A powerhouse is in town, and his name is Antoni Wit. Wit, here to conduct the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra this weekend, is the kind of rare being not seen so frequently in the United States these days. He is the white-haired, male, Old World maestro.
Wit is the music director of the Warsaw Philharmonic in Poland. Even without inside information, you can tell he is something unusual around here. Ten minutes before show time, the stage of Kleinhans Music Hall was crowded with musicians frantically practicing.
Tchaikovsky's smoldering, ever-popular "Romeo and Juliet" starts out the program. Right away, you felt tension -- the great Russian strains that begin the piece, the heartfelt cellos.
This was a no-nonsense night. Everyone was in sharp, brassy sync. The main theme never shone as much on the violas as it did Saturday in Kleinhans Music Hall.
From the Tchaikovsky we went to Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 4. The BPO's principal horn player, Jacek Muzyk, was soloist. Muzyk is something of a maverick, and it was strange, this juxtaposition of two forceful Polish personalities, the conductor and the soloist. But they worked together well.
The concerto -- so beautiful, so temperate -- brought them together. There was something moving in Muzyk's restrained lyricism, in the way he bowed to Mozart's wishes. Muzyk has recorded all four Mozart horn concertos for Naxos, and by now, the music is part of him. In the Andante, he seemed almost to be slipping into a trance, swaying gently to the music. The orchestra, accompanying him, was crisp and alert.
Wit, who does things his way, pulled a fast one at intermission. He decided to take Wojciech Kilar's 10-minute "Orawa," which was to have begun the concert's second half, and play it now, not later. A good part of the audience had already exited the hall. They piled back in -- in some cases, drinks in hand. It only added to the excitement.
This was a wonderful little piece. Kilar is a film composer -- he wrote music for "The Truman Show" and "Bram Stoker's Dracula," among others -- and this tour de force for strings captivated from the word go. It was breathless and chiseled, full of sharp syncopations. Technically breathtaking, it built and built to its unusual, witty ending. The audience cheered.
After a much-needed rest, the orchestra returned for Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1. As in the first half, the orchestra never sounded better.
Actually, it sounded as if they loved it. The sparkly Scherzo packed tremendous punch, with Claudia Hoca doing a witty job of the piano part.
Matthew Bassett, our timpanist, distinguished himself well under what had to be tremendous pressure, playing his prominent solo.
Concertmaster Michael Ludwig outdid himself, which is saying quite a bit, and Principal Cellist Roman Mekinulov responded in kind, throwing himself into the music.
The orchestra as a whole was poised and tight and, along with Wit, one with this volatile music. Crescendos came out of nowhere and shook the hall. Wit not only has a fine sense of purpose and direction, he knows how to get what he wants from the orchestra. It was a wonderful experience all around.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
With conductor Antoni Wit. Part of the Classics Series. Saturday evening and 2:30 p.m. today in Kleinhans Music Hall. Call 885-5000.