There’s a new song coming from Kleinhans Music Hall, and it’s a song of suspense. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is scouting talent for three important, high-profile jobs.
Michael Ludwig, the concertmaster, is going to be leaving after this season, it was just announced. The concertmaster is the lead violinist and, in effect, the orchestra’s second-in-command next to the music director. Ludwig, who is the scheduled soloist on April 11 and April 12, is leaving to pursue a solo career.
“Michael’s given us eight fantastic years. He’s been wonderful,” said Music Director JoAnn Falletta. “But it’s been on his mind, to launch a solo career. It’s now or never, if he’s going to make a go of it. So many orchestras have invited him, with great success. He’s been focused on a solo career, and he also wants to do more teaching. It’s sad for us, but we’re happy for him. He’s going to get a chance to do what he really wants to do.”
Ludwig’s departure adds a fresh note of suspense to an interlude of transition for the BPO.
Recently, it was announced that Matthew Kraemer, the associate conductor, was leaving. Besides filling that position, the orchestra has just put out the word that it will also be seeking a pops conductor. The job of pops conductor has been vacant since it was held by the late Marvin Hamlisch. Kraemer recently had been doing both jobs.
“We’ve lucked out with Robert Franz and Matt [Kraemer] because they’ve done the pops so well, and the audience has responded well,” said BPO Executive Director Dan Hart. Franz was Kraemer’s predecessor as associate conductor. “They’ve been guys who can do it all – do the classics, then turn around and do pops. But it’s a busy schedule.”
He pointed out that more conductors are now specializing in pops, which is a big part of the BPO’s business.
“There used to be just a couple of pops guys – Doc Severinsen, Marvin Hamlisch. Now there’s a group coming up committing themselves to the pop idiom, kind of specializing in it. We’re looking for someone up and coming. We’d like someone specializing in pops, to grow that audience. Maybe an arranger, maybe someone who comes from the entertainment world. It’s pretty exciting.”
Hart and Falletta said they have heard from 250 qualified candidates for the job of associate conductor. Ten of them will be auditioning privately with the orchestra over the coming months.
The search for the pops conductor is more informal. A number of conductors have been invited to appear as guest conductors at Kleinhans over the next year or so, and one of them might wind up taking the job.
With three top job openings, the BPO will look a little different next season, even to the casual concertgoer. After Falletta herself, these three positions are the most visible to audiences – the conductors at center stage, the concertmaster appearing directly to the left of the podium.
Falletta and Ludwig have performed together many times as conductor and soloist, not just here in Buffalo but with other orchestras as well, some of them overseas. Their collaborations will continue, as will Ludwig’s frienddship with Buffalo. Next season, he will be returning to the BPO as soloist in the Sibelius Violin Concerto.
“It was a hard decision for him. He was very comfortable here,” Falletta said. “But if he’s going to do it, he has to go full tilt, take every opportunity that he can get. I think his colleagues are not surprised. They’re going to miss him, but they’re all congratulating him and wishing him well.”
There will be well-wishing all around as the BPO resolves its changes.
“We’re just excited about starting to turn a new page,” Hart said. “Things never happen by design. It’s just happening organically. We’re just looking for an opportunity to take symphony for another level.”