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Amherst Symphony soon to be minus a maestro


By Mary Kunz Goldman

Steven Thomas, the longtime conductor of the Amherst Symphony, is going to be leaving the orchestra after the next concert, April 6. The word is that he is going to be focusing on musical endeavors in the Southern Tier. Thomas and his wife, Martha, live in Fillmore.

The Amherst Symphony is one of the local orchestras that was founded by the late Joseph Wincenc, longtime Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concertmaster. It has had only two conductors in its 68 years of existence -- Wincenc and Thomas.

Nancy Wallace, the president of the board of the Amherst Symphony, said that the orchestra has not yet decided on how exactly it is going to go about finding Steven Thomas' successor. She promises to keep us posted.

Meanwhile, the next concert, at 7 p.m. April 6, features BPO Principal Clarinetist John Fullam as soloist in the Adagio for Clarinet and Orchestra by Carl Baermann and the Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra of Claude Debussy.

A pre-concert talk with Mssrs. Fullam and Thomas begins at 6:15 p.m. And a reception after the concert will honor Thomas, pictured above. Thomas apparently has a lot going on: Besides walking, biking and operating his tractor, he is an active private pilot, flying a Cessna 150 out of Perry Warsaw Airport.  

For info on the Amherst Symphony, check its website,

Sugar City to open new Niagara Street space by summer


The Buffalo arts collective Sugar City will move into this building at 1239 Niagara St. by early summer.

Sugar City, the arts collective formerly housed in an Allentown storefront, has announced plans to open a new art and performance space at 1239 Niagara St. by early summer. The collective's new spot, formerly the bar Compton's After Dark, has undergone recent repairs for water damage. It will join a number of new projects and businesses on the resurgent Niagara Street block.

"We are looking forward to being part of the development of this corridor and to be neighbors with businesses like Santasiero's, Community Beer Works and the new Resurgence Brewery, BT&C Gallery, Buffalo Riverkeeper, and more," a Sugar City release reads.

Last month, the newly launched Body of Trade and Commerce Gallery announced plans to open in a building across the street.

The DIY arts collective operated underground for a number of years before landing on Wadsworth Avenue in 2009. After that space was purchased by the owners of Pausa Art House, Sugar City became an itinerant organization but continued to host frequent events in venues around the city -- including a popular art ride on Buffalo's Metro Rail. Last year, the group received a surprise $30,000 grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

Sugar City will hold a public meeting about the new space and the future of the organization at 6:30 p.m. March 27 at 1239 Niagara St. More info on the meeting is here.


--Colin Dabkowski

Emerging Buffalo opera singer to sing on 'From the Top'


By Mary Kunz Goldman

Teenage soprano Emily Helenbrook, pictured above singing with JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, is making an encore appearance on "From the Top," the national radio show about up-and-coming classical music talent.

Miss Helenbrook, who is from Alexander, is currently a sophomore at the Eastman School of Music. She is being featured as an alumna solo performer on "From the Top" on Wednesday, March 19 at 7 p.m., in Eastman Theatre’s Kodak Hall. ,

"From the Top" is organized and emcee'd by pianist Christopher O'Riley. Emily performed previously with the show in 2012 at the Chautauqua Institute. The upcoming show will also include 16-year-old cellist Annie Jacobs-Perkins of Pittsford; 10-year-old violinist Pierce Wang of Fremont, Calif.; 16-year-old pianist Carmen Knoll of Carlstadt, N.J. Flutists Sir James Galway and Lady Jeanne Galway will lead an ensemble of young musicians and also perform a surprise number with O'Riley.

The show will be broadcast later on WNED-FM, which airs "From the Top" at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings.

To attend the taping in Rochester, call the Eastman Theatre Box Office at (585) 454-2100. Tickets are $35-150 and student prices are $15.

Metropolitan Opera Auditions down to the semifinals


By Mary Kunz Goldman

The Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions, which scouted the Buffalo/Toronto area back in early January, have completed their next round. The Met has just announced the singers who will advance to the semifinals.

