Superfine classical performances repeat, including BPO “Chooi Brothers” tonight at Kleinhans

The excellence of recent classical music performances has been astounding, and encore performances are sure to add to the excitement. Below, more on all those. 

Let’s start with the second of two Buffalo Philharmonic Concerts at Kleinhans (Saturday, May 4, at 7:30), the first of which on Friday morning featured some very listenable premieres, a chance to hear the fabulous Chooi brothers (BPO Concertmaster Nikki and his younger brother Timmy) and their collector’s items violins.  

The concert opened with a new work by Iranian-born now U.S.-based composer Behzad Ranjbaran who currently teaches at NYC’s Juilliard School and who came up to Buffalo for the concert.  The seven-minute long “Saratoga Overture” celebrates the summer home of the Philadelphia Orchestra as well as the Revolutionary War American victory at Saratoga.  It was very cinematic, starting quietly and reminding me of the score to the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird” and then expanding to the epic sounds of some of the best current music for video game sagas.  (That’s not a diss.  If you’re not aware of what’s happening in the world of video game music, you’re missing out on some of the best contemporary composers.)

Then, with his older brother Nikki sitting in his usual concertmaster’s seat, out came Timothy Chooi to play the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1, typical of Prokofiev for alternating intensely furious music with beautiful calm melodies.  What was unusual was the reverse of the usual fast-slow-fast order of movements in most concertos with a slow-fast-slow form.  As you might expect if you’ve been coming to BPO concerts and have heard Nikki, his brother Timmy is also a cut above.  

Then, in slight alteration to the program, before (not after) intermission most of the orchestra left the stage, the harpsichord was opened up, and both Nikki and Timothy came out for the baroque era master Johann Sebastian Bach’s often performed “Concerto in D minor for Two Violins and String Orchestra” affectionately referred to as “The Bach Double.”  I’ve heard this many times, and often, it’s a chance for family members of different abilities to perform together, and, often, it’s slowed down so that nobody is over his or her head.  But with the Chooi brothers, there’s no slowing down.  At all.  All I can say is that these guys rock.  Wow.  Of course, the audience loved it.  

They also played an encore, an arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s often covered “Hallelujah,” where each took turns with the melody while the other plucked an accompaniment.  Unless you were staring at them, you could not tell who was playing what at any given moment.  They matched each other perfectly.

Then, still with most of the orchestra off stage, all the brass, and surprisingly all of the violins (yes, all) we heard the first performance by the BPO of Brahm’s Serenade No. 2, a work for winds and strings, with the violas as the highest voices.  Now with BPO principal violist Caroline Gilbert in the concertmaster’s seat, JoAnn Falletta took up the mic and told us that Brahms, who was always worried about being compared to Beethoven, held off on writing a symphony until he had experimented with other forms.  This was his first work ever composed for an orchestra.  And she anticipated everyone’s question: “What about Serenade No. 1… wouldn’t that have been the first?”  As she explained, that was for a nonet, and only long after was it orchestrated in the form we usually hear it today.  So this piece was a double premiere.  It was Brahms’ first orchestral work and the first time it had ever been played by the BPO. 

Falletta often tries to mix it up a little at concerts, but this program truly had something for everyone.  And it encores this Saturday, May 4, at 7:30 at Kleinhans.  So, “may the fourth be with you” with the “Chooi Brothers and Bach” as you (hopefully) get a chance to hear the BPO really shine.  Runtime: two hours 15 minutes including one intermission.  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 bars in the lobby or across the lobby in the Mary Seaton Room and occasionally on the second floor.  

First, though, let’s look back on the past few weeks as I tell you when you can hear these performers again.  On Thursday, April 11, the Buffalo Chamber Players held the third of their four-concert series at their home base of the AKG Art Museum upstairs in the Stanford and Judith Lipsey Auditorium again with a ‘90s title, this time it was “Northern Exposure” featuring a variety of chamber music configurations, as they do, with works for 1,2,3,4,or 5 players performing Scandinavian composers familiar (Sibelius and Nielsen), composers sort of familiar (Saariaho and Bull), and composers new to me (Hildur Guðnadóttir from Iceland born 1982 and Elfrida Andrée of Sweden born 1841).  Using full-time professionals from the BPO with friends from local college faculties, the performances are always at the highest level, ensuring a top-notch experience for the audience.  The BCP’s next and final concert this season, Thursday May 16 at 7pm at the AKG, is titled “Purple Rain” with music for string quintet (two violas) by contemporary composer Joan Tower along with Brahms’ Quintet #2 (same configuration: 2 violins, 2 violas, and cello).

On April 28, the Tempus Fugit Trio, clarinetist Michael Tumiel, violinist Shannon Reilly, and pianist Michael Serio returned to the Friends of Vienna, this time with music by Berio, Stravinsky, Milhaud, and Ives. After the concert, I told Tumiel that, to my ear, there is a “Platonic Ideal” sound for a clarinet, and he creates that sound more consistently than anyone else in Buffalo. I can’t tell you exactly when they’ll return, but I know they will. Coming up on May 19 at 3:30, the Friends of Vienna expand their purview with popular award-winning young vocalist Alex McArthur accompanied by master jazz pianist George Caldwell, a Professor of Piano at the University of Buffalo, in a program featuring both jazz and classical repertory. Like the BCP concerts, Friends of Vienna events are surprisingly affordable ($20 for adults, $5 for students), and there is plenty of free parking behind the church venue at 1243 Delaware Avenue.

Then, in an enchanting surprise, the Hermitage Piano Trio (piano, violin, cello) stepped in on Tuesday April 30 with two days’ notice for the ailing Doric String Quartet for the final concert of the 100th season of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, and I can’t imagine a more exciting way to have wrapped up this season.  While often piano trios are ad-hoc affairs, the Russian-born, now U.S.-based Hermitage (say hair-mee-TAHZH) Trio, like the famed Beaux Arts Trio or one of my current faves, Toronto’s Gryphon Trio, is one of the few full-time professional piano trios.  Their first half was Russian (Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich), and the second half was Spanish with music by Turina and the only piano trio by a lesser-known composer, Gaspar Cassadó, a discovery that had the audience on its feet.  Here’s the good news.  The Hermitage Trio has already been booked for the 101st season (2024-2025), with a concert scheduled for December 3, 2024, as always, in the all-wood Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall.  The upcoming 8-concert season subscription of $185 is only $160 before June 1.  

And then, in an astounding event, the famed Russian-born, Israeli-American pianist Yefim Bronfman came to UB’s Slee Hall to play for a packed house a wide-ranging program on UB’s brand new, just arrived from Vienna, Austria, Bösendorfer grand piano.  What an extraordinary outing for that extraordinary instrument.  Bronfman plays like no other pianist in my experience with a left hand that is beyond belief in its power and skill.  The tickets were an unbelievable $20 standard for UB, and you are advised to visit the UB Department of Music and get on their mailing list because in September, they often have a BOGO program.  So, honestly, my ticket only cost me $10 for one of the most memorable concerts of my life.  Look into that.  The good news is that Yefim Bronfman will be playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with the Rochester Philharmonic, next week, Thursday, May 9 at Eastman Hall.

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.

The post Superfine classical performances repeat, including BPO “Chooi Brothers” tonight at Kleinhans appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *