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Outstanding young talent takes it 'From the Top' with Philharmonic

Excuse the paraphrase but --

I went to a Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concert the other afternoon and a radio show broke out.

National Public Radio's "From the Top," a program showcasing some of the finest young classical musicians in the country, came to Artpark on Sunday afternoon and recorded a show with conductor JoAnn Falletta, the BPO and some talented youngsters.

The whole process of meshing professional musicians, amateur musicians and radio show personnel went off pretty smoothly, with the audience in attendance getting the immediate benefit, since the broadcast itself won't hit the airwaves here (on WNED-FM) until Oct. 13.

Christopher O'Riley, the show's host and a formidable pianist in his own right, made the featured artists feel comfortable at the microphone as he asked them questions about their musical life and some of the occasional escapades (a routine inter-orchestra bit of flirtation caught on a Jumbotron was one of them) that they may have been involved in. The end result seemed geared toward making an audience realize that no matter how preternaturally skilled some of these kids appeared to be, they were still kids.

Falletta and O'Riley were a pretty decent tag-team, with O'Riley talking to the young performers before guiding them over toward Falletta's podium, where they joined the orchestra in a concerto movement prior to being handed back to O'Riley for an exit interview.

Williamsville South graduate Alexander Boissonault performed an excerpt from Henryk Wieniawski's devilishly difficult second violin concerto and carried it off quite well. The intonation was spot on, and he navigated the thickets of notes with considerable aplomb.

The other string player on the program, the marvelous 11-year-old cellist Sarina Zhang, played the final movement from Franz Joseph Haydn's C major concerto. She later engaged in a bit of fun with O'Riley, who accompanied her for the first 16 bars of David Popper's "Hungarian Rhapsody" before giving up the piano bench to Zhang (who hurried the host off his perch with a "Get out of the way!" as she slid into place), while the orchestra's principal cellist, Roman Mekinulov, slipped into the remaining cello parts in the score.

Pianist Stephanie Chen joined O'Riley in a performance of the lovely second movement from Francis Poulenc's Concerto in D minor for Two Pianos and Orchestra, a piece that showed off not only Chen's considerable chops but those of the orchestra's string section as well.

The last of the young soloists was bassoonist Noah Brown, whose work in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's sole concerto for the instrument was a marvel of breath control and clean articulation. During his interview he also ended up reciting an amusing self-penned rap in French.

Works by Hector Berlioz (the "Roman Carnival" Overture), Aaron Copland ("Hoedown" from "Rodeo") and Bedrich Smetana ("Bartered Bride" Overture) were played by the BPO in segments that won't make the broadcast later, acting more as filler during what might normally be considered time for the station to ID itself and toss in a few announcements. The Smetana performance was particularly bracing and almost worth the price of admission itself.

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Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

"From the Top" featuring Christopher O'Riley on Sunday in Artpark Mainstage Theater.

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