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A Virginia import falls for Buffalo

Matthew Kraemer will never forget the first piece he conducted at Kleinhans Music Hall. It was Richard Strauss' romantic tone poem "Don Juan."

"Giving the downbeat, so much sound came out at me that it startled me," he laughs. "I wasn't used to that immediacy."

By Saturday, the 32-year-old Kraemer will have become more accustomed to Kleinhans' startling acoustics. He is the BPO's new associate conductor, a job he was encouraged to apply for by JoAnn Falletta.

The two have worked together for the past two years at the Virginia Symphony, where Kraemer has been the assistant conductor. And Falletta shrewdly noticed that inside of him was a Buffalonian struggling to get out.

"He told me from the beginning, 'I really want to live in Buffalo,' " she says. "He did a concert here. It just seemed like a good fit."

Kraemer admits that, even while working down South, he always carried a torch for our town. "I never threw away my ice scraper," he laughs.

One big reason Kraemer likes it here is that Buffalo is not far from Akron, Ohio, the hometown of his wife, Megan. But perhaps it goes deeper than that.

He has a down-to-earth background. He grew up in Indiana, where his father was in the business of manufacturing disc grinders and abrasives. One brother followed in the father's footsteps. But another brother also went into the arts too: Joseph Kraemer, the conductor mentions, currently heads up the production company of actors Martin and Charlie Sheen.

Like Buffalo, Kraemer strikes a balance between sophistication and grit. He is crazy about music -- the Czech composer Janacek is a special fixation -- but he also loves football and plans to get into hockey. "I hear this is a hockey town," he says.

Kraemer's musical odyssey began when he was in fifth grade when his older brother, Joseph, brought him home a violin and signed him up with private lessons. At 15, he was seriously bitten by the music bug.

"I started listening to the music I was playing," he says.

He found his future as a conductor in college at Butler University. "I was studying violin, but I wasn't sure I wanted to be a violinist. I was studying philosophy. I kind of fell into conducting."

In 2006, Kraemer received the Herbert von Karajan Conducting Fellowship and spent the summer with the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival, observing and conferring with conductors including Riccardo Muti, Nicholas Harnoncourt and Simon Rattle. Vistas opened up to him. "The last three Mozart symphonies, I always thought I knew them pretty well, but all of a sudden it was as if the music had been written yesterday," he says.

Kraemer will be conducting Classical, Pops and Family concerts, as well as education concerts and concerts out in the community. Like Young, he is anticipating that Buffalo will help him develop the skills he needs to navigate the modern musical world.

"It's not the same market as it was," he says. "To be an orchestra director requires me to wear many hats. You learn how to interact with a professional orchestra, how to engage. You learn from experience and trial and error. You learn to adapt."

"You'll never be everything. Who has everything? But it's all about constant study. There is so much room for self-improvement."

-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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