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JoAnn Falletta to celebrate 20th year with eclectic BPO season

JoAnn Falletta is excited about the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's 2019-2020 season -- her 20th season as music director.

Powerhouse guest musicians, including Canadian violinist James Ehnes and Buffalo native and guitarist Jason Vieaux, are on tap for the Classics Series.

So, too, are guest conductors Leonard Slatkin of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Wilkins of the Omaha Symphony Orchestra and the return of former BPO conductor Maximiano Valdes, along with programs that recall Mozart's final music and celebrate Beethoven's 250th anniversary.

The Pops Series will feature Leslie Odom, Jr. of "Hamilton" fame, along with performances that celebrate the music of 1960s icons The Beatles, Paul Simon and Aretha Franklin, pay tribute to former Pops conductor Marvin Hamlisch and bring a touch of the circus to Kleinhans Music Hall with "Cirque Fiesta!"

"I have probably said this before, but this is the best season, and I mean it," Falletta said, noting the mix of old and new. "Our orchestra is quite amazing, because it can go from Mahler to Brahms to Led Zeppelin, or youth concerts or a brand new piece of music. These programs really reflect their versatility."

Falletta mostly draws up the schedule for the Classics season, with Pops conductor John Morris Russell doing the same for the Pops selections.

[Related: Photos at JoAnn's Classical Christmas 2018]

JoAnn Falletta is pictured conducting JoAnn's Classical Christmas in December 2018. (Sharon Cantillon/News file photo)

"It's basically my job to put together a kind of menu that I think is going to do a lot of things," Falletta said. "It will intrigue the audience with things they love and know, and offer some new things that they trust us enough now to say, 'OK, I'll try that. I believe the orchestra is choosing a good piece for me.' "

Subscriptions are now available. Individual tickets go on sale Aug. 10.

The rock series and one-hour kids series will be announced in the spring, along with other surprises. There will also be a special event to honor Falletta's tenure set for Oct. 18, with details to follow.

Classics Series

(Including Falletta's comments)

Favorites & Friends: A Celebration of 20 Years

8 p.m. Sept. 21

"This is a fun way to start the season. Since it's my 20th year, we're inviting a couple of friends who haven't been here for awhile, Tianwa Yang and Bill Wolfram, and Roman (Mekinulov) is actually playing representing the orchestra, because for me the most important thing is the orchestra. He and whoever is our new concertmaster are going to play something together. It'll be a very lighthearted anniversary celebration, lots of fun pieces, not to serious, a lot of romantic favorites."

[Related: JoAnn Falletta featured in Macy's ad campaign]

. . .

Canadian Superstar James Ehnes

8 p.m. Oct. 5 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 6

"James is coming for the first time and is the leading superstar of Canada on violin. He is a fantastic violinist who we've never been able to get to fit with the schedule."

. . .

Danny Elfman's Violin Concerto

10:30 a.m. Oct. 18 and 8 p.m. Oct. 19

"He has done all these great music scores, and is now doing one concert piece a year. He wrote a violin concerto and it's brilliant. It's a serious concerto written by one of our country's most astonishing composers, but it comes from a movie direction."

. . .

Leonard Slatkin Conducts Grieg

8 p.m. Nov. 2 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 3

"He called me and asked if I would invite him to Buffalo. I said, 'Maesto, we would be honored, but your fee is something we probably couldn't afford,' and he said it had nothing to do with money. 'I want to do a tour of orchestras that invited me when I was very young,' he said, the places that believed in him before he was the Leonard Slatkin."

[Read more: Falletta earns 11th Grammy nomination]

. . .

Max Valdes' Tour of Europe

10:30 a.m. Nov. 15 and 8 p.m. Nov. 16

"Max Valdes comes back very often and is my predecessor, and is very beloved by the audience and the orchestra and community, and we always enjoy having him."

. . .

Classical Sax

8 p.m. Dec. 7 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 8

"Tom Wilkins is a wonderful African-American conductor. I shouldn't even qualify it that way, but just to tell you he is. He is a longtime friend of mine and the music director of the Omaha Symphony."

. . .

JoAnn's Classical Christmas: Our Holiday Celebration

10:30 a.m. Dec. 13 and 8 p.m. Dec. 14

With the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and guest soloists.

. . .

"A Midsummer Night's Dream," in collaboration with Irish Classical Theatre Company

8 p.m. Jan. 17, 8 p.m., Jan. 18 and 2:30 p.m. Jan. 19

"Vincent O'Neill, Irish Classical's artistic director, will be the star of this. He is going to play Oberon, the king of the fairies. Since we don't have a usable pit, the orchestra is on the stage and is part of the whole scenery; in a sense we are the forest. For us to have this world to perform in is just thrilling."

. . .

Mozart's Requiem

8 p.m. Jan. 25 and 2:30 p.m. Jan. 26

"We always celebrate Mozart's birthday in the month of January, and this is his last piece, really the last notes he wrote. Drew Cone will be playing cello, and his parents are both violinists in the orchestra. You can imagine what it will be like to have their young son, who is at Julliard now, making his debut with their orchestra."

. . .

In the Jewish Tradition

8 p.m. Feb. 8, 2020 and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 9, 2020

"Noah Bendix-Balgley is a violinist and the concert master of what is arguably the greatest orchestra in the world, the Berlin Philharmonic. He's an American from North Carolina, and he wrote his own Klezmer concerto that is astonishing."

