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Pop, opera stars add sparkle to Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra season

Two voices dominate the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's 2018-2019 season. And here's a hint. Both got a boost from the Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions.

On second thought, don't try to guess. Just enjoy the surprise.

The pops series features Tony Award-winning actress and singer Kristen Chenoweth who will appear on April 6, 2019. Chenoweth's many accolades include a special mention at the Met auditions when she was in her early 20s. The judges deemed her "most promising up-and-coming singer."

The classics season opens with what, for opera lovers, is equal pizzazz. For the season opening gala, Sept. 15, Kleinhans Music Hall welcomes the great baritone Thomas Hampson. The handsome, debonair Hampson was a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1981. He went on to a world-class career, appearing on the world's most prestigious opera stages alongside Renee Fleming and other stars.

Thomas Hampson is a featured name in the BPO's just-announced season. (Photo: Jiyang Chen)

Hampson appeared in Kleinhans years ago on the old QRS concert series, ending his performance with a raucous Erie Canal song, but he has never sung with the BPO. BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta and Executive Director Dan Hart are rejoicing over his debut here.

"That's always been a dream of mine and Dan's, too," Falletta said. "This man this man is a legend whom we have not had here. He's very excited about coming. He's lovely on the phone, so excited, so completely willing to talk about things, what he's interested in, what he enjoys doing now. He's a great actor as well as a great singer. He draws you into this magical world. I think people are going to fall in love with him."

Coincidentally or not, the season sparkles with other vocal pyrotechnics.

The Classics season closes in June 2019 with a semi-stage version of Bizet's "Carmen," one of the most popular operas of all time. It will be augmented by light-mapping, a technique that splashes light in patterns that create a scene.

"The tavern scene, the bullfight -- now that we have Kleinhans light-mapped, we can project scenery on the stage," Falletta said. "I'm really excited about that."

A different kind of passion appears mid-season, in spring 2019. That is a pioneering performance of "The Passion of Yeshua" by contemporary composer Richard Danielpour. The BPO will recording the work for Naxos.

Falletta describes Danielpour's work as in the tradition of Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" and "St. John Passion," but with a different slant.

"He wants to make the link between the fact that Jesus was Jewish and his family was Jewish, and the connections that come from that," she said. "I think it's a great project for a city in Buffalo, where people are  so aware of religion and spirituality and aware of different backgrounds. It's who we are."

Along the way, the season branches out in a number of directions.

"I think our goal is always to mix it up and try new concert formats, to look at the season in a different way, to shake it up for people," said Hart.

He points to a concert featuring a concerto for rock band, violin and string orchestra, written by Michael Mills of R.E.M. The concerto features concert violinist Robert McDuffie, a friend of Falletta's and a sought-after soloist.

"We always try to do one out-there concerto that's not typical," Falletta said.

Robert McDuffie, right, is another key figure in the BPO's season. (via BPO)

A Chinese New Year concert will involve the University at Buffalo's Confucius Institute, and a concert including a Paderewski concerto honors Poland's 100th anniversary.

"We're trying to connect with a different part of the community," Hart said.

Kristin Chenoweth is one of the big names coming to the BPO season. (via BPO)

Featuring up-and-coming artists is a longstanding tradition at Kleinhans, going back at least to the 1950s, when the BPO booked pianist Van Cliburn before he was a star.

"The next season shows a real commitment to young artists," Hart said. "I think what we found is there's a level of excitement that they bring. People can expect to follow them in their careers. There's something like four rising stars, right in a row."

Other more established soloists who have been a hit at the BPO will be making encore appearances including violinist Sarah Chang and pianist Fabio Bidini.

The pops series is, for many, the icing on the cake. Chenoweth might be the greatest draw, but she is far from the only one.

Among the highlights are appearances by the Hot Sardines, a cool swing jazz group, and singer Ann Hampton Calloway, presenting a tribute to Linda Ronstadt.

Melinda Doolittle, of "American Idol" fame, will be singing the Great American Soulbook.


Here is the rundown of the BPO's 2018-2019 classics and pops seasons. All concerts are in Kleinhans Music Hall. Visit or call 885-5000.


8 p.m. Sept. 15: Baritone Thomas Hampson stars in the BPO's opening gala,which culminates in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

8 p.m. Sept. 29 and 2:30 p.m. Sept. 30: Pianist Hye-Jin Kim plays Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1. Also, George Tsontakis' "May the River Be Unbroken," and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5.

10:30 a.m. Oct. 12 and 8 p.m. Oct. 13: Violinist Paul Huang is soloist in Barber's Violin Concerto. Also, "Dark Mountains" by Robert Paterson, and Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 3.

