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Review

BPO, Sandy Cameron electrify in Danny Elfman's Violin Concerto

The 2019-2020 season is JoAnn Falletta’s 20th anniversary celebration, but it is also quickly shaping up as the “Year of the Violin” at the BPO.

Between Tianwa Yang’s thrilling "Rondo Capriccioso" in the season opener, followed by Canadian superstar James Ehnes’ stunning "Korngold Concerto," violin lovers in Buffalo have have enjoyed quite the feast of offerings this fall.  

One can now add Sandy Cameron’s thrilling BPO premiere of Danny Elfman’s "Violin Concerto," in a concert on Friday and repeated Saturday night in Kleinhans Music Hall, to the bounty of riches. Intriguingly subtitled "Eleven Eleven" (the total number of measures in the work, as well a German reference to the number 11, or “elf”), the concerto is a massive four-movement work, drawing musical influences from Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Ravel and others.

Like any great composer, however, Elfman’s signature style is unmistakably his own. For fans of Elfman’s iconic Halloween accented film scores – "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "Beetlejuice," "Sleepy Hollow," "Edward Scissorhands" – all of his trademark effects, like quirky melodies, hauntingly beautiful harmonies, menacing low brass blasts, bone-rattling cackles from mallet percussion and plucked strings, were on full display. With classical and chamber commissions ranging from Carnegie Hall to Cirque du Soleil to the Berlin Philharmonic, Elfman’s days as merely a film composer may be limited.

In the hands of the stunningly gifted Cameron, Elfman’s concerto has all the championing it needs. Cameron’s dynamic stage presence and dancer-like physicality, along with a piercingly gorgeous tone and effortless upper register playing left the audience stunned. Indeed the best thing one can say about Cameron’s performance is that she didn’t play the work – she owned it. The BPO and Falletta proved ideal collaborators, letting Cameron shine in her solo work but also adding the proper cinematic atmosphere and darkness Elfman’s music required.

Two Richard Strauss tone poems that followed intermission – the "Death and Transfiguration" and the "Dance of the Seven Veils" from "Salome" – were the ideal complement to the concerto. While the pairing of Elfman with Richard Strauss might have seemed random on paper, in the BPO's hands the pairing made perfect sense.

Thanks to Falleta's superb baton work that drew a lush sound reminiscent of golden-age Hollywood, the links between Strauss and another film score legend, John Williams, were abundantly clear. Among the superb individual and ensemble efforts, oboist Henry Ward and recently appointed concertmaster Nikki Chooi contributed heartrending beautiful and emotional solos.

On a day where there was already much to celebrate, with Oct. 18 being named JoAnn Falletta Day in Buffalo, the BPO made it clear that its greatest days continue to lie ahead, as long as it continues with superbly performed, innovatively programmed concerts such as this one.

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REVIEW

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

Danny Elfman's Violin Concerto with soloist Sandy Cameron. Oct. 18 and 19 in Kleinhans Music Hall.

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