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Lark dazzles with Piazzolla in virtual "BPOnDemand" concert

As the pandemic shows no signs of diminishing, arts organizations are pivoting to keep their audiences (and donors) engaged while providing some work for their performers. All have turned to the internet with varying degrees of success and quite a wide variation in production values. As you might expect, the organizations with the bigger budgets deliver a better product. And what the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has been providing lately is very satisfying.

Although they got off to a rocky start with upload problems, the orchestra’s “BPOnDemand” series, especially after switching to Tuesday nights at 7:00 p.m. , has got their virtual groove back. The new streaming schedule follows last year’s tradition of broadcasting BPO concerts on Tuesday nights at 7 on local radio station WNED Classical. But really, with your $10 ticket you can watch any day, any time you want after the premiere streaming because your “ticket” (did I mention they cost only $10!?!) allows you unlimited viewing of your concert of choice for 30 days.

And the experience is content rich, with a “Musically Speaking” stand alone video, presented by the BPO’s Music Director, JoAnn Falletta who explains the background and inspiration for the evening; there’s also an introduction to each musical piece either by Falletta, a BPO musician, or the evening’s soloist; and there’s a very slick link to view the program book, which is not stripped down, but a virtual facsimile of exactly what you’d be handed by an usher at Kleinhans Music Hall.

The last concert, “Love & Longing,” in addition to pianist Eric Huebner playing Bach, featured the woodwinds of the BPO, separated on stage by plexiglass shields. For the most part, though, these concerts have pared the full orchestra down to a string (mostly) orchestra. Fortunately, there is a ton of excellent music for string orchestra, and for this Falletta programmed three works which the BPO believes will be discoveries for the audience.

First on the program was a gorgeous work, never before played by the BPO, the “Celtic Symphony for Strings and Harp” by Sir Granville Bantock, based on an Irish folk song “Longing for the Sea.” What a sound, yearning and plaintive. And it was another chance to enjoy the artistry of the BPO’s new Principal Harpist, Madeline Olson, who was so stunning during this summer’s broadcast of BPO Musician “Portraits” (a series of recitals aired multiple times on WNED-TV). Fans will want to note that Ms. Olson will be back as a soloist with Handel’s Harp Concerto on BPOnDemand for Tuesday, November 10, 2020. Ms. Olson was joined by harpist Hope Welk.

But I digress. The middle work on the “Tartan & Tango” concert was another BPO premiere, a work that began as a string quartet by the famous opera composer, Puccini, written in one evening as a reaction to the death of a friend, the Duke of Savoy. At only 6 minutes long, like many of Puccini’s opera arias, it will grab you. This was presented with the same chamber sized string orchestra as the Bantock piece.

And then the headliner came out, the vibrant Tessa Lark, dressed for Tango appropriately in a floor length red gown. Contrasting with the musicians, including Falletta, all dressed in black it was a look that matched her playing of Astor Piazzolla’s Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) arranged with some clever quotes of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons woven in. Piazzolla, an Argentinian with Italian ancestry, was the inventor of a new sound, the “Nuevo Tango” and he uses a lot of different violin techniques, including my favorite, “the cricket” (made by tightening the violin bow hair with your index finger while you scrape it across the strings behind the bridge).

Lark has been to the BPO before and you can read my rave review here.

She’s only gotten better. The only difference is that last time she was playing a Strad on loan as a prize for winning a violin competition. Nowadays I believe she plays a G.P. Maggini violin from around 1600 A.D. on loan from an anonymous donor through the Stradivari Society of Chicago. Well, there was one other difference, too. As she explained in her introduction, due to Covid, she hasn’t played with an orchestra in months, and so she was really primed to make the most of this experience.

This performance was (and will be for 30 days) part of the BPOnDemand video-streamed series. There was no live audience at Kleinhans Music Hall for this performance. Nor will there be for future performances. For more information on BPOnDemand, please visit the BPO’s 2020-21 season FAQ page.

All 2020-21 subscribers receive FREE access to BPOnDemand performances, but must register in advance. If you are a subscriber, please contact the Box Office at (716) 885-5000 or boxoffice@bpo.org to register for this event.

If you are not a subscriber, you can purchase tickets “a la carte” in advance, and also go back in time and purchase virtual tickets for concerts already streamed (up until 30 days after their initial appearance). You can call the Box Office at 716-885-5000. Or you can visit www.bpo.org, then click on Tickets & Events, then click on PREVIOUS EVENTS or NEXT EVENTS, depending, fill out the form, enter your credit card information, and you will receive a confirmation email with your personal link.

Peter Hall, Buffalo Rising
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