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JUST ASKING

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra kicks off the summer and their 2001 Mozart Festival with an outdoor concert on Saturday, on the slopes of Ellicottville's Holiday Valley.

Timothy Muffitt, the music director and conductor of the Baton Rouge Symphony in Louisiana, will make his fourth appearance with the BPO as Saturday night's guest conductor. (The concert begins at 6:30 p.m.; tickets are $15, call (800) 349-9099.)

Muffitt, 40, has been called one of the most exciting and insightful young conductors in the country. We caught up with him in Chautauqua where he is the director of the Institution's Music School Festival Orchestra.

Tell me about Saturday's program.

The program that I'm doing on the Mozart festival is pulled from what I think we would call the "popular classics." (Meaning,) of course, we're going to have some Mozart in there, and we've got the "Don Giovanni Overture," which is opening the program.

Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol" is also one that audiences have been loving forever.

What else?

We're going to throw the audience two big bones - there's a wonderful suite from "Porgy and Bess" written by George Gershwin and put together by Robert Russell Bennett. It's an extended work that really highlights a lot of the great moments from "Porgy and Bess." And we're going to close the concert with Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."

Would you say this is a kind of "greatest hits" of the classical world performance?

It is. This is not a pops concert, though.

Do you prefer to conduct more obscure pieces or crowd pleasers?

What I'm looking for when I program concerts is to create a meaningful and memorable experience for the audience. Sometimes there's a place for works that are going to expand the audience's horizons, take them into new places and expose them to new means of musical expression.

Then there are times when we need to stay more in the mainstream. I think that the people who are attracted to these outdoor summer festival concerts might be the people who haven't yet ventured into the concert hall itself, yet. Let's give them some of our greatest hits and let them really feel comfortable in the experience.

Is the show just for them?

This show is accessible to children, it's accessible to people who think they only like rock 'n' roll - the big orchestral repertoire is powerful, exciting, energetic, make-your-hair-stand-up-on-end kind of music. It's also music that is really at home outdoors on a beautiful summer evening.

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