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Oliveira Returns

Charismatic concert favorite back in Buffalo

Violinist Elmar Oliveira (photo by Tucker Desnley)

Towards the end of the intermission at a Saturday evening Buffalo Philharmonic concert last May, a powerfully built man in a black leather coat walked slowly through the throng returning to their seats. Only a very few of the departing audience members recognized the figure with their congratulations as being the performer who had just given the most electrifying performance of the entire concert season. BPO concertmaster Michael Ludwig, scheduled to play the violin part in the Brahms Double Concerto, along with his cousin, cellist Jules Eskin, had hurt his hand and was unable to perform. At very short notice, violin virtuoso Elmar Oliveira stepped in as the soloist, giving one of the most exciting performances of the Brahms Violin Concerto in recent memory.

Oliveira returned to Buffalo this week for a five-day residency at the UB Amherst campus, which includes several concerts as well as related educational activities. On Thursday, September 10, a brown-bag lunch performance and conversation takes place at 12:05pm on the stage of Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall, the site of all concert events. Those in attendance will enjoy brief previews of Oliveira’s recital pieces, as he talks with the audience members, also seated on stage. There will be ticket giveaways.

Friday, September 11 at 7:30pm, Oliveira and his longtime recital and recording partner, the pianist Robert Koenig, perform in a program that includes the Mozart Sonata in B-flat Major, K378, the Schubert Rondo Brillant, Op. 70, and the Richard Strauss Sonata, Op. 18. Violist Sandra Robbins, Oliveira’s wife, joins him in a performance of the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia for Violin and Viola.

Baird Recital Hall is the location of a master class, open to the public, on Sunday, September 13 at 2pm, where the violinist will give half-hour coaching sessions to select UB music students. For the final event in Oliveira’s residency, he will join the Slee Sinfonietta for a performance of the Bach Violin Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041, as well as Ernest Bloch’s Baal Shem: Three Pictures of Hassidic Life in an arrangement for violin and orchestra by Gatto. The program also includes a performance of György Ligeti’s Piano Concerto with piano soloist Eric Huebner, who is joining the UB Music Department faculty this season.

A first prize winner in America’s prestigious Naumburg Competition, Oliveira went on to win the gold medal at Moscow’s Tchaikovsky International Competition in 1978; he remains the only American violinist to have claimed that honor. The high-profile Tchaikovsky victory quickly lead to a busy international touring career—by the end of 1999 Oliveira had already performed more than 2,000 solo concerts. In any single concert season, he will have a dozen or more concertos in his repertory, far more than the usual five or six. In addition to the standard warhorses by Brahms, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky, Oliviera has championed both new and lesser-known works. He has performed both the Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra by the Polish contemporary composer Andrzej Panufnik, who he has described as “a lovely, lovely man who died not long ago,” and the Concerto No. 2, written for him by the late Oscar-winning film composer Leonard Rosenman, which he premiered in 1997 at Carnegie Hall. His best-selling recording of the Rautavaara Violin Concerto with the Helsinki Philharmonic won a Cannes Classical Award and has appeared on Gramophone’s “Editor’s Choice” list.

Oliveira has also become something of an expert on the worlds’ greatest violins. On one CD release, he performed on 15 Stradivari and 15 Guarneri del Gesu violins, while another CD highlighted the Library of Congress’s collection of rare instruments. There is a long-standing tradition in the world of rare violins to nickname particular violins after famous, now long-departed owners, almost invariably from the 18th, 19th, or early 20th centuries. It is appropriate that one of the 30 rare string instruments in the collection of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra is now known as the “Ex-Elmar Oliviera.”

Besides being at the very busy pinnacle of touring violin virtuosos, Oliviera maintains an active teaching career, and he is one of the most affable and approachable stars in the classical music firmament.

Advanced tickets for the Friday and Tuesday concerts are $12, with discounts for senior citizens ($9) and students ($5), and can can be purchased at the Slee Hall box office and at the Center for the Arts box office, or at any Ticketmaster outlet. At the door, tickets are $20, with discounts for senior citizens ($15) and students ($8). The other events listed above are free and open to the public. For more information, call 645-2921 or visit

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