8 p.m. Oct. 27 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 28: Piotr Sulkowski conducts a tribute to Poland: Nowowiejski's "Praetorian March" from "Quo Vadis"; Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 3, "Polish"; and Paderewski's Piano Concerto, with soloist Lukasz Krupinski.

8 p.m. Nov. 10 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 11: Hans Graf conducts Dvorak's "Carnival Overture" and Symphony No. 6, plus Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 1, with soloist Francisco Fullana.

10:30 a.m. Nov. 16 and 8 p.m. Nov. 17: Robert McDuffie is the violin soloist in Mike Mills' Concerto for Rock Band, Violin, and String Orchestra. Also, "Fanfare for an Uncommon Woman" and "Tambor," both by Joan Tower, and Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."

8 p.m. Dec. 1 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 2: Rossen Milanov conducts Schubert's Symphony No. 9, "the Great," and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3, with soloist Sara Buechner.

10:30 a.m. Dec. 7 and 8 p.m. Dec. 8: JoAnn's Classical Christmas.

8 p.m. Jan. 26 and 2:30 p.m. Jan. 27, 2019: An all-Mozart program features the Overture to "The Impresario"; the Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon; and the Symphony No. 40.

8 p.m. Feb. 2 and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 3, 2019: Ken Lam conducts a program that celebrates Chinese New Year: Li Yuan's "Train Toccata"; the "Butterfly Lovers Concerto"; and Stravinsky's "Song of a Nightingale." Erhu virtuoso Xu Ke is soloist.

10:30 a.m. Feb. 15 and 8 p.m. Feb. 16, 2019: Scriabin's "Poem of Ecstasy"; Holst's "The Planets."

8 p.m. March 2 and 2:30 p.m. March 3, 2019: Sarah Chang is the soloist in Brahms' Violin Concerto. Also, "Musique sur l'Eau" and "La Tragedie of Salome," both by Florenz Schmitt.

10:30 a.m. March 8 and 8 p.m. March 9, 2019: Leon Botstein conducts Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony; Schumann's Symphony No. 2, and Copland's Clarinet Concerto, with soloist Anthony McGill.

Anthony McGill, left, courtesy of David Fenlayson, and Sarah Chang, courtesy of Colin Bell and EMI Classics, will both shine in March.

8 p.m. March 23 and 2:30 p.m. March 24, 2019: Fabio Bidini is the soloist in Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2. Also, the Overture to Borodin's "Prince Igor," and music from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet."

8 p.m. April 13 and 2:30 p.m. April 14, 2019: The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and soprano Hila Plitmann are featured in Richard Danielpour's "The Passion of Yeshua."

10:30 a.m. April 26 and 8 p.m. April 27, 2019: Charles Olivieri-Munroe conducts Dvorak's "A Hero's Song"; Smetana's "From My Life"; and the Khachaturian Piano Concerto, featuring Tanya Gabrielian.

8 p.m. May 11; 2:30 p.m. May 12: Violinist Dennis Kim is the soloist in the Violin Concerto of Sheridan Seyfried. Also, Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony.

8 p.m. June 1; 2:30 p.m. June 2: Bizet's "Carmen" in concert.


Melinda Doolittle is also on the BPO schedule. (via BPO)

Sept. 22: John Morris Russell conducts a Gershwin extravaganza, including the "I Got Rhythm" Variations and orchestral selections from "Porgy and Bess."

Oct. 6: Melinda Doolittle, of "American Idol" fame, sings the Great American Soulbook.

Oct. 19, 20: "Hello Broadway" celebrates the songs of Jerry Herman, whose musicals included "Hello Dolly" and "Mame."

Nov. 2, 3: Ann Hampton Calloway performs the songs sung by Linda Ronstadt.

Nov. 24: Russell presents "Superheroes," a treat for the whole family on Thanksgiving weekend.

Dec. 13-16: John Morris Russell's Holiday Pops.

Feb. 9, 2019: The Hot Sardines arrive for a tribute to the Roaring Twenties.

Feb. 23, 2019: Michael Cavanaugh, star of Broadway's Billy Joel show "Movin' Out," performs songs of Billy Joel, Elton John and other rock piano men.

March 15 and 16, 2019: "The World of Oz" covers a world of "Oz" music, from Harold Arlen to "Wicked" and "The Wiz."

April 6, 2019: Actress and singer Kristen Chenoweth makes her BPO debut.

May 4, 2019: Stuart Chafetz conducts the music of "Star Wars."

May 24 and 25, 2019: Russell conducts "An American Salute."


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