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BPO at the top of its game

Saturday, beneath the baton of the affable and entertaining Carl Topilow, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra paid tribute to our city's athletic heroes with a program comprising sports-themed compositions.

Topilow -- led by enthusiastic cheerleaders from Willliamsville and flanked by trumpet and tuba players -- sauntered down the center aisle playing his trademark red clarinet in a dixieland-styled "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." The evening was lighthearted and good-natured -- just a lot of themes and compositions familiar to the audience.

Even though Olympic silver medalist and Western New Yorker Jennifer Stuczynski was on hand for honors, as were alumni from Buffalo's Sabres and Bills, the program seemed to be more of an appreciation of film scores than a celebration of sports music. Not that this was a problem, since the reigning king of film composition, John Williams, is known for Olympic composition.

Williams was covered three times during the program, and it was clear that conductor Topilow relished the opportunity to lead the BPO through the dramatic, though invariably sunny and celebratory, terrain of the composer's work.

"Summon the Heroes," a Williams piece that probably would've been suitable for sport-related outings during the time of the gladiators, opened the evening and set its tone ably. Featuring a languid, mildly Spanish trumpet solo during the fanfare and bolstered by substantial drama in the low end (basses, cellos and brass), this was classic Williams. Clearly, Williams' influence is Aaron Copland, and the mildly hyperbolic Americana with which his work is infused -- particularly in the brass and percussion -- speaks to the thrill of victory and agony of defeat. It is grandiose, but appropriately so.

What Williams' "March from Superman" had to do with sports is unclear. But regardless, it fit the bill, all keening brass and triumphant percussion, which Topilow oversaw while dressed in a Superman costume. (Yes, this was definitely a pops concert!)

Marches were the favorite works of the evening -- fitting because there always has been a military aspect to sporting events, with music composed to pump up both participants and observers.

"Gonna Fly Now,"from "Rocky," found the BPO in full-throttle, symphonic-rock mode. And the score from "The Natural" -- filmed right here in Buffalo -- tugged at the heart-strings with consummate skill.

Williams' "1984 Olympic Fanfare" was dedicated to Stuczynski, and it was clearly intended to be the centerpiece.

Just as moving, however, was the BPO's take on Vangelis' "Chariots of Fire," which was the sleeper hit of the evening.



>Concert Review

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

"Play Ball! The Music of Sports" with conductor Carl Topilow on Saturday night in Kleinhans Music Hall.

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