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Bach piece tugs at heartstrings for ex-BPO concertmaster Ludwig

He’s back – with Bach.

And with a bride.

Michael Ludwig, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s former concertmaster, is coming back to town to perform a free concert on April 1 with the Western New York Chamber Orchestra. Joining him will be his new wife, Rachael, who is also a violinist.

The Ludwigs will be performing Bach’s sublime Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043. They will also be soloists in the Concerto for String Quartet and String Orchestra by Glen Cortese, the director of the Western New York Chamber Orchestra. The evening also features the SUNY Fredonia Women’s Choir in the Missa Sancti Aloysii (St. Aloysius Mass), by Michael Haydn, Josef Haydn’s brother.

The Bach concerto, known for its sensuous melodies, is one of the masterpieces of the violin repertoire. Ludwig grew emotional discussing the piece. He explained that he grew up playing it with his late father, Irving Ludwig, a violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

“I had played it with my dad since I was 10,” he said. “Over the years, it was sort of like a signature piece for us. We would play it very often, always at home, in the living room, with various pianists. We would play it for family and friends for special occasions. I never performed it with an orchestra or with anyone else. And in fact, there was one possibility I was going to perform it in Buffalo, and I declined, because it was such a sentimental and meaningful piece for me.”

He never thought of playing the piece with anyone else. But the stage was set for change when he met Rachael – then Rachael Mathey – in the summer of 2007 in Breckenridge, Colo. Ludwig and BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta had flown there to perform with the National Repertory Orchestra. Rachael was one of the orchestra’s first violinists.

Laughing on the phone, Rachael took up the story.

“When I first saw him, I thought he was the most handsome man I had ever seen,” she confessed. “He walked out on stage, and the sun was hitting him a particular way – my eyes just popped. With his boyish charm, and of course, his violin playing, I really wanted to meet him, to get to know him.”

They were long-distance friends for a few years before going on their first date.

“Then Rachael moved to Philadelphia, and the rest is history,” Michael Ludwig said, laughing.

They were married at intermission at a Philly Pops Sinatra celebration in October 2015. Ludwig is the concertmaster of the Philly Pops, and Rachael is in the first violin section. Michael Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia, heard their vows. Afterward, as the orchestra played Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, the couple were applauded by an audience of 2,000.

Whose idea was that spectacular wedding?

“I may have started the ball rolling there,” Michael Ludwig admitted – a surprising revelation, considering that his public persona has always been on the shy side. “We wanted to do something unique and meaningful to us,” he added. “We were touched to be sharing the moment with our family and friends. And sharing it with a Sinatra celebration was icing on the cake, because we’re big Sinatra fans.”

The couple now live in Cherry Hill, N.J., near Philadelphia. Ludwig is continuing to perform as a soloist. Several of his solo turns in the past year, including performances with Orchestra Now and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, have been with Falletta.

And as for the beautiful Bach double concerto, the husband-and-wife violinists now co-own it.

They played it together for the first time at a Philadelphia Youth Orchestra gala.

“That was the first time I played the piece with an orchestra, or with anyone else other than my father,” Michael Ludwig reflected. “Now to play it with my wife, it’s a very special experience.”

A subsequent performance with the Roxborough Orchestra in Philadelphia meant a lot for other reasons. Michael is the orchestra’s new music director, and Rachael was recently named general manager. Increasingly, Michael Ludwig is pursuing conducting. He is currently one of four finalists for the position of music director with another Philadelphia-area orchestra, the Delaware County Symphony.

The Ludwigs can’t wait to perform the Bach in Buffalo. They are also enthusiastic about the Cortese concerto. The piece was commissioned by the American String Quartet, who gave the premiere performances.

“It’s very silky,” Michael Ludwig said. “It has really wonderful harmonies.”

“You get a very wide-open sense when you’re listening to the music,” Rachael added. “It’s very calming, very beautiful.”

The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. April 1 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 724 Delaware Ave. Admission is free.

A second performance takes place at 4 p.m. April 3 in King Concert Hall on the campus of SUNY Fredonia. The second concert is free for students, and adult tickets are $22. For tickets to the Fredonia concert, call 673-3501.

For info on the Western New York Chamber Orchestra, call 673-3463.

email: mkunz@buffnews.com

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