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Pops season ends with fun, energetic program

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's Pops season ended eventfully Saturday night, with a packed concert. You never would have known the night outside was so lovely. Just about every seat was filled.

Partly because of the crowd, there was a fine energy to the evening, which was full of fun.

There were two Broadway singers, Jan Horvath and George Dvorsky, and an accordionist, Dr. Al Schlisserman, a local eye doctor. Schlisserman soloed in "Czardas," a famous Gypsy-ish piece by Vittorio Monti. Clearly a crowd favorite, he got tumultuous applause.

Also greeted with great applause was The Buffalo News March, performed with gusto. (Sorry, I could not help that.) The march was by John W. Surra, a long-deceased Buffalo bandleader who played in John Philip Sousa's band and taught music to countless Western New Yorkers. It was arranged for orchestra by Surra's son, Jerry.

The piece was a lot of fun. The simple, main theme was set off by accompanying lines rapidly ascending and descending, giving a great sense of forward motion. A slower interlude had stirring harmonies. There were all kinds of tweets and trills from flutes, piccolo, etc., as Sousa used to do.

Buffalo pride came into play, and the audience cheered heartily the members of Surra's family who were there. Associate Conductor Michael Kraemer, presiding, invited them to stand. The lights went up. It was a touching tribute to a graceful and deserving figure in local music who had long been forgotten.

Horvath and Dvorsky added to the festive proceedings.

Horvath's voice sounded weak at first in "Another Opening, Another Show" and "There's No Business Like Show Business." Adjustments must have been made, because she sounded fine a little later in a couple of songs from "Sweet Charity." Her go-for-broke performance of "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" was emotional and moving.

Dvorsky is a pro, with a silken tenor voice that seems to project effortlessly. His "Bring Him Home," from "Les Miserables," was a little more delicate than you are used to hearing -- it ended almost in falsetto -- but it worked. He also sang, "All I Care About Is Love," from "Chicago."

There was a lot going on in this concert, and it added humor and sweetness that Kraemer was, uncharacteristically, a little bit out of it. As he explained, he had just become a new father. He and his wife just welcomed a baby son. They're drinking more coffee, he joked.

Meanwhile, you could tell he was kind of punchy. He was sort of stumbling over words. But he was so happy, it all added to the evening's good feeling. There were a couple of pieces I might have discarded or replaced. The opening "Hollywood Salute" offered only a frustrating couple of bars of every song, which ranged from "Hooray For Hollywood" to themes from "Star Wars." A Beatles medley was clumsy. "All You Need Is Love" just doesn't translate well to orchestra.

But the night was full of enjoyable surprises. A Ray Charles medley bopped along nicely, though where was "America the Beautiful"? How could they resist? "Moon River" got a lush and lovely treatment. "Clarinet Candy," one of Leroy Anderson's nifty novelty numbers, sparkled.

The guest stars contributed laughs. Horvath, hilariously, jumped onto the podium and took over the orchestra briefly, in "If They Could See Me Now." She also flirted around theatrically with Kraemer, not thinking to adjust her script because of his new infant son. Kraemer, smiling absently, did not seem to notice.

Schlisserman was a stitch as he put the much-maligned accordion in an appealing light. Smiling as he played, he comes across as someone who likes to perform and is comfortable doing so. It was a nice idea, featuring him. The Classics season winds up next weekend with Mahler's Third Symphony.

email: mkunz@buffnews.com

> CONCERT REVIEW

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

"Pops Showstoppers" with Associate Conductor Matthew Kraemer. Part of the Pops Series. Saturday evening in Kleinhans Music Hall, Symphony Circle. Tickets are $25-$72. Call 885-5000 or visit www.bpo.org.