From a press release:

The 2014 semi-finalists, the regions they will represent in the competition, and their hometowns are: Julie Adams, soprano (Western Region: Burbank, CA); Viktor Antipenko, tenor (Eastern Region: St. Petersburg, Russia, currently living in New York, NY); Jennifer Cherest, soprano (Southeast Region: La Plata, MD); Natalie Cummings, soprano (Gulf Coast Region: Lakeway, TX); Alex John DeSocio, baritone (Midwest Region: Wichita, KS); Patrick Guetti, bass (Middle Atlantic Region: Highland Park, NJ); Nicole Haslett, soprano (Northwest Region: Mt. Laurel, NJ); John Kapusta, tenor (Eastern Region: Wappingers Falls, NY); Ao Li, bass-baritone (Rocky Mountain Region: Dezhou, China, currently living in San Francisco, CA); Yi Li, tenor (Middle Atlantic Region: Jinan, China, currently living in Silver Spring, MD); Christopher Lowrey, countertenor (New England Region: Johnston, RI); Rafael Moras, tenor (Gulf Coast Region: San Antonio, TX); Scott Russell, bass (Eastern Region: Roanoke, VA); Sofia Selowsky, mezzo-soprano (Central Region: Bethesda, MD); Diego Silva, tenor (Great Lakes Region: Mexico City, Mexico); Dane Suarez, tenor (Mid-South Region: Princeton, IL); Lida Szkwarek, soprano (Upper Midwest Region: Winnipeg, Manitoba); Rexford Tester, tenor (Middle Atlantic Region: Tazewell, VA); Sarah Tucker, soprano (Rocky Mountain Region: Houston, TX); Amanda Woodbury, soprano (Western Region: Crestwood, KY).

It is interesting to note the presence of a countertenor. We are seeing more countertenors. None of the singers listed above initially sang at our Buffalo/Toronto auditions. Our winners, for the record, were soprano Lauren Frey, baritone Cameron McPhail and soprano Magali Simard-Galdes.

To continue to quote the Met's announcement, the semi-finalists arrive at the Met on Thursday, March 20 to rehearse with the company’s music staff in preparation for the semi-finals competition on Sunday, March 23. The winners of that event will go on to sing in the Grand Finals Concert on Sunday, March 30 at 3 p.m. 

Much will be at stake, considering that many great singers -- including Renee Fleming, pictured at top, received awards from the National Council when they were starting out.

To get an idea of the drama, check out this video from the New York Times:

Rainy Northwestern city takes shot at snowy Northeastern city

As part of a cheeky contest called “Cool Bands in Crappy Towns,” a Seattle radio station is promising to send one unlucky fan to Paramore'’s July 2 show at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.

In an announcement its website, Seattle’s 106.1 KISS FM, owned by the media conglomerate Clear Channel Broadcasting, encouraged listeners to enter the contest by listening for clues and texting a key word to the station.

“Cool Bands in Crappy Towns returns to 106.1 KISS FM! This time we wanna send you to see PARAMORE (cool band) in Buffalo (crappy town).”

The contest, which began on March 3 and ends at 8 p.m. today, was launched in 2010 and seems explicitly designed to garner negative publicity. (It's working.) The first contest featured a Black Eyed Peas concert in Des Moines, Iowa. According to a report from a Des Moines TV station, residents there were up in arms about the way their city was characterized.

A call to the station’s promotions department for more details was not immediately returned. It was unclear if the contest's creators know that Darien Lake is not in fact in Buffalo, or whether they actually meant to call Buffalo a cool town and Paramore a crappy band.

- Colin Dabkowski

This weekend, Vocalis sings music old and new


By Mary Kunz Goldman

The vocal group Vocalis has two concerts coming up this weekend that features music of England and America -- music the singers plan on singing this summer when they tour England.

The music includes the work of such Renaissance masters as William Byrd, Orlando de Lassus and Tomas Luis de Victoria. There will also be some newer music represented. Among the American composers on the program are two with Buffalo connections, Michael Slon and Caroline Mallonee.

Slon is a Buffalo expat who is currently head of the choral program at the University of Virginia.

