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BPO emotions run high as Carnegie Hall beckons

A week from today at Kleinhans Music Hall, half an hour before the 8 p.m. concert, people will raise their glasses in a champagne toast – to Carnegie Hall!

“It’s emotional, getting ready for this big day,” said JoAnn Falletta, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director.

The final countdown has begun. The Carnegie Hall concert – part of the hall’s annual Spring For Music Festival – is May 8. The BPO is doing a run-through Friday and next Saturday at Kleinhans, in a program called “Carnegie Preview.”

Even though the BPO has played Carnegie Hall many times over the decades, most recently in 2004, there is still magic in the fabled venue.

“You’re always excited because of the wonderful music making that’s taking place there, individual musicians that have performed there, because of the magic,” said BPO saxophonist and bass clarinetist Sal Andolina. “In sports terms, it’s like being in the Super Bowl. It’s the pinnacle.”

Andolina knows. Not only did he play with the BPO at Carnegie in the orchestra’s last appearance there, but more recently he also took a solo turn in the Carnegie Hall spotlight. The gig came about thanks to the late Marvin Hamlisch, former BPO pops conductor. Hamlisch liked a solo Andolina played at Kleinhans and asked him to join him at Carnegie Hall. Hiding his shock, Andolina agreed.

Secretly, he was so awed that he found a photo of Carnegie Hall as seen from the stage, downloaded it and displayed it on his computer screen.

“It was a beautiful still photo taken from the stage out over the entire landscape of Carnegie Hall,” he recalled. “You see the three tiers, the beautiful balconies, the white railings on the balconies, and the glowing red seats.”

He practiced with that picture before him. And still, he had butterflies as he took the stage to play Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing.”

“For me, that Benny stood on that stage and played that number … that’s 10 on the goose bump meter,” he said.

On May 8, there will be a lot of goose bumps all around.

New York’s venerable classic music station WQXR will be broadcasting the concert live and streaming it live online, so you don’t have to travel to Manhattan to hear the performance.

But many will. Ticket sales have broken records. The record of hometown ticket buyers, previously held by Toledo, was shattered several weeks ago. Of the 1,808 tickets sold so far, 1,500 were bought by Western New Yorkers.

Falletta said she thrives on the excitement.

“The whole reason for Spring For Music is not to play it safe,” she explained. “To do something you never thought you could do before.”

‘I hope they’ll all fit’

Most orchestras never tackle Gliere’s Third Symphony because it’s long. Most previous performances have been abridged versions, including one by Leopold Stokowski. Then there are its personnel demands. Next weekend at Kleinhans, the BPO will be joined by a lot of additional musicians.

“I hope they’ll all fit,” Falletta worried.

One of the musicians is her own husband, Robert Alemany. He is an accomplished clarinetist, and they have played and recorded together. “The symphony has an extra clarinet part,” Falletta said.

So rare are performances of the symphony that the worldwide Gliere community is on the alert. A few days ago, Falletta was amazed to receive an email from one of the composer’s relatives in Russia, Kirill Novosselsky. He wrote: “Please send our greeting to Maestro Falletta on behalf of the entire Gliere family in Russia, Europe and America.” He also asked if photos and recordings could be sent overseas for the Reinhold Gliere Museum.

“And he asked if it was OK if he wrote a letter to the musicians, wishing them good luck,” Falletta laughed. “It shows you how one concert has so many ripples.”

One Gliere cousin, soprano Jennifer Gliere, lives in New York. “She has been charged with getting a signed poster for the museum,” Falletta said.

Jennifer Gliere’s attendance at the concert is, alas, iffy. In a message to The News, she lamented that she is locked into a rehearsal for Bach’s B Minor Mass.

“However, I am definitely planning to come to the dress rehearsal, if there is one, to speak with Maestra Falletta and meet some of the members of the orchestra,” she wrote.

Such a meeting might take advance planning. Events surrounding the BPO’s concert abound, from a party at the Russian Tea Room to a reception in the studios of CNN.

So crowded is the schedule surrounding the concert that even the organizers can get confused. At one meeting, a BPO staffer laughed, staff gathered to survey a long list of parties and events – only to realize they had neglected to include the concert itself.

The whistle monster

Most of the BPO musicians are flying together to New York, on JetBlue. Cellos are strapped into their own seats. Percussion and double basses, instruments too big to fit in a seat, travel by truck.

Jennifer Gliere is in luck: There is a rehearsal on Wednesday afternoon. The orchestra will be like a sports team warming up.

“It’s difficult in terms of endurance,” said Michael Ludwig, the BPO’s concertmaster. “It just goes on and on.”

Anna Mattix, who plays oboe and French horn, confessed that she is terrified by the Whistle Monster. That is a character in Gliere’s fanciful story, based on Russian myth, portrayed by the woodwinds.

“It’s extremely difficult. Extremely technical,” she said. “I’m terrified! I’ve practiced it for hours.”

The musicians revel in the piece’s atmosphere, which should shine in the acoustics of both Kleinhans and Carnegie Hall.

“It’s this great masterpiece,” Falletta said. “There’s something about summing up the soul of Russia in this piece which sounds very moving, through the eyes of a 20th century person looking back on Russia. It’s the story of this hero who gets drunk on his own victory and challenges God, and that’s doomed to failure. At the end, Gliere wrote in the score, ‘From that day, the great warriors have disappeared from Mother Russia, never to be seen again.’ ”

The symphony begins and ends with what Falletta describes as “the solemn, quiet landscape of Russia.” As the romantic music surges, the BPO musicians will add their own individual emotions.

Mattix has never been inside Carnegie Hall. Her parents, though, went there together frequently. One of their first dates took place there, with her dad on stage and her mother in the audience.

Her father died last year, but her mother will be in the audience. “She’s so thrilled!” Mattix said.

Ludwig, as he walks from the wings in his tails, will be thinking of his late father, longtime Philadelphia Orchestra violinist Irving Ludwig. “Dad played there countless times with the Philadelphia Orchestra over the years,” he says. “I have memories of roaming backstage, being out in audience for performances.”

Ludwig was 10 when he met Isaac Stern, who led the fight to save Carnegie Hall in 1960, when the hall’s future was in jeopardy.

“He was a dynamic guy,” Ludwig said. “His history is so inextricably linked to that hall.” He pauses. “I’ll have many memories.”

He will be making new memories, too.

It is a Spring For Music tradition that hometown fans wave scarves of a special color and design. The BPO’s bandanna is green – a thanks to M&T Bank, a major sponsor. Squinting into the stage lights, the musicians will see thousands of green scarves fluttering.

“We’re not bringing just the Buffalo Philharmonic to New York,” Falletta says. “We’re bringing Buffalo.”