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BPO's livestream concert series is a world-class experience

BPO's livestream concert series is a world-class experience

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Eric Huebner

Eric Huebner performed solo piano on the Bach "Concerto in D minor" with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

“The show must go on.”

In the past six months, the old adage has taken on a profound new meaning. With the performing arts world still reeling from the pandemic, orchestras have been forced to adjust to the new normal where live performances remain on hold. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s “Love and Longing” performance on Tuesday night, part of the livestreamed BPOnDemand series, gave classical music fans in Buffalo reason to praise the BPO's resilience in moving ahead with a 2020-21 season.

BPOonDemand features the musicians performing live in Kleinhans Music Hall without an audience. The concerts are then livestreamed at a later date to audiences. Folks still relatively new to livestreaming concerts will be glad to know the BPOnDemand experience is user-friendly and stress-free.

As someone who still experiences mini-panic attacks when it comes to screen sharing during a Zoom call, I was slightly apprehensive about the log-in process and any possible technical issues accessing the BPO’s livestream. Happily, the sign-in procedure was straightforward and simple, all done with a single click from the confirmation email sent earlier in the day – no drop-down menus to negotiate, no lengthy passwords to remember. Technical issues were nonexistent, with an introduction screen and warm welcome message from BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta giving me plenty of time to test and adjust sound levels.

As for the quality of the broadcast? Since last March, I have been consuming classical music livestreams from around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, the Los Angeles and Berlin philharmonics and numerous summer music festivals. The BPO has a product that rivals and even surpasses what much larger orchestras offer. The BPOnDemand program promises “the magical acoustics of Kleinhans right to your living room,” and my modest MacBook Air speakers have never sounded this pristine and clear.

Of course, the technical accomplishments of a livestream remain secondary to the performance, and it is clear that the BPO has not lost a step in its move online. Although the concert programming for the BPOnDemand series was chosen with smaller ensembles and the musicians’ social distancing in mind, in no way has the musical integrity been compromised.

The program opener, Dvorak’s "Serenade for Winds, Cello and Bass in D minor, op. 44," featured the BPO’s fantastic wind section in a performance heavy with Romantic drama and extreme dynamic contrasts. Even with wide distances and numerous layers of plexiglass separating the 12 performers from Falletta, the ensemble’s tight precision and warmly blended sound resembled the finest chamber music.

While the Bach "Concerto in D minor" that followed was originally composed for harpsichord, soloist Eric Huebner’s performance could have won over even the most staunch of period-instrument purists. A pianist for the New York Philharmonic and piano faculty member at University at Buffalo, Huebner is well-known for his commitment to contemporary repertoire. His interpretation of Bach featured a similarly modernistic, machinelike momentum, with a piercing tone that was resonant and muscular, but never harsh.

Falletta and the BPO strings were the ideal accompanists, providing the heft and grandeur needed to match Huebner’s energy without overpowering the soloist.

Edvard Grieg’s "Holberg Suite," a collection of Baroque-inspired dances that concluded the program, was an ideal complement to the Bach piece and a wonderful showcase for the string sections. Concertmaster Nikki Chooi and principal violist Caroline Gilbert shone as soloists in the final “Rigadoun” movement, absolutely nailing the delightfully rustic, fiddlelike character of the country dance.

Normally when I watch livestreamed classical music events from home, I often break up the routine of extended screen-staring with trips to the fridge, bathroom breaks or quick checks on my phone. Other times, the livestream becomes background music for cleaning, cooking or any number of household chores. The world-class production values of BPO OnDemand, however, yield an experience that is just as engrossing as a live evening of music.

Best part of all?  Once the concert ended, I could simply move my cursor backward to any point and savor the glorious music-making all over again. Thanks for the Buffalo Philharmonic, being “glued to the screen” is, for once, a good thing.

The series: The full schedule of BPOnDemand concerts is available at bpo.org. Concerts are free to subscribers or $10 for a virtual ticket and can be watched on-demand for 30 days.

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