Mallonee sings in Vocalis and is a successful composer nationally. Vocalis tells us that she recently completed compositions for the Garrison Keillor show and also for the Buffalo Chamber Players and Camerata di Sant' Antonio.

Here is a dramatic live performance of Michael Slon's stunning arrangement of "The Star-Spangled Banner." It is being sung at a basketball game between University of Virginia and Virginia Tech. (That "WHOSE" is hilarious, though probably not in Slon's plan.)

Here is a vocal piece by Mallonee called "Where the Heart Can Sit."


This summer, as part of their English tour, the singers of Vocalis have been invited to perform as part of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival. It is an honor and they promise to keep us posted.

Meanwhile, you may listen to some of Vocalis' singing, including a wealth of Renaissance masterpieces and some very pretty music by Slon and Mallonee, on the Vocalis website. And catch the group's upcoming concert. There are two performances this weekend:

-- 8 p.m. Friday at St. Louis Church, 780 Main St.

-- 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Orchard Park Presbyterian Church, 4369 S. Buffalo St., Orchard Park.

For these two concerts, admission is a $12 donation, with students $10 and children 12 and under free.

There will also be a third concert at 7:30 p.m. Wed., April 7, at the Ciminelli Recital Hall, Rockwell Hall. Buffalo State College. Tickets to this third concert are $10 general admission.

More details are on the group's website.


Scantron runs for school board

Daniel Rockwitz Reynolds, a Buffalo teacher and performer known the local hip hop community as Scantron, announced last week that he is running for one of the three at-large seats in the upcoming election for Buffalo Board of Education on May 6. He will hold something of a campaign rally tonight at 6 in Ashker's Juice Bar.

I've run across Reynolds during the Buffalo Infringement Festival (see a short excerpt of his teaser performance for last year's festival above) and at other local arts events. In my limited experience, I have found him to be an eloquent if somewhat unorthodox advocate for the use of arts in education. His candidacy is sure to add a compelling wrinkle an already fascinating race. More info on his campaign is here.

Here's Reynold's campaign video:

--Colin Dabkowski

BPO postpones concert with rock band America

By Mary Kunz Goldman

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's March 26 concert with America has been postponed, the orchestra has just announced. The band, whose tour has taken them recently to Colorado and Cleveland, postponed the Buffalo concert because of medical leave.

The concert has been rescheduled for 8 p.m. June 5.

All tickets will be honored on the new date. For more information, call the BPO, 885-5000.

BPO Subscriptions Soar To New High


By Mary Kunz Goldman

Get your tickets while you can!

Maybe it's next season's Beethoven Festival. Maybe it's all those yummy doughnuts promised at the Coffee Concerts. Maybe there's simply music in the air. In any case, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has shattered all of its previous subscription records.

Both dollars and number of subscribers are at an all-time high.

The BPO provided numbers: "Subscription sales for the 2013-14 season currently stand at $1.85 million, up 4 percent from the previous season's figure of $1.78 million. The number of individual subscribers now totals 6,700."

The orchestra thinks the increase might be thanks to the buzz generated by its triumph last June at Carnegie Hall, its recent Florida tour and its Naxos CDs. There are also a wide variety of flexible subscription plans designed to attract a wider audience.

BPO Executive Director Dan Hart also credits the synergy among the BPO staff, board and musicians.

"The orchestra is playing at a very high level. Music director JoAnn Falletta (pictured above) is an excellent ambassador to the community and continues to program outstanding seasons," he said. "It's gratifying to see the public respond to our efforts."


Arts Services Initiative launches cultural awards

The Arts Services Initiative of Western New York, a cross-cultural advocacy organization headed by Tod A. Kniazuk, announced today that it is lanching an annual series of cultural awards.

The new awards program is similar to the yearly honors the Arts Council in Buffalo and Erie County handed out until its demise in 2010. ASI is accepting nominations on its website for lifetime achievement, organization of the year, artist of the year, rising star, cultural supporter of the year, cultural advocate of the year, volunteer of the year and DEC program of the year. The ceremony will be on June 25 in the Hotel @ Lafayette.

Read ASI's release on the new awards program here.

--Colin Dabkowski

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