The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's highly successful Sight, Sound & Symphony Series enters its sixth season on Thursday with an intriguing program that takes its title from a variation on the series name.
It's called "Sophisticated Ellington, Symphony & Swing."
As from its inception in the 1992-93 season, the series this year will be sponsored in its entirety by The Buffalo News.
On hand Thursday at 7:30 p.m. to bring the Duke Ellington family tradition into Kleinhans Music Hall once again will be the Duke's granddaughter, Mercedes Ellington, an extraordinarily talented dancer, choreographer, director and model.
She has directed and choreographed productions of "Godspell," "Peter Pan" and "Ain't Misbehavin'," and can be seen as the elegant model in the recent national ad campaign for Coach handbags and leather accessories.
Touring the world to offer master classes is another activity in which this indefatigable woman is involved, and on occasion she has even been known to guest-conduct the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
This is a brief profile of Mercedes Ellington, who will be your hostess, introducing the program and pointing out the expressive sounds, rhythms and interpretive motions provided by vocalists Monica Cantrell and Sam Gibson, and dancers Mark Esposito, Cornell Ivey, Jennifer Ladner and Lyn Elam Wiltshire-Beer.
Naturally, it's all performed to a splendid array of Duke Ellington's music, with Mercedes' commentary making it seem like an engaging journey through her grandfather's life.
There will be the familiar bits of Ellingtonia such as "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing," "Take the 'A' Train," "Caravan," "Satin Doll" and "Sophisticated Lady."
But there will also be some adventure in the form of more unusual Ellington works. In that category would be two movements called "Spring" and "Giggling Rapids" from his 1970 ballet "The River," and "King of the Magi" from "Three Black Kings."
In addition to all that, the presentation will be further enhanced by nostalgic and atmospheric photos of the Duke projected on a large screen over the stage.
In charge of the musical aspects of the program will be David Wiley, conductor of the Roanoke (Virginia) Symphony Orchestra. In addition to the Buffalo Philharmonic, Wiley will also make his debut this season with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, adding these to a list that already includes the symphony orchestras in Columbus, Savannah and Milwaukee.