughout most of the piece.” Among the other works that Aftel will perform is Iannis Xenakis’s Dmaathen, for which he will be joined by oboist Megan Kyle, who perfectly nailed Berio’s challenging solo oboe Sequenza VII in a recent Wooden Cities Collective performance. Commissioned by the Center for the Creative Arts, Dmaathen is dedicated to two former UB faculty members and Creative Associates, composer Morton Feldman and percussionist Jan Williams. Admission to the event is free.

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