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See a different side to Bill Murray in Kleinhans performance

Buffalo is about to see the soulful side of Bill Murray.

The comedian is coming to Kleinhans Music Hall on Oct. 11 with "New Worlds." It's a program he has put together with German cellist Jan Vogler, whom he met by chance on an airline flight. (See accompanying story.)

Joining them will be several other musicians, including violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez. The evening is all over the map. Murray will sing and read the words of Mark Twain, Walt Whitman and Ernest Hemingway. The music includes Franz Schubert, Maurice Ravel and Van Morrison.

It's not exactly the Bill Murray nobody knows. It is, however, a side of him that isn't usually seen on the big screen. And it takes guts for such a rough, roustabout comedian to show his sensitive side. JoAnn Falletta, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's music director, pointed that out.

The BPO is not playing for Murray's appearance. But his goals dovetail with what Falletta and the orchestra are always trying to do, which is to reach new people.

"It's exciting," Falletta said. "We've tried to experiment with innovation, especially innovation on a high level." She has watched clips on YouTube that show excerpts of Murray's performance, and she loved them. "You get a sense of his creativity."

JoAnn Falletta, music director of the BPO since 1999. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

For too long, people have mistakenly thought that classical music, and fine literature, can't be appreciated without years of arcane study. Decades ago, entertainers as Danny Kaye and Jack Benny made colorful efforts to debunk that myth.

Current entertainers have also gone to bat for classical music. Falletta cites Alec Baldwin, the radio host of the New York Philharmonic.

She also thinks of Sting and his enthusiasm for the music of Elizabethan lute master John Dowland.

Actor Bill Murray is a well-rounded celebrity.

"Sting became obsessed with John Dowland," she said. "He went around performing John Dowland's songs. I've always been a big John Dowland fan. I didn't know if I'd be shocked, but I loved it. It's his voice -- kind of gritty, it's him being himself. You can tell how he loves that music from a long time ago.

She reflected: "The fact that Sting likes that, or that Bill Murray likes Walt Whitman or Gershwin, that opens a window for people to say, 'I'm going to look into this.' "

The program that Murray designed with Vogler takes the audience in an array of different directions. He clowns by singing "I Feel Pretty," from Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story." But the night also includes the indescribably sublime Andante from Schubert's B Flat piano trio.

Murray, who has been known to break out in song when it suits him, sings a lot throughout the evening. In Stephen Foster's "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair," it's sweet to hear him bringing simple emotion to the brooding Victorian words: "Sighing like the night wind and sobbing like the rain/Waiting for the lost one that comes not again."

"He's not dumbing down anything. He's not apologizing for anything," Falletta said. "It's not a synopsis. It's not Cliff notes. It's the real thing."

Murray's unpretentious approach can make simple sentiments affecting.

Jan Vogler, asked by a TV interviewer to describe Murray's abilities on the concert stage, quoted a review that read, "Bill Murray is a great singer and also extremely entertaining." Vogler added, "I think that's well put."

How Bill Murray's 'New Worlds' came to be - and came to Buffalo

Responding to that praise, Murray was typically self-deprecating.

"People in the next hotel room know that I can sing," he said. " I take long, serious, committed showers and sing. I think people are surprised I have a voice left. Usually when you become powerful and muscular and mature, your voice is tired out. I get a lot of rest."

He is always himself. Asked why he sings "I Feel Pretty," he had a deadpan answer for his TV host.

"If you just say to yourself, I feel pretty, five times, something would happen to you. Try it. Just say to the camera, and say, 'I feel pretty.' Look at the camera and say it.' You got a problem with that?"

Bill Murray, sitting, and Jan Vogler are the two stars of "New Worlds." (Photo credit: Peter Rigaud)

Murray brings out both the warmth and the humor of Mark Twain when he reads an excerpt from "Huckleberry Finn," when Huck reflects about helping Jim, a slave, to freedom. When was the last time you had a story read to you? Maybe not since you were a child. This could resonate in something of the same way.

"Kleinhans is intimate," Falletta pointed out. "Bill Murray singing a Gershwin song with soft piano accompaniment, that could work in Kleinhans. Reading a poem, that will work."

She is excited by the possibilities.

"I know it happens in the concert hall," she said. "People come in, they may be harried, or worried, maybe there's something going on at work -- and at the end of that two hours, something has shifted, something has changed. That's what we long for. That's what we need in our lives."

"Maybe people who didn't know how powerful Walt Whitman was, or who didn't know the world of Schubert ... There might be someone in Bill's audience who hears that Schubert and says, 'This is magic. I have to listen to more of his music. I want to listen to his songs. I want to hear his string quartets.'

"It's a beautiful thing, and I think Bill is going to take people on that journey."

What about Murray himself? How does he think his show will go over?

It's tough to tell, so we'll just have to go with what he told Vanity Fair, when the magazine quizzed him about "New Worlds."

"I've never bombed," he said.


Bill Murray and Jan Vogler in "New Worlds"

8 p.m. Oct. 11 in Kleinhans Music Hall. Tickets are $59 to $99 (box office, Call 885-5000.



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