Beethoven’s Ninth, BPO Classics Penultimate Concert, Wows Big Crowd at Kleinhans.  Repeats Sunday Afternoon

On stage again this Sunday (today) afternoon, May 12, it has all the earmarks of a season finale: a flashy violin concerto, an audience favorite soloist, a huge work for orchestra, chorus, and four soloists by the very icon of classical music, all conducted from memory by the face of the BPO.  This concert titled “Beethoven’s Ninth” is actually the penultimate classics season concert (the chorus, orchestra, and a soloist will return to Kleinhans to perform Mahler’s huge “Resurrection” Symphony on June 1 and 1).  But if life were a musical (and shouldn’t it be?), this concert would be “The 11 o’clock Number” – the big showstopper that wraps it all up just before the finale.

Let’s review what made the audience so happy.  The opening work, the Concerto in D minor, was composed by a Buffalo favorite composer, Finland’s Jean Sibelius, whose Symphony No. 2 we heard just last month with the BPO.  Sibelius, being a violinist himself, knew how to write for the instrument.  Achingly beautiful melodies evoking the ice-cold winters of Finland coupled with fiery hot licks, making you wonder, “How does he do that?”  The ”he” here is the BPO’s own concertmaster, violinist Nikki Chooi, who brings a rare combination of personal charm and musicianship that has completely won us over.  

We read that Chooi “gratefully performs on a 1749 G. B. Guadagnini violin and a Jean Marie Persoit bow on extended load through the Stradivari Society of Chicago.”  Past recipients of instruments through the Stradivari Society include Midori, Gil Shaham, and Joshua Bell (who will open the BPO’s 2024-2025 season) to give you some idea of the caliber of musicians who get to play the rare instruments on loan.  The entire concert was dedicated to the late, great friend of the BPO, Clem Arrison, whose violins are still on loan to various up-and-coming artists through the Stradivari Society.

There was no encore to the Sibelius, nor did the concert start with an overture, because there had to be time for the huge (it takes over an hour, but trust me, it flies by) second half of the concert with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, “Choral.”  In the history of music, Beethoven and his 9th symphony loom large.  On several occasions, local radio station WNED Classical has polled the listeners for their favorite work, and Beethoven’s Ninth almost always comes in first, as does Beethoven himself, when audiences are asked for their favorite composer.  

In 2020, there were worldwide celebrations of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, and in 2024, there are worldwide celebrations of the 200th anniversary of Beethoven’s Ninth which premiered on May 7, 1824.  Fun fact:  When the compact disc was being developed the size of the medium was a major issue.  It was decided that a compact disc had to be big enough to hold a complete performance of Beethoven’s 9th (with performance times ranging from about 65 to 75 minutes).

So yes, it’s a big work, and while nominally it has only the standard (for a symphony) four movements, most of them have multiple sections, and it’s possible to lose focus.  But JoAnn Falletta has a superpower to prevent that from happening.  She memorized the entire score, yes, over an hour of orchestral music, with chorus, with four different soloists, with hundreds of pages.  I’ve seen her do that in the past with symphonies by Mahler and Tchaikovsky and she told me that she does that for a closer connection to the musicians.  Well, it worked.

SUNY Fredonia Beethoven 9 Chorus

The GRAMMY award-winning Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus (Adam Luebke, Music Director) was in fine voice, including members of the “SUNY Fredonia Beethoven 9 Chorus” and each of the soloists, Jaclyn Grossman, Soprano; Hannah Shea, Mezzo-Soprano; John Tiranno, tenor, and Lester Lynch, baritone, sang out beautifully.  While the lyrics are in the program insert (large print editions are available) an English translation of the German text by Friedrich von Schiller was projected as it was sung on a screen above the stage.  The runtime for the whole concert is the usual 2 hours with one intermission.

The chorus is very busy this spring.  After Beethoven’s Ninth this weekend, they’re back on stage at Kleinhans for the Memorial Day weekend concert series titled “Signature Stars and Stripes” (Friday, May 24 at 10:30 am, Saturday, May 25 at 7:30) and they’ll be singing in Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony” for the final classics series concert this season (Saturday, June 1 at 7:30; Sunday, June 2 at 2:30).  But wait, there’s more, a BPO Special Event.  Fernanda Lastra will conduct “Symphony of Illusions” with Michael Grandinetti, illusionist, and BPO Associate Concertmaster Amy Glidden, violin, in a program of spooky/magical music both classical and taken from film scores.  One show only, Saturday, June 8, 2024, at 7:30 pm.

Note: You can hear several of the BPO musicians play chamber music when the Buffalo Chamber Players return to the auditorium at the AKG this Thursday, May 16th at⋅7:00 with music including Joan Tower’s Purple Rain for string quintet (belonging to the composer’s series of “purple” works featuring the viola). 

Note as well:  All summer long WNED Classical will broadcast BPO performances recorded live this past season at Kleinhans Music Hall.  Those broadcasts will be on Tuesday nights from July 2 through September 3, starting at 7:00 pm on 94.5 FM and streaming online.  

Kleinhans Music Hall is at “3 Symphony Circle” Buffalo, 14201 where Porter Avenue, Richmond Avenue, North Street and Wadsworth meet at a traffic circle.  Visit or call 716-885-5000.  Full-service bar in the lobby or across the lobby in the Mary Seaton Room.  Masks are optional.

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