BPO Prepares For Carnegie Hall Performance

BUFFALO – On Friday the Buffalo Philharmonic gave Western New York a preview of their upcoming concert to be performed at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

The concert was cheered with enthusiasm by the nearly-full audience at Kleinhans Music Hall, despite the 10:30 a.m. starting time, which bodes well, even for the more jaded Manhattan crowd.

Music director JoAnn Falletta was on the podium with the opening work on the All-Soviet program: ”Morning Prayers” from the four tone poem cycle ”Life Without Christmas,” by composer Giya Kancheli. Kancheli was born and lived most of his life in Soviet Georgia, although he now lives and works in Belgium.

The work requires only the string sections of the orchestra, plus the alto flute, piano, and guitar. The work also utilizes the recorded voice of a boy soprano. Anyone who has ever tried to combine recorded sound with living stage action would have to marvel at the precision and skill of the sound crew.

Historically, Russia and the surrounding republics have been known for their deep spiritualism and mysticism, until the creation of the Soviet Union, whose rulers banned all religion. Kancheli would report that he had created ”Life Without Christmas” to mourn those lost years, and to celebrate the emergence of that spiritualism, now that the Soviet rulers are no longer in power.

The work is not melodic, but it is made up entirely of beautiful sounds, and the instrumentalists created an ocean of sound, from which the child’s voice and the brighter instruments emerged triumphant.

The majority of the concert was the lengthy ”Symphony No. 3 in B minor, Opus 42,” which is given the subtitle ”Il’ya Muromets.” The subtitle refers to a legendary Russian warrior from the Middle Ages, who is sometimes described as ”The Russian Robin Hood.”

Gliere was born in Kiev, of a Belgian father, who was the source of his French-sounding name. He is known for lush, heavily melodic scores which create tone pictures from Russian mythology and folklore. He is best known for the opera ”The Red Poppy,” which was almost required attendance for visitors to the U.S.S.R., before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This symphony evokes four events from the legendary career of Muromets. In the first movement, he visits the ancient warrior Svyatogor, and is bestowed with the dying hero’s spirit and superhuman strength. The symphony uses more than 100 musicians, creating the images of the legendary hero with oceans of powerful sounds.

It is an irony that virtually all cultures have superhuman heroes in their history, yet in every case, those heros must be overcome and defeated, or the world would have to be perfect, as it is now. After Muromets overcomes a monstrous robber, who destroys his enemies with his wall-destroying screams, so he can deck his three semi-beautiful daughters with the gold and jewels he removes from his victims, and after he assumes the command of the ferocious Bogatyr Knights, he comes fact-to-face with the celestial army, which defeats the hero and his knights, and turns them to stone, one by one.

The musicians and their director attacked the demanding score with vigor, and ended up, exhausted but elated on the stage, with an exhausted but elated audience, cheering them wildly. The work has almost never been performed, and has never been recorded in full, because it is so long and requires so many musicians, so Friday’s audience were among a very few people who have ever heard the powerful piece of music.

The tiny Ms. Falletta has no trouble commanding her vast horde of musicians, and they responded with a discipline and a technical mastery which could only thrill the careful listener.

The BPO will repeat the program in Buffalo, this evening at 8 p.m., then will record it for the Naxos Recording Label, before taking it to Carnegie Hall, where they are one of only five orchestras from across the United States who have been invited to perform on the stage in the celebrated Music Hall.