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Nine singers to face off for BPO gig

Many were called. Nine were chosen.

John Morris Russell, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's  principal pops conductor, announced earlier this season that he was seeking singers to compete for a guest slot in the "Buffalo Sings," BPO concert. The successful singer will perform "Over the Rainbow" at the concert on April 14.

Nine finalists have been chosen to compete for the coveted slot. They will face off in live finals at 7 p.m. March 1 in the Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall.

Here are the nine:

• Leah Berst, 22, of West Seneca.
• Aurora Boneberg, 32, a Lancaster resident and Fredonia College graduate.
• Camryn Clune, 17, an Amherst resident and student at Christian Central Academy.
• Onna Lynn Hacker, 29, of Colden.
• Chris Handley, 34, of Buffalo.
• Elena Izqueredo, 16, a Getzville resident and student at Williamsville East High School.
• Kelly Picone, 43, of Amherst.
• Chris Vasquez, 49, of Amherst.
• Raffi Wright, 18, a Clarence resident and student at Clarence High School.

Judges for the finals include Adam Luebke, Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus music director; Mary Kate O’Connell, founder and artistic director of the musical theater company O’Connell & Company; Drea D’Nur, Buffalo-based recording artist who is well-known for her Nina Simone show; BPO bassoonist and Buffalo Gay Men’s Choir member Max Pipinich; and BPO Principal Pops Conductor John Morris Russell. The finals are free and open to the public.

“I was completely flabbergasted by the overwhelming response to our 'Buffalo Sings!' competition,” said John Morris Russell. “It was difficult to choose singers for our finals among so many impassioned performances. It will be thrilling to hear our finalists live on March 1, and to have the winner join us on the stage of Kleinhans Music Hall for this unique collaboration in April."

The irrepressible Russell added: "Let the games begin.”

The successful candidate will be part of what amounts to a vocal extravaganza. The BPO's concert April 14 will include, besides the winning singer, the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, the Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus, the Friends of Harmony and the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts Chorus. Russell is conducting the concert, which is a tribute to the power and beauty of the human voice, as well as a way of recognizing the musicality within every person. Audience members will be invited to sing along to popular musical theater favorites throughout the program.

For tickets or info, call 885-5000 or visit

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