After a quarter-century of being a musical force in Buffalo, Thomas Swan can sit back and bask in some hard-earned recognition.
On Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in Kleinhans Music Hall, the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will present a performance of Bach's great Mass in B minor, which Swan had conceived as a tribute to the concurrent 60th anniversary of Kleinhans and 65th anniversary of the BPO. But the orchestra has upped the ante by insisting that its participation also honor Swan's years of musical leadership.
Then, on March 15, Swan will be cited by the Arts Council in Buffalo and Erie County at its 15th Annual Arts Awards Luncheon in the Adam's Mark Hotel. Swan's contributions to Western New York's cultural climate will be recognized, along with those of actress and theatrical entrepreneur Lorna C. Hill, arts supporter Joanna Angie, the Theater of Youth (TOY), and the law firm of Hodgson Russ LLP.
Swan has no shortage of admirers.
"Tom Swan has been one of the most visionary leaders in Buffalo's music community," said JoAnn Falletta, BPO music director. "Thanks to his superb leadership, he has gifted Western New York with music of the very highest caliber. The BPO feels very fortunate to have him as a member of their artistic team."
Swan's work with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus is praised by Renee Perez, former executive director of the Arts Council in Buffalo and Erie County.
"His contribution to the chorus has been so outstanding that it is now recognized throughout the state as one of the foremost orchestral-attached groups."
Due to lung cancer, which surfaced late last summer, Swan has had to take a year's leave of absence for treatment at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. He continues to lead a full schedule at Westminster Presbyterian Church as organist and choir director.
Andrea Copley, board president of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, said Sunday's concert will reflect the singers' heartfelt appreciation for Swan.
"The chorus this year, with his leave of absence, has just pulled together to do this concert really as a celebration for what Thomas has meant to this chorus, and how he has touched each of our lives with his passion of music," Copley said.
Swan, an Iowa native, moved here in 1976, tapped by Westminster Presbyterian Church to succeed the Rev. Hans Vigeland as organist and choir director. It didn't take him long to get his feet wet. In fact, within four years he was hip deep in the waters of Buffalo's musical community.
In 1979, he became music director for the area's premier chorus, the Buffalo Schola Cantorum, which he nurtured and developed to the point that in 1992 it became the official partner of the BPO, changing its name to the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus.
Swan is an unassuming, modest man who talks a great deal about the joy of making music and very little about himself. When prodded, however, he does admit to having a great love for his years in Buffalo and a sense of satisfaction with the success he has achieved as a choral director here.
"I was so lucky that when I first arrived here Tom Stewart, who was the senior pastor at Westminster Presbyterian, gave me his complete support. This allowed me to develop professionally, with the pretty good chorus Westminster had at the time, far more rapidly than if I had been restricted by a lot of other obligatory church duties. As a result we turned out some pretty impressive performances of Haydn Masses and the Poulenc Gloria," Swan said.
Tom Yorty, senior pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, said Swan demands a lot from others but no less than what he demands of himself.
"In addition to being an outstanding organist at the console, he really is, I think, the consummate choral director. He is the kind of person who even though he has achieved what he has with the church choir, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, isn't content with what he's achieved.
"This high expectation can be a little intimidating initially for some people, but once you get to experience him, there's a lot of warmth and compassion."
Through his work at the Westminster Presbyterian Church and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, Swan makes it clear that it has long been a labor of love.
"Music is my life, it's what I do, it's what I am. It's rewarding almost every day, but then the extraordinary event comes along, like the 1987 performance of Mahler's "Resurrection' Symphony with Semyon Bychkov conducting and Jessye Norman as soloist. I was singing with the chorus that evening, and Jessye's indescribably exquisite solo, followed by that exalted "Auferstehn' climactic chorus, provided everyone in the hall with a spiritual experience one just doesn't have often in this life."
Swan will be in the unaccustomed, and, he says, uncomfortable position of being an audience member for Sunday's performance of the Bach B minor Mass. But he will have the satisfaction of knowing that, even during this leave-of-absence year, he will have had a lot to do with the success of bringing Bach's music alive for that audience, and for having put his own indelible stamp on Western New York's music scene.
News Arts Editor Mark Sommer contributed to this report.