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Classical high notes; From the BPO to opera and pops concerts, it was a year of many notable performances

Looking back on a year of classical music in Buffalo, it's tough to note the high points -- for the simple reason that so much is so good.

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, faced with an unrelentingly bad economy, has chalked up another year of successes. JoAnn Falletta signed a new five-year contract. And, under her leadership, the BPO continued to demonstrate creativity in learning to do more with less.

We splurged on Lang Lang and that was a night to remember. I looked up what I wrote: "To watch Lang Lang's hands scamper and crash from one end of the keyboard to another, at top speed -- it was fun, let's admit it."

But even soloists who were not household names proved superb. Italian pianist Fabio Bidini gave a festive and passionate performance of the mighty Rachmaninoff Third the night of the season-opening gala. California pianist Robert Thies played Mozart's romantic D Minor Concerto at Artpark.

And in January, pinch-hitting for the ill Lang Lang, Joyce Yang triumphed. Young Yang returned in the fall for a fine recital on the Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series.

*The BPO showcased its own, to great effect. BPO Concertmaster Michael Ludwig gave a blazing performance of the Wieniawski Second -- now released on the BPO's private label, on a disc titled "Polish Masterworks." Jacek Muzyk, principal horn player, played Mozart in a tremendous concert conducted by powerhouse Polish conductor Antoni Wit.

Guitarist Jason Vieaux, local boy made good, returned in December to join the BPO for Vivaldi, breathtakingly subtle.

Warhorses can be a joy. The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus tackled "Carmina Burana" to open the BPO's 2011-12 Classics Season, and it was sold out, and a blast. Also "Beethoven at the Harbor" was fun, just fun.

*Falletta led a moving premiere of Marcel Tyberg's Symphony No. 2, continuing the BPO's exploration of the music of this gifted composer whose life was cut short by the Holocaust.

*An exploration of the music of William Grant Still by Buffalo's Tim Kennedy and a contingent of instrumentalists and singers at the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts was an admirable achievement. The afternoon culminated in the ballet "Sahdji," in a groundbreaking performance with Futurpointe Dance of Rochester.

*I will cherish the memory of hearing the Harmonia Chamber Singers performing at two Tridentine Masses, one in the spring at St. Louis Church that featured Palestrina's "Pope Marcellus Mass" and the recent "Rorate Mass" at St. Ann's Church. The reformation of Catholic Church music and liturgy is a fascinating saga. Could the revolution be reaching Buffalo?

*Nickel City Opera's performance of Puccini's "Il Tabarro" on the USS The Sullivans had its glitches -- the people in the back of the audience had trouble hearing -- but the artistic quality was high and the creativity irresistible. Verdi's "Il Trovatore" at the Riviera Theatre was also a success, and so was Gian Carlo Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors," which with luck will turn into a tradition.

Waxing nostalgic at year's end, I found myself thinking how the year in pops concerts, and other jazz and pop events, had bittersweet moments. Moments that gave you the idea you were seeing history.

The night that "Duke" Fakir, the last of the original Four Tops, stood on the Kleinhans stage remembering his old bandmates. Country star Kenny Rogers, now an old showman, serenading Kleinhans with his hits -- that was emotional.

And 77-year-old Houston Person, at the Pine Grill Reunion with his beat-up sax, playing "The Way We Were."

I wonder what the next year will bring.


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