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The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is revving up in the wings of Kleinhans Music Hall, readying for the takeoff of its 1999-2000 season at 8 p.m. Saturday under the baton of new music director JoAnn Falletta.

Unfortunately, however, the all-too-familiar tune called "Contract Negotiation Difficulties" has been heard again this year.

Maximiano Valdes knew that tune well as he approached his first concert as music director of the BPO in September 1989. Similar negotiating difficulties cost the orchestra two rehearsals and forced Valdes to postpone the concerts.

As the current season approaches, orchestra management and musicians' union are again having difficulty agreeing on a new labor contract to replace the one that expired Aug. 31.

And those loyal to the orchestra are groaning, "Oh, no, not again."

Assuming for a moment that the orchestra does not, as some say, have a death wish, and the contract issues are settled before Saturday, this season, under Falletta's shaping hand, will be a season like no other.

And the season-opening concert will also be like no other.

Rather than beginning with the customary Classics Series concert, Falletta has opted to offer an Opening Night Grand Gala that spotlights the orchestra in both its classical and pops guises. (The regular Classics Series will open on Oct. 1-2, the Pops Series Sept. 24-25.)

"The whole thrust of the Gala," says Falletta, "is to bring together our pops and classical people. One of my desires is to erase the line which makes some people come to one type of concert and not the other. This is neither a classical event nor a pops event, but one open to the entire BPO family."

It will begin with a black-tie dinner in the Mary Seaton Room catered by Oliver's. After the concert, the Mary Seaton Room will again open its doors for a Post-Performance Celebration, with dancing, drinks and desserts. (Separate tickets are available for the Post-Performance Celebration.)

The 8 p.m. concert itself will offer a mixture of Latin-influenced and classical selections.

Appropriately, Falletta will open the Latin first half of the program by conducting Gershwin's underrated "Cuban Overture," then will introduce the evening's guest soloist, the Cuban-born trumpet virtuoso Arturo Sandoval, who defected to the United States in 1990 and won a Best Latin Jazz Grammy Award in 1995.

After the intermission, Falletta will conduct the BPO, soloists, the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and the Choristers of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in Carl Orff's 1936 "Carmina Burana," a brilliantly orchestrated work, fitting as the tour de force for a Gala Evening.

Originally, this Gala program was to have showcased Falletta, the orchestra and then principal pops conductor, Doc Severinsen. But the orchestra's inability to iron out the well-publicized difficulties with Severinsen led to his resignation and the need to change the first half of the concert.

With this opening concert, Falletta is serving notice that she intends to make a real difference in the life and destiny of the BPO.

In a recent interview she detailed some of her visions for the future of the orchestra, and how she thinks she can make a difference.

One complaint Buffalonians have had about many previous BPO conductors was their apparent unwillingness to put down roots here and become active members of the community.

Falletta and her husband, Robert Alemany, who is avocationally a clarinetist and professionally a technical expert with AT & T, "now have bought a place on the Buffalo waterfront and moved in during August," she said. "And Robert will be here with me most of the time.

"The more time I've spent here, the more I've come to love the area. The welcome we've received and the lack of pretension and rigidity in the people we've met has made us feel extremely welcome. And the number who have told me how important the Philharmonic is shows a strong base of support for this orchestra. I know there are many people we haven't reached yet, but that's our mission, to reach out to them."

Falletta is candid about her approach to this mission.

"It takes my presence," she said, "and my being open to any opportunity to speak to people about what the BPO means to Western New York. A lot of people stay away because they have had no contact with the BPO. They don't know anyone, they've never met anyone, they've never heard anyone speak about it.

"It will take a tremendous effort to open the door to those people. I and the staff and the musicians intend to be involved in this as ambassadors. Being in residence will enable me to have an overview not only of the Classics Series, but the Pops, youth concerts and the run-out concerts. This will give us a united vision of what the orchestra is doing.

"This is a goal of mine, and I should be able to work on it because I intend to be in town for about 18 weeks during the coming season."

Falletta has already notified the Long Beach (Calif.) Symphony that she does not intend to renew her contract when it expires in June 2000. This will reduce her orchestral directorships to two, Buffalo and the Norfolk-based Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

One important behind-the-scenes activity for any conductor is fund-raising, and when asked how much she expected to be involved in that, Falletta's answer was remarkably short.

"I already have been," she said. "I've been spending about a week a month here for the past year, and much of that time has been devoted to fund-raising. And I think that if we can keep the artistic level high and keep the financial resources sound, people will be more generous than they have been.

"I know the orchestra's budget is going to come up from the present $8 million over the next few years," she added. "The Philharmonic has come a long way in the last two to three years. The insiders and the big supporters that I've spoken to are guardedly optimistic.

"On the strength of this kind of positive outlook we've already started talking about planning an endowment campaign. It may be a year or two before it's launched, but we know we must do that.

"I think people and corporations will support this if we do a New York State tour, if we do recordings, if we're heard nationally on NPR. Then we'd go for endowment gifts from a position of strength, with the understanding that we have made great artistic strides in terms of visibility. You can't have one without the other."

And will there be the tours, recordings and broadcasts?

"Yes. We want to reinstitute touring," Falletta said, "starting with New York State, hopefully Albany, Syracuse and Carnegie Hall. That would be down the line, not this year. This orchestra definitely has to regain its national stature and be much more visible.

"And on the recording front we're exploring a contract for three CDs. The company we're talking with aspires to have 100 CDs of American music in its catalog and wants us to participate. We're talking about doing works by Frederick Converse, Morton Gould, including his 'Burchfield Gallery,' and Charles Tomlinson Griffes. That's big news for us."

The broadcasts are much closer to realization, beginning with the fact that Channel 17, WNED-TV, will simulcast Saturday's Opening Night Grand Gala with its sister radio stations, WNED-FM (94.5) in Buffalo and WNJA-FM (89.7) in Jamestown.

There will be two more broadcasts of concerts during the 1999-2000 season, and an entirely separate Educational/Outreach Initiative that will give students, teachers and families the chance to interact with the BPO. This program will be launched Tuesday from 10 to 11 a.m., when Falletta will be interviewed live on the radio stations and will take calls from listeners.

"There will be National Public Radio broadcasts next year," Falletta said. "This is a big step forward for us toward national recognition. The dates aren't set, but it looks like six of our concerts will be broadcast and available to NPR stations coast-to-coast who want to pick them up. And there will be three television broadcasts, including the Gala."

And what about "L'affaire Severinsen"? Does Falletta know what really happened?

"Everybody's going to miss Doc," she said. "In the short term he is not replaceable. So the worst thing we could do is something hasty, trying to replace one big-name director with another.

"So what we've done is invite guests to fill those spots, using people who will give our audience a diet of different people they haven't seen in a long time or never seen.

"After a season or two we may decide to focus on a new personality as pops director. The people of Buffalo will give us a sense of what they want as well. Ticket sales will be a message of some sort, but concert by concert the new season is a strong one."

But what about the actual rift? Was it really, as widely reported, a power struggle between Severinsen and the new management over who would publicize his pops concerts?

"That's what it ostensibly was," Falletta said. "But frankly, Doc is a real pro. He's dealt with good, bad and mediocre managements. He's outlasted several managements right here. So why was this management the stumbling block?

"It's also possible that, at a certain point, statements that had been made just couldn't be retracted. Maybe it got away from us before either Doc or the administration knew what was happening, and then there was no stepping back.

"He had also just come to a new strategy with his pops programs. He was so looking forward to doing one classical piece on each concert and introducing the audience to new experiences. So why would he abruptly leave this community that so adored him?

"No, there's got to be something else. I feel that at some point there's going to be revealed another reason behind it all, because it's not like Doc to make this sort of decision with people that he loves."

Looking to the future, Falletta feels that programming and education can cope with the well-recognized graying and thinning of audiences for symphonic music.

"The New Attitudes Series, I think, will give the classical season a bit of different look. The idea that the conductor and musicians are open to communication will help, also. Young people generally don't want to come into a hall where it feels like a closed situation in which, unless you know all the rules, you don't fit in. We have to provide a situation they will feel is vibrant and exciting.

"Giving young people the opportunity to meet musicians in different situations will make them feel they fit in, and we're looking at programs with UB to help with that. This doesn't happen overnight. You have to make a commitment to stay at it until kids think of the Buffalo Philharmonic concerts as a place that's exciting.

"Our education program is continually evolving here. In fact, we've just established, for the first time, a position that will be involved full time in education, including outreach to all schools. We're interviewing for that opening right now. It shows our commitment to serving more children. We're reaching 25,000 students now, and we need to add many, many more to that."

Over the longer pull, Falletta's success as BPO music director will likely be gauged as much on the orchestra's increasing prominence in the community and the nation as by how well the orchestra plays.

"The community needs to view us as more and more of an economic resource," she said. "That may sound cold and non-musical, but they need to understand that the quality of life in Buffalo is tied to the Buffalo Philharmonic in some way.

"The fact that businesses may move here, or that people may choose to move here, has a lot to do with the Philharmonic and other arts organizations. They must see us not as a frill, but at the core of the fabric of life here.

"And that's going to make a difference."

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