The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's fall season is like autumn itself -- ablaze in color, and with surprises around every bend.
The season-opening gala at 8 p.m. Sept. 15 features the great American baritone Thomas Hampson. Hampson has not been heard in Buffalo since the 1994, when he gave a recital on the old QRS concert series.
Handsome opera star Hampson is opening with a set of songs from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn," Gustav Mahler's mercurial, haunting songs set to German folk poetry. Among the songs he has chosen are the fanciful "Rhine Legend" and the whimsical "St. Anthony of Padua's Sermon to the Fishes," a song Mahler wove into his Second Symphony. The Mahler will be followed by four of Aaron Copland's tender, affectionate "Old American Songs," including "The Pretty Little Horses" and the Golden Willow Tree."
BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta has never shared the stage before with Hampson, and she can't wait.
"He is so special," she said. "He's not only a great singer, he's a great actor. I remember that from hearing him and watching him. He becomes the song. He becomes the essence of the music in a very unusual way. It's very moving. And it's important to Mahler, to be in the character of the music. If it's heartbreaking, we sense that in him. If it's funny, he makes it funnier. That is one of the greatest gifts. And of course, he has a beautiful voice."
The opening concert, which concludes majestically with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, sets the stage for drama.
Soloists include intriguing violinists. A concert Oct. 12 and 13 features up-and-comer Paul Huang playing Barber's Violin Concerto. The concert, rich in romance, also includes Rachmaninoff's Third Symphony, as well as "Dark Mountains" by Buffalo native Robert Paterson.
And on Nov. 10 and 11, violinist Francisco Fullana is playing Paganini's sparkling First Violin Concerto. The music will be all the sweeter because he is playing a Guarneri del Gesu once owned by the great Fritz Kreisler, one of the violins owned by Buffalo philanthropists Clement and Karen Arrison.
The BPO is also welcoming a host of pianists.
On Sept. 29 and 30, young pianist Hye-Jin Kim will be making her BPO debut, playing the ever-popular Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto. That concert, in a balance between new and tried-and-true, also features George Tsontakis' Americana-style "Let the River Be Unbroken," with BPO violinist Amy Licata on bluegrass fiddle.
"We have a wonderful Polish pianist coming to play Paderewski," Falletta said, alluding to Lukasz Krupinski, who on Oct. 27 and 28 will be performing Paderewski's Piano Concerto. The concert also includes Tchaikovsky's "Polish" Symphony -- and, by special request from the Polish community, the Praetorian March from "Quo Vadis."
A particularly distinguished living composer will be heard from Nov. 16 and 17. Joan Tower will be here when the BPO performs her "Tambor" and "Fanfare For the Uncommon Woman." In another balancing act, the Tower music is matched with a Concerto for Rock Band, Violin and Orchestra -- starring eminent violinist Robert McDuffie -- and Moussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."
Falletta is confident that throughout the fall, the audience will enjoy the uncharted territory as well as the proven hits.
"We are presenting something to people that they can find a way into, music that will communicate with them," she said.
"When we do new music, we choose it very carefully."
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra fall season
To see the full season and order tickets, visit bpo.org.
8 p.m. Sept. 15: BPO Gala
8 p.m. Sept. 29, 2:30 p.m. Sept. 30: Tchaikovsky Piano Concert with Hye-Jin Kim, piano
10:30 a.m. Oct. 12, 8 p.m. Oct. 13: Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 3 with Paul Huang, violin
8 p.m. Oct. 27, 2:30 p.m. Oct. 28: "Paderewski's Poland" with Lukasz Krupinski, pianist
8 p.m. Nov. 10 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 11: "Paganini's Fire" with Francisco Fullana, violin
10:30 a.m. Nov. 16 and 8 p.m. Nov. 17: "Pictures at an Exhibition" with Robert McDuffie, violin; Mike Mills, bass and keyboard
8 p.m. Sept. 22: "Happy Birthday Gershwin" with John Morris Russell, conductor
8 p.m. Oct. 6: "The Soul of Motown" with Melinda Doolittle ("American Idol")
10:30 a.m. Oct. 19, 8 p.m. Oct. 20: "The Broadway Legacy Concert"
10:30 a.m. Nov. 2, 8 p.m. Nov. 3: "The Linda Ronstadt Songbook" with Ann Hampton Callaway
7 p.m. Nov. 24: "Superheroes Soundtrack"
7 p.m. Sept. 21: Hispanic Heritage Month celebration with Todd Craven, conductor; free.
8 p.m. Oct. 5: BPO Rocks with "The Music of Tom Petty" with Brent Havens, conductor
7:30 p.m. Oct. 16: Canisius College Concert in the Montante Cultural Center with Todd Craven, conductor, and the Canisius College Chorale
2:30 p.m. Oct. 21: BPO Kids presents "Symphonic Spooktacular