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Valdes leads the BPO and announces his move to WNY

Maximiano Valdes is back in town.

And this time, the former Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra music director is here to stay.

You can't be so bold as to say for good. There is no telling what these glamorous, globetrotting conductors will do. What we can say is that Valdes, who is guest conducting the BPO this weekend, turned around before the Friday morning concert and addressed the audience.

"We are very attached to Buffalo, my wife and I," he said. "We bought a house and are very happy that we are moving back here."

It should be great fun having Valdes around. Just by looking at him you can tell his charm and enthusiasm for music.

"After all these years of career conducting, I still feel butterflies in the stomach," he said, in the same adorably broken English his fans remember.

Valdes spoke briefly of the problems he has encountered with the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra thanks to Hurricane Maria. That must be one reason for his move back here. Another reason could be that his wife is a Western New Yorker. And he seems to have a genuine affection for our town.

"It's always a pleasure to be here," he said. "I feel we share a passion for the pieces we are going to play."

By the time Friday's Coffee Concert was over, I think all the audience shared that passion. The concert was a delight. Nothing on the program is heavy or morose. It's like a beautiful breather.

Berlioz's "Le Corsaire" Overture was eight minutes of bright festivity. Listening, you had to smile. The musicians carried it off with such dash and enjoyment that listening, you had to smile. Valdes wound it up with a flourish.

Then came the guest soloist, cellist Julian Schwarz. He is the son of conductor Gerard Schwarz, but he's not a kid. He is a seasoned performer with his own touch of charm, and a marvelous way with his 18th century cello.

Even if you're not familiar with Lalo's Cello Concerto in D Minor, I believe it will draw you in and wrap itself around you. It gets you from the beginning. Schwarz's entrance into the first movement was authoritative and passionate. He coaxed deep rich tones from that cello, digging into them with satisfaction. And he gave the piece's lyrical melodies -- heart-melting, some of them -- a sweet legato singing tone.

The mercurial, rapidly changing music showed Valdes' ease and confidence. Details came out just right. One that was especially beguiling was the end of the Intermezzo, which dissolved in a wave of pizzicato. It was  so warm and witty. The sharply syncopated last movement had Spanish flair, no doubt bred into both Lalo and Valdes. Schwarz's graceful tone made me think of violinist Fritz Kreisler.

"The Enchanted Lake," by Anatoly Liadov, is a known quantity at the BPO. But no one minded hearing it again, so lovingly shaped. It began with a whisper, and the enchanting delicacy continued throughout. The flutes and other woodwinds stood out, and so did cello, harp, and French horn. There were a lot of solo bows at the end.

Debussy's "La Mer," concluding the concert, washed over the hall with power and energy. This is such an evocative piece. You can picture a French impressionist seascape, complete with the little points of color suggested by a sprinkle of notes on the harp or a short burst of brass. Valdes grew animated as the volume grew, and the musicians responded, creating a growing collage of shifting colors and dynamics. At one point the sheer decibel level could make you imagine something big and awe-inspiring -- a giant wave, perhaps, or a whale.

The music ended with a dramatic thud, surely exactly the sound that Debussy wanted, and accompanied by another Valdes flourish.

What a feast. What fun. The concert repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday at Kleinhans Music Hall.

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