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BPO's trip to Poland wouldn't be complete without Fish & Wildlife Service inspection

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, embarking on its first overseas tour in 30 years, is looking forward to pleasing the people of Poland.

But first, the orchestra will have to please the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

The world has changed since 1988, when the BPO last crossed the ocean, bound for Austria and Switzerland. For example, new rules monitor materials that often make up musical instruments. That is where the national Fish and Wildlife Service comes in.

"If you are traveling with a musical instrument that contains Brazilian rosewood, elephant ivory, tortoiseshell, or another protected species, you will need to obtain proper legal documentation before crossing international borders," the agency advises on its website, in a lengthy rundown headlined "Traveling Across International Borders With Your Musical Instrument."

On March 15, the day the BPO flies to Europe, Fish and Wildlife folks will be waiting at JFK Airport to inspect the orchestra's instruments. Already, the musicians have had to file applications, including photographs and documentation.

At the airport, the Fish and Wildlife inspectors may request to see any instruments they wish. Trunks will be marked so things can be easily found. Bows are a particular risk because some may contain ivory. While African ivory is permitted, as the BPO understands it, Asian ivory is problematic. Some musicians may choose to bring a less valuable bow, or an older one.

Once on the plane, the entire orchestra will surely breathe a sigh of relief.

In Poland, Music Director JoAnn Falletta will be leading the BPO in Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story," Barber's Symphony No. 1, and Gershwin's Concerto in F, with pianist Conrad Tao as soloist. But after everything that comes beforehand, the playing should prove the easy part.

The BPO lands in Prague in the Czech Republic and is taking a bus to Wroclaw, Poland. The schedule leaves little time for sightseeing.

Even so, rules now govern the length of time that musicians can spend on a bus before playing a concert. Dan Hart, the BPO's executive director, kept that in mind on a recent trip he made to Poland with the tour manager. Meticulously, they followed the path of the Poland tour.

"They took bus rides from city to city, to see how long each trip would take, to make sure that the musicians will be comfortable and play at their best," Falletta said. "They checked out all the hotels, making sure they're comfortable. The musicians are hitting the ground running in four or five different cities. We want to make sure everything is going to go smoothly."

Paperwork is scrutinized more carefully now than it was when Semyon Bychkov, the orchestra's music director in 1988, took the BPO on its last trip to Europe.

"There are a number of people in the orchestra who are not native Americans. You have to have all your papers and passports," said Cindy Abbott Letro, an anchor of the BPO's board. "It's not the easiest tour."

Funding the trip

Over all these considerations looms an all-important necessity: money.

When high school bands go on the road, they raise money selling candy bars. The BPO had to find a more elegant fundraising path.

Letro and her husband, Francis, came up with a plan. They launched a challenge on the theme of $30,000 in 30 days. The Letros announced they would match challenge contributions through March 2, dollar for dollar up to $30,000.

Fourteen days in, in what Cindy Letro gratefully called "true Buffalo fashion," the goal was met. However, more contributions are needed to make the tour a financial success.

A personal touch has helped popularize the fund-raising effort.

During the regular season, BPO musicians are available for sponsorship. Now, for a donation of $1,000, a fervent BPO fan -- or a group of fervent BPO fans -- may sponsor a musician on tour. Contribute $2,500, and you can sponsor that musician's instrument, as well. For $5,000, one may sponsor an entire section.

The Baird Foundation is sponsoring the percussion section.

"It's a very percussion-heavy concert, so that's great," observed Wendy Diina, the BPO's associate director of development.

Salvatore's Italian Gardens is sponsoring Sal Andolina, an esteemed jazz musician who plays frequently at the restaurant. The BPO's neighbors at Computer Task Group love the French horn, and so have chosen to sponsor the BPO's associate principal player, Daniel Kerdelewicz. For the lawyers of Woods Oviatt Gilman, it's all about that bass. They like the instrument, and so they are sponsoring Associate Principal Bassist Brett Shurtliffe.

Making the case

Individuals, too, are stepping up to the plate.

Ronald Luczak is sponsoring Henry Ward, the BPO's principal oboist. He doesn't know Ward, but he is impressed by his playing. Linda Boulange has a brother who loves the flute. As a gift to him, she and her husband, Chuck, are sponsoring a flute case.

Wait -- a flute case? Not the flute itself?

The instruments are traveling in custom-made cases, Cindy Letro explained. She added that the instruments cost more to transport than musicians do. Hence, the instruments, and cases, are being sponsored separately from the musicians themselves.

"We have a special company that is building crates for the instruments. That's a big deal," she said. "For violinists or flutists, they can carry their instruments with them. But what do you do with the cellos? With the double bass? The timpani?"

If you aren't sure who -- or what -- to sponsor, you can leave that up to the BPO.

Contractor Mark Cerrone asked the BPO to choose him a musician. So did Dash's Market.

One other donor who took that route is Kathy Nerger, an individual contributor. Her gift is on behalf of her mother, Joyce Ellis, who is celebrating her 85th birthday. Ellis, a former BPO subscriber, has become swept up in the festivities. On March 10, she will be attending the first of two concerts at Kleinhans that celebrate the upcoming tour. She will be raising a glass of champagne when the Buffalo community drinks a toast to the tour's success at that concert.

Capping it off

Does the challenge strike a chord with you? To take part, visit or call 242-7826. You will be entered to win a prize package including an autographed copy of the BPO's next CD, “Treasures of Poland," a voucher for two tickets to any concert in the 2017-18 season, and an official Poland tour hat produced by New Era Cap. New Era Cap is donating the caps as a contribution to the tour.

Sponsor a musician -- or an instrument or instrument case -- and you will receive a BPOland tour cap made and donated by New Era Cap.

The musician you sponsor – or whose instrument or case you sponsor – will write you a thank you note, and communicate with you from Poland.

Beyond that, you never know. Bassoonist Maxwell Pipinich is sponsored by the Buffalo Gay Men's Chorus, who pooled their money to come up with the thousand dollars. Pipinich was so grateful that he is throwing them a dinner party.

After the March 10 and 11 concerts, when Kleinhans audiences will be hearing the music the orchestra is playing in Poland, it will be up, up, and away.

If all goes according to plan, eight wind instrument musicians from the BPO, arriving in Europe before the rest of the orchestra, will perform in Luslawice and in Buffalo's Polish sister city, Rzeszów. The entire orchestra will then perform in Wroclaw, Katowice, Lublin, and Warsaw, where the BPO has been invited to perform March 20 at the prestigious Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Music Festival. The orchestra flies home March 24.

"The musicians are all going to travel together," Falletta said. "It'll be a great bonding experience for them."

Letro takes a less romantic view.

"I'm going to breathe a sigh of relief when we see everyone there in Warsaw," she said.

"And when we have our first concert after that in Kleinhans, I'll breathe a sigh of relief that we're all back."

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