. . .

High Octane Classics:

10:30 a.m. Feb. 21, 2020 and 8 p.m. Feb. 22, 2020

" 'Time for Three' is a kind of bluegrass-alternative fushion sort of groove. They are totally fun and totally out there, but within the confines of their training, which is classical."

. . .

Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto. No. 2

8 p.m. March 7, 2020 and 2:30 p.m. March 8, 2020

"We're bringing back  Polish pianist Konrad Skolarski, who was very well received in the past."

. . .

Mozart and the Divine

10:30 a.m. March 20, 2020 and 8 p.m. March 21, 2020

Featuring Ray Ushikubo on piano, with works by Bach, Mozart and Scriabin.

. . .

Portraits of England

10:30 p.m. April 3, 2020 and 8 p.m. April 4, 2020

"Guest conductor Gemma New is the music director of the Hamilton's Philharmonic or Symphony right across the border. We've made a point of inviting all of the conductors in our region, from Rochester to Syracuse and now from Hamilton."

. . .

The Firebird

8 p.m. April 18, 2020 and 2:30 p.m. April 19, 2020

"This is something else that is out of the box. We are doing Piazzolla, who is a tango writer from Buenos Aires. Jason Vieaux, who is a Buffalo kid and one of the greatest guitarists in the world right now, is coming with his musical partner Julien Labro, who plays the concertina-type accordion the bandeon. They are amazing."

. . .

Beethoven's Pastoral and Beethoven's Triumph

Pastoral, 10:30 p.m. May 1 and 8 p.m. May 2, 2020. Triumph, 8 p.m. May 9 and 2:30 p.m. May 10, 2020

"This is big, because Beethoven is 250 this year. He is the most beloved composer of all time, so it's all Beethoven for those two concerts. Norman Krieger is coming for one, and we're using all of our own people for the other."

. . .

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

10:30 p.m. May 29, 2020 and 8 p.m. May 30, 2020

Violinist Augustin Hadelich plays Tchaikovsky.

 . . .

Pops Series

(Including comments from Patrick O'Herron, the BPO's marketing director)


10:30 a.m. Sept. 27 and 8 p.m. Sept. 28

"We're bringing cirque performers set to Latin music as an homage to Hispanic Heritage Month. Our hall exists in a rich Hispanic neighborhood, so it's sort of our giveback in that way."

. . .

The Paul Simon Songbook

8 p.m. Oct. 12

"The greats of Paul Simon's own repertoire, and Simon & Garfunkel, of course."

. . .

Byron's Ragtime Jazz

8 p.m. Oct. 26

We have brought Byron Stripling in twice before, and he is popular with our audience. He conducts and performs."

. . .

Pop Goes to the Movies

10:30 a.m. Nov. 8 and 8 p.m. Nov. 9

"John Morris Russell wanted to do an action-adventure themed show. We're not entirely sure what we are going to program yet, but you can be sure they'll be favorites."

. . .

The Beatles Classical Mystery Tour

8 p.m. Nov. 22 and 8 p.m. Nov. 23

"This will be the 50th anniversary of 'Abbey Road.' This particular group has always been a favorite with our audiences and is sure to be a sell-out."

. . .

John Morris Russell's Holiday Pops

10:30 a.m. Dec. 19, 10:30 a.m. Dec. 20 and 8 p.m. Dec. 21

"JoAnn has 'Classical Christmas, John has 'Holiday Pops.' His moniker is Mr. Christmas, and he is wild about Christmas. He'll likely bring back the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, and the program will be all of the favorites."

. . .

RESPECT: A Tribute to Aretha Franklin

8 p.m. Feb. 1, 2020

"This is a program that has already been created. It goes through the three periods of her life, from her gospel roots to Motown hits to her later hits. Aretha actually performed with the BPO in 1996."

. . .

Nobody Does it Better: The Music of Marvin Hamlisch

10:30 a.m. Feb. 14, 2020 and 8 p.m. Feb. 15, 2020

"It's a really unique opportunity for our current Pops conductor to pay homage to our former Pops conductor. We're looking at bringing in some dancers to enhance some of the numbers, especially the 'A Chorus Line' numbers."

. . .

The Doo Wop Project

10:30 a.m. March 27, 2020 and 8 p.m. March 28, 2020

"This group is made of former performs from 'Jersey Boys' or 'Motown: The Musical.' It's a hybrid throwback boy band that should be great."

. . .

Leslie Odom Jr.

8 p.m. April 25, 2020

"The centerpiece of our Pops season is Leslie Odom Jr. of 'Hamilton' fame. Shea's did 'Hamilton' this past winter so we're saying, if you missed it at Shea's..." Odom has a gorgeous voice, and he's going to be great."

. . .

Patriotic Stars and Stripes

10:30 a.m. May 22, 2020 and 8 p.m. May 23, 2020

"This show on Memorial Day weekend is one of our biggest concerts of the year. We're bringing the USO Show Troupe, these young, happy, shiny kids who will be singing the American greats Andrews Sisters-style and the like."

. . .

Leading Ladies of Broadway

8 p.m. June 13, 2020

"We close out the season with this tribute, which we're producing."


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