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BPO's Rachmaninoff Rocks Florida


By Mary Kunz Goldman

Observe our orchestra's success in Palm Beach.

"The climax of the first movement thrilled to the bone, and in the cadenza, he became a primal being, arising from the Earth." That is the description of pianist Philippe Bianconi playing Rachmaninoff's Third, which he just played here in Buffalo. The News predicted that the BPO would wake up those Florida snowbirds. We were right!

The Buffalo Philharmonic is away this week in Florida escaping our gray skies. But they will be back by Saturday, for Ann Hampton Callaway paying tribute to Barbra Streisand.

Infringement Fest issues call for work

The 2014 Buffalo Infringment Festival, scheduled for July 24 to Aug. 3, is now accepting applications from local artists, musicians, filmmakers, poets and performers of all stripes. Some info from the release:

Infringement welcomes all musicians, visual artists, dancers, poets, actors, filmmakers, performance artists and street performers to be involved. There are no fees to enter and every application is accepted. Once you have started an application, you can go back to it at any time and add or change information. Registering early keeps you in touch with the monthly events and fundraisers and links you with an organizer in your genre of art. It also helps organizers plan ahead with volume, as the festival grows larger every year. To celebrate our 10th year we encourage everyone applying to step outside with their creative ideas and transform the streets of Buffalo into the ultimate free venue!

To submit your proposal, click here.

--Colin Dabkowski

Could Renee Fleming kick off a new tradition?

By Mary Kunz Goldman

Renee Fleming sounded beautiful and looked beautiful, as she sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl just a few minutes ago.

I would not be surprised if the Super Bowl sticks to opera singers for this all-important job from now on. Since the announcement was made that this opera diva was going to sing the anthem, I have seen no negative comments, not one, and I have kept an eye on the Internet. She sang the anthem wonderfully. It sounded free, not straight-jacketed, but it was dignified and worthy of the occasion. Her high notes were strong and clear. Brava, Miss Fleming! Brava!

Next year they can choose another opera singer. Maybe a man next time, or maybe one of the many fine African-American opera singers out there, to remind people that this art is universal.

Let's take back the reverence of this moment.

We are off to a great start.

History's greatest songwriter


By Mary Kunz Goldman

Today try to find the time -- responsibly, of course, and only if you are over 21 -- to drink a beer in honor of the blazing talent that was Franz Schubert. Schubert was born on Jan. 31, 1797.

I am going to go out on a limb here and declare that he was one of the three great melodists of history, the other two being Mozart and Mendelssohn. There have been a lot of great tunesmiths over the centuries but these three stand out for me because their melodies were so glorious, so effortless, so numerous and so natural that they could squander them. This is the kind of gift you are born with.

Oddly enough all three of these men died young. Mendelssohn was 39, Mozart was 35 and Schubert only 31. Their deaths were three of music's greatest tragedies. The deaths of Mozart and Mendelssohn stunned the musical world. Schubert, in contrast, was still relatively obscure when he died. It took a while for his greatness to come to light.

Often when you are listening to Schubert you are reminded you are listening to the work of a young man. He was music's equivalent of the short-lived English poet John Keats, combining a youthful romanticism with a strange sorrow. Schubert never outgrew that love we have when we are young for knights and ladies, for Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, for romantic poetry, for beer and going out with his friends. He loved the swashbuckling stories of Sir Walter Scott. America was a romantic place to him and he was reading James Fenimore Cooper's "The Last of the Mohicans" at around the time that he died.

Schubert wrote utterly sublime symphonies and quartets and Masses and other music but the young man's priorities he had show through especially in his songs. He used to dash off his songs in what you could almost call his spare time. I think they were a kind of guilty pleasure for him. He would work them out on guitar and his friends would sometimes show up in the morning and find him asleep with the guitar on the bed next to him.

He is buried in Vienna's Central Cemetery. One of his friends wrote the beautiful epitaph. "Music lies buried here, but still fairer hopes."


Babeville to host forum on art, culture and 'placemaking' tonight

Jason Schupback, director of design for the National Endowment for the Arts, will lead a forum on the role of art and culture in the development of urban spaces tonight at 7 in Babeville's Asbury Hall

As projects such as Larkinville and Canalside spring up in American cities recovering from decades of economic stagnation, developers, architects and politicians are thinking much more about the role of culture in creating new urban landscapes and economies. The term for that trend is "placemaking," a highly lampoonable piece of jargon The Atlantic Cities included on its list of "Urbanist Buzzwords to Rethink in 2014."

Whatever you may think of the word itself, the trend is well worth exploring. Tonight's forum is sure to touch on many important issues central to the development of Buffalo in the next few years. Anyone interested in the rapid development of the city should check it out.

The forum is sponsored by Partners for a Livable Western New York, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and presented by Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center. As seating is limited, those interested in attending should RSVP by calling Hallwalls at 854-1694.

--Colin Dabkowski

Five Songs For a Freezing Day

By Mary Kunz Goldman

1. Sonny Boy Williamson, "Nine Below Zero." "The woman waits till it's nine below zero, and puts me down for another man." A timeless, ageless theme, and a wonderful video of the great Sonny Boy singing and playing his harp.

2. "Gute Nacht" ("Good night") the first song from the song cycle "Die Winterreise" ("The Winter Journey") by Franz Schubert. It is in German but this song translates roughly to "Nine below zero, she put me out for another man." Enjoy this bleak portrait of winter, and listen to the whole thing because the ending is magical. Your singer is baritone Thomas Quasthoff.

