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Violinist, BPO make it a memorable night

Kleinhans Music Hall is alive this weekend with the kind of epic concert that few saw coming. Saturday night’s concert drew what looked like close to a full house, and the applause echoed into the night.

The soloist is Chloe Hanslip, a violinist in her late 20s. She is playing the crowd-pleasing Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, and she has her own way with it. To conclude the concert, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Music Director JoAnn Falletta conducts Brahms’ Symphony No. 2.

The concert starts with the world premiere of an attractive modern piece, the finale from “Due Sorelle” by Paul Gay, who was in attendance and took a bow at the end. “Due Sorelle” is a ballet inspired by a photos of mysterious sisters Gay glimpsed in a historic house in Boston, Mass.

You really don’t have to worry too much about the context. Just enjoy the music, which has a serene feel calling to mind the turn of the last century. The Philharmonic performed it with loving precision, and the colors sparkled. It does make you curious to hear, and see, the entire ballet. Whatever the rest of the piece is like, I admire the composer for writing music this lovely.

The Tchaikovsky concerto, in stark opposite to that first piece, is something many people know inside out. It’s not easy to put a new spin on this music, but I would say that Hanslip did.

Hanslip is a pretty and demure figure with her long gown and Victorian hairdo, but she takes a bold and individual approach. From the first notes sounded on that historic Guarneri violin, you knew she was a little different. She took command of the piece, giving it rubato and elan. The word “klezmer” came to mind more than once, as the concerto proceeded. Is that so bad to say? I like it when the classical and pop worlds cross.

The drama wasn’t all Hanslip’s doing. Tchaikovsky builds it into this concerto, and she knew enough to capitalize on it. She would play with whispery delicacy one minute, then dig into the instrument the next. It was admirable how Falletta and the Philharmonic followed her, giving her space to be herself. Watching the performance, you are drawn into her interactions between the musicians of the orchestra. One super-quiet interlude she shared with John Fullam, the orchestra’s principal clarinetist, can make you catch your breath.

The excitement built through the last movement. This is a whirl of a piece, and Hanslip was dazzling in the subtleties – the flashes of light and shadow, the lightning-fast triplets. There was tremendous excitement. The coda went over the edge, as you knew that it would. Falletta briefly went airborne. Hanslip wrapped up the piece with dash, and the full house thundered to its feet, applauding.

Everyone clapped and clapped and Hanslip returned three times, bowing gracefully, acknowledging Falletta and the orchestra. I was surprised there was no encore. Then again, how would you top that performance?

Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 was a good chaser. What a luminous symphony this is. It always seemed to me full of the feel of summer, and in January, it’s powerful therapy.

Falletta and the orchestra gave this music room the way they had given Hanslip room. It has to unfold as if on its own, and it did. It gives you good opportunities to appreciate the musicians’ gifts. The French horns play a central part in the pastoral feel, adding touches of color and light. The start of the slow movement spotlighted the glorious sound of our cellos.

The BPO paced the symphony nicely and the last movement built, as the Tchaikovsky had, to great excitement. This symphony can claim one of the great symphonic endings of all time, and you felt the power. Falletta went airborne again, bringing it home. The crowd loved it.

So much, in fact, that the BPO played an encore – the overture to Mikhail Glinka’s “Ruslan and Ludmila.”

What a memorable concert. It repeats Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in Kleinhans Music Hall.

email: mkunz@buffnews.com