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If you ask the producers of "Manna From Heaven," the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra was heaven-sent.

During a hastily arranged session underwritten by private Philharmonic supporters, the orchestra Tuesday recorded five songs for the Buffalo-made film, which is set to debut March 11 at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

Only two weeks ago, Buffalo-based Five Sisters Productions had a score in mind but no idea who would perform it.

"We were going to use a small group -- a violinist or two, or perhaps a string quartet," said Jennifer Burton, who is producing the low-budget film with sisters Ursula, Maria, Gabrielle C. and Charity.

Then a friend of theirs, Teo Balbach, suggested the BPO. "I told him it would be a dream come true, but we certainly couldn't afford it," Jen Burton said.

In stepped Balbach's parents, Charles and Peggy, and Victor Rice. They persuaded fellow Philharmonic boosters Howard Zemsky, Gordon Gross, Thomas and Martha Hyde, Pat Garman and Paul Koessler to help pay for the recording session.

As the Burtons' luck would have it, the orchestra already was scheduled to record a compact disc in Kleinhans Music Hall Tuesday. The equipment would be in place, along with a sound team from Naxos Records, which is producing the album -- the Philharmonic's first contract with an international label in 20 years -- for its American Classics series.

And so, two hours after finishing the first four-hour session, the musicians were back on stage with Music Director JoAnn Falletta, playing "Just the Way You Look Tonight" for "Manna From Heaven's" climactic dance scene.

Also recorded for the movie: "The Merry Widow Waltz," "The Blue Danube," "The Emperor's Waltz" and "St. Francis of Asissi."

It is the second film score recorded by the BPO, which also performed for the 1978 Woody Allen movie "Manhattan," noted Philharmonic spokeswoman Amy Manton.

"Not many Tier 1 orchestras have movie credits," she said. "The work is pretty much limited to Los Angeles, with a little in New York and London."

The Philharmonic's participation, Burton said, will gold-plate the one-hour, 59-minute film, which stars Shirley Jones, Frank Gorshin, Wendie Malick and Jill Eikenberry and is based on a screenplay by the Burton sisters' mother, Gabrielle D. Burton of Snyder.

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