3. "Moonlight in Vermont." Let's see the cold in a more affectionate light. This is a romantic portrait of winter but still gets across the chilliness with its words about icy fingertips and snowlight. No one sings it as beautifully as Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Armstrong. 

 4.  Frank Bridge's song "Blow, Blow Thy Winter Wind" quotes from Shakespeare in laughing at the winter wind and reminding us that in the grand scheme of things a cold wind is not that bad. "Hey, ho, sing hey ho, unto the green holly..." Here is Canadian baritone Gerald Finley, a singer I love, with Roger Vignoles on piano.

5. Not a song per se, but we cannot have a list of music for a single-digit-degree day without the vivid "Winter" from Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons." There is that exquisite melody in the middle movement -- that part is supposed to be about warming up by the fire -- but the other movements really sum up what a day like today is like. I chose this video for its great images, but even without them, Vivaldi makes you feel the shivering and the chattering teeth.

The real Billy Elliot is on stage in Toronto -- and he's not a dancer


By Mary Kunz Goldman

Sir Thomas Allen, a British opera baritone from a coal mining town, was the chief inspiration for the mega-hit "Billy Elliot," about a boy who transcends a similar background to become a great ballet dancer. He is singing the pivotal part of Don Alfonso in the Canadian Opera Company's new production of Mozart's "Cosi fan Tutte."

There has already been one performance and there are nine left to go. The staging, by filmmaker Atom Egoyan, looks really weird. Why do they have to do this to Mozart, you know? Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera," the COC's other offering this time around, looks OK.

But what a pleasure to see, and hear, Sir Thomas Allen.

Here is a Toronto audio interview with him in which he talks about a number of things including "Cosi" and his childhood. "I was a shy, retiring lad, but I wanted to sing." He sounds like such a gracious man. It is poignant to hear him laughing ruefully how he tells how he was bullied -- including being thrown over a railroad embankment and getting his nose bloodied -- because he was studying singing and interested in the arts. You could not get away with that in his hometown, he says.

And: "I've never got on with pop music." It takes courage to say that!

Hmmm, he mentions how his father plays the piano and was especially influenced by Charlie Kunz. "If that name means anything these days," he laughs. As a Kunz myself I love hearing that name mentioned! On a more serious note though this is a very moving interview. Try to find time to hear it.

Besides being an opera star Sir Thomas Allen is a great singer of Lieder, an art form I love. Here he is singing Schubert's "Serenade." 


Hallelujahs for Renee Fleming and her Super Bowl gig


By Mary Kunz Goldman

Renee Fleming, above, is getting shouts of "Brava!" for singing the National Anthem at the upcoming Super Bowl on Feb. 2.

The story on Yahoo! News is eliciting comments that can pretty much be translated to "Viva la Diva." 

"Thank God! How many horrible renditions have we had to endure over the years? Love her voice!"

"At least we won't have Pop Divas taking one syllable words and turning them into 50 syllable words spanning four octaves."

"Finally, they have someone with talent."

"A real singer singing our National Anthem. Refreshing."

"I think this is great! I hope she sings it as written. Opera singers have incredible voices!"

Best of all...

"Wait a minute, they're having someone who can actually sing perform the anthem? This is a breaking a long standing tradition!"

Renee Fleming, who is from Rochester, has sung here in Buffalo a number of times, including opening the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's season in 2002 and 2006. She is reportedly the first opera singer to have the honor of singing the anthem at the Super Bowl. As we rejoice in this turn of events, here she is singing Mozart's famous "Alleluia."

Hmmmm... a bit like "The Star-Spangled Banner," it builds to a dazzling high note at the end!

Could we maybe hear this at halftime?


BPO Recap: Musing on 'Mozart and Salieri'


By Mary Kunz Goldman

A concertgoer was nice enough to read my review of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's concert this past weekend, which featured Rimsky-Korsakov's opera "Mozart and Salieri." He writes, in part:

...You took no shots at an obviously lame piece. While I'm a big fan of Ms. Falletta, I am often mystified at her penchant for taking obscure pieces and presenting them to us (or maybe subjecting us to them.) There's a reason these pieces are obscure. I know musicians and directors get tired of playing the same Bachs and Beethovens over and over, and yes some of her selections can be interesting, but for every decent new piece she delivers to us there is something like that awful stinker Gliere piece, or this Rimsky-Korsakov....  Paraphrasing "The orchestra performed it wonderfully" - maybe so- but the piece itself was a piece of crap, especially that Gliere. Again, there is a reason these pieces are obscure.

I like this guy's passion for music and his civil discourse -- I mean, he didn't call me an idiot or anything because I wrote positively about a piece he did not like. I did, honestly, enjoy "Mozart and Salieri." I was looking forward to it and it did not disappoint me.

As I wrote back to our correspondent...

Continue reading "BPO Recap: Musing on 'Mozart and Salieri'" ยป

You, too, can be on TV with Lance Diamond!


By Mary Kunz Goldman

Television cameras. Did we hear the words television cameras?

Because Lance Diamond is going to be chowing wings with Mo Rocca on "CBS Sunday Morning," as many Buffalonians as possible must join him in the national spotlight.

For part of the shoot Lance is doing a special two-hour show at Milkie's on Elmwood today from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. CBS is going to shoot some of the show for their story.


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