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Brickman brings his winning tunes out of the background

You might not know the name Jim Brickman, but it’s guaranteed you know his work. From hit songs to soothing background ambience, the award-winning pop pianist’s work is omnipresent. Saturday night, he brought some of that oeuvre to Buffalo in an inspiring collaboration with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

As you listen to Brickman’s romantic, deceptively simple piano playing, you’re struck with the sense that you’ve heard this song before, that you’ve hummed this tune sometime in the past. His instrumentals are the melodies that stick on the edge of your consciousness and on the tip of your tongue. It’s that sort of unassuming music that has made Brickman such a success.

His pieces don’t demand the spotlight – they supplement it. They remind you of the soundtrack to every movie you’ve ever watched, or even the soundtrack to your own life, and there is a reason for that – they usually are. As Brickman mentioned lightheartedly several times, his songs are the ones on in the background at massage parlors, waiting rooms and bubble baths. He wrote several pieces used in the Olympics, including one called “Freedom” and another, “One Dream,” which he co-wrote with Donny Osmond. He knows how to frame a moment or a feeling, and that skill was on full display in Kleinhan’s Music Hall.

“If you’re lucky enough to have hits, you should play them,” Brickman announced at the beginning of his show, and play them he did. With the help of collaborators Anne Cochran, Tracy Silverman and newcomer Luke McMaster, the jokingly self-proclaimed “romantic piano sensation” made his way through his most popular and well-known products, such as “The Gift,” “Love of My Life,” “Good Morning Beautiful” and “Valentine.” Cochran and McMaster handled the songs beautifully, their strong voices showcasing the notes without overpowering them.

Silverman’s electric violin proved one of the most exciting additions to the show, adding a spark of energy to whatever song it appeared in. He played the six-string instrument with precision and mastery, somehow evoking the best parts of both the violin and the electric guitar. In “Serenade,” he exploded with a fun, energetic solo that sounded like it was coming from the stage of a rock concert. It injected some real edge into what would have otherwise been a standard romantic tune.

And, of course, the biggest collaborator of all was the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Raffaele Ponti. The orchestra’s musicians were the ultimate accompaniment, accentuating each song’s moods, nuances and sounds. The sound was superb, as was the playing, but it never overwhelmed the piano in the center of the stage, or the notes engineered by Brickman’s fingers. The orchestra pleased the eye, as well. Watching the string section move in unison was a joy, given all the more magic and gravitas by the gorgeous music the movements produced.

Brickman and his guests were attired in an easy camaraderie that was fun to watch. He and Cochran have known and worked with each other since high school, and they both attended the Cleveland Institute of Music, as did Ponti. McMaster had just met the main act a few years ago, but he fit right in with the banter and joking onstage. And for all his talent, Brickman was self-effacing and funny onstage, never missing an opportunity to poke fun at himself and earn an appreciative laugh from the audience.

Despite performing in Buffalo many times previously, Brickman had never played with the BPO. Hopefully – and based on the night’s relaxing and enjoyable show – it won’t be the last time.