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BPO season to offer medley of celebrities

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's 2006-2007 season of classics concerts will feature a few unusual celebrity guests.

Superstar pianist Andre Watts is scheduled for a concert in February 2007, playing Rachmaninov's wistful, romantic Second Piano Concerto. The BPO narrowly missed Watts three years ago, when he had to bow out at the last minute of a performance of Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto.

Saxophonist James Carter, known for his scorching jazz sets, will be at the BPO in December, playing a concerto for saxophone by Roberto Sierra. Anyone who heard Carter tear up the old Calumet Arts Cafe will be curious to hear Carter in this new setting.

We'll also welcome -- in spirit, anyway -- Frank Lloyd Wright. In November, BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta will present a concert performance of Darin Hagen's "Shining Brow," an opera about the famous architect and his personal and professional struggles.

The timing couldn't be better. Buffalo has been attracting the world's attention with our restoration of Wright's Darwin Martin House, in addition to recent plans to build a boathouse and gas station conceived by the eccentric genius. For the performance of "Shining Brow," the BPO received a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

"We're going to do a multimedia presentation, projecting images over the orchestra," says Dan Hart, the BPO's chief executive officer. "He was doing a lot in Buffalo in the time frame for the opera, which was 1902-3."

Falletta is looking forward to the drama's music. "It's really romantic music, by a young composer," she says.

Next season, the BPO will be continuing its relationship with the Naxos label, recording the music of John Corigliano, one of America's most celebrated composers. Corigliano, who wrote the score that Joshua Bell played for the movie "The Red Violin," will be visiting Buffalo in spring 2007, when the orchestra performs two concerts that include his music.

Pop fans as well as classical listeners might be especially intrigued by a set of songs called "Mr. Tambourine Man (Seven Poems of Bob Dylan)." The BPO's recording of that piece will be a world premiere.

An unusual story lies behind this set of songs. Falletta explains that the composer, whose father was concertmaster for the New York Philharmonic, grew up with no popular music. He had never heard of Dylan until a friend gave him a book of the rocker's lyrics, and set them to music before hearing Dylan's tunes.

Soprano Hila Plitman will sing "Mr. Tambourine Man" with the BPO in March 2007.

The 2006-2007 season, although it carries on the BPO's tradition of mixing the new with the old, pushes the envelope a little more than recent seasons have.

"I hope that when people see names they don't recognize immediately, that they don't turn away from the concert," Hart says. "I hope the audience here has confidence in JoAnn's picks. If you see someone's name you're not familiar with, you got to take a chance."

Several programs strike a subtle balance between familiar and unfamiliar.

Buffalo composer Persis Vehar's "City of Light" Clarinet Concerto will be performed next spring by BPO Principal Clarinetist John Fullam. That same evening, the St. Paul's Cathedral choristers will sing Carl Orff's tumultuous "Carmina Burana."

Falletta will speak from the stage during one concert. Next February, she'll guide the audience through Richard Strauss' "Don Quixote," featuring BPO cellist Roman Mekinulov.

The season continues the parade of glittering violinists we've seen in recent years.

Sarah Chang performs at the opening gala on Sept. 16, a program that features Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," Tchaikovsky's "Francesca da Rimini" and Respighi's triumphant "The Pines of Rome."

Elmar Oliveira, who has delighted BPO concertgoers in the past, is going to be back in June 2007 to play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.

Glamorous young Lara St. John arrives in April 2007. In a nice departure from well-worn repertoire, she'll be performing the colorful Violin Concerto by Aram Khachaturian, as well as a transcription of Liszt's devilish "Totentanz."

Robert McDuffie, the Georgia-born charmer who enthralled Buffalo audiences three years ago with Barber's Violin Concerto, will be back in October to play the Violin Concerto by Miklos Rosza. McDuffie's Telarc recording of this romantic piece, originally written for Jascha Heifetz, has earned a lot of praise and attention.

And 25-year-old violinist Karen Gomyo, while not yet a household name, is already enjoying a high-powered career. Gomyo, who performs on a 1736 Guarneri violin on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation, won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in 1997 at age 15. She'll be here in November to play Lalo's evocative "Symphonie espagnole."

As in the past few years, celebrated guest violinists tend to outnumber pianists. But Andre Watts isn't the only pianist to watch for next season.

Early next fall, Buffalo will get a chance to check out Italian-born pianist Benedetto Lupo, who has won medals in an impressive array of competitions over the years. Lupo will appear at the season's second concert, performing Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto.

Cecile Licad, the Philippine-born pianist who previously joined the BPO for Ravel's Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto, is coming back in October to play Brahms' beautiful Piano Concerto No. 1.

And acclaimed pianist and conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn, who is on the faculty of the Curtis Institute, is appearing in May. He'll play Mozart's lovely, rather seldom performed Piano Concerto No. 13.


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