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Musical journey; BPO to premiere Second Symphony by Holocaust victim

This weekend's Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concert juxtaposes the wildly popular with the mysterious and unknown.

On the popular side, Christopher O'Riley -- the host of the radio show "From the Top" -- will be playing Grieg's Piano Concerto. One of the best-known concertos of all time, it has popped up in all kinds of movies and TV shows including "The X-Files," "Twin Peaks" and "Beauty and the Beast."

On the mysterious side, the Kleinhans Music Hall audience will also be hearing the premiere of the romantic Second Symphony of Marcel Tyberg.

Tyberg's story is one of those peculiar tragedies that came out of World War II. A devout Catholic, Tyberg had Jewish ancestry and died in Auschwitz. For decades, it looked as if his music would be forgotten.

Now, Buffalo is the center of a Tyberg renaissance. It began with Enrico Mihich, a Buffalo physician who as a boy in Northern Italy had known Tyberg. He had inherited Tyberg's music and had tried for years to interest the BPO in performing it.

When he showed the worn scores to JoAnn Falletta, the BPO's music director, she was struck by the music's beauty and scope. With invaluable help from the Fund for Jewish Philanthropies, which financed performances and professional copying services, the BPO began exploring Tyberg's music.

Last year, the BPO performed the Third Symphony, and recorded it for the Naxos label. The Second Symphony, which was performed before the war by the Czech Philharmonic and conductor Rafael Kubelik, continues the strange journey.

"Tyberg created a music that was very original and very heartfelt," Falletta says. "His whole life was rather individual."

Tyberg wrote dance music to make a living. When it came to his symphonies, he was resolutely noncommercial. He did not want to compromise their quality for public performance, and the music's 19th century tone was defiantly out of step with the revolutionary, increasingly abstract music of the time.

"There's a need for revolutionary music, but also a need for people who bring a fresh perspective to the prevailing artistic ethos, who expand the musical landscape rather than rejecting it. That's what Tyberg does," Falletta says.

The BPO performed the Third Symphony first. Falletta says she thought that was what Tyberg would have wanted. "It would have been closest to his heart at the time he died."

She is timing the performance of the Second to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is Sunday. It was for Tyberg's sake that she visited Auschwitz.

"There was a little bandstand, right under the sign that reads 'Arbeit Macht Frei,' and I thought, that was where he would have been," she recalls. "It was the job for prisoners to play a march in the morning and evening as prisoners went out and came back.

"I sat there and thought, this was the last music that he heard. That was his last musical experience."

Falletta recalls the Third Symphony as a great challenge, a plunge into the unknown. The Second Symphony is a different adventure.

"To me it really shows the person he most adored was Bruckner," Falletta says. "It has a very Brucknerlike quality, a very organlike quality. You could tell that Tyberg was a wonderful organist. The symphony shows his love of the organ and love of Bruckner.

"It also shows his love for earlier music like Schubert. And the last movement actually has a reminiscence of Bach. There is a prelude and fugue in the last movement. Many of the Germans at the time looked backward. Brahms did it with his Fourth Symphony."

Buffalo's exploration of Tyberg is having a ripple effect. In December, the Phoenix Symphony performed two movements he wrote to complete Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony. It was conducted by the orchestra's music director, Michael Christie, who is from our area.

Christie, like Falletta, recognizes Tyberg's unique genius.

"What listeners will hear is a sublime and remarkable composition that is modeled with utter perfection on Schubert's symphonic style at the time," he wrote on his website, www.michaelchristieonline.com. Christie, who will be conducting the music this summer at the Colorado Music Festival, added, "I think this is a keeper."

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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PREVIEW    

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra    

WHAT: Classics concert featuring pianist Christopher O'Riley and Marcel Tyberg's Symphony No. 2    

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday    

WHERE: Kleinhans Music Hall    

TICKETS: $25 and up    

INFO: 885-5000    

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