The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is an American symphony orchestra located in Buffalo, New York. Its primary performing venue is Kleinhans Music Hall, which is a National Historic Landmark. Its regular concert season features gala concerts, classics programming of core repertoire, pops concerts, educational youth concerts and family concerts. During the summer months, the orchestra performs at many parks and outdoor venues across Western New York.
Cameron Baird, Frederick Slee, and Samuel P. Capen founded the orchestra in 1934. (Baird's and Slee's names now grace the two buildings which house the music department at the University at Buffalo, while the university's main administration building is named after Capen.) The BPO first performed during the 1935–1936 season under music director Lajos Shuk, and moved to Kleinhans upon the concert hall’s completion, performing at its dedicatory gala on October 12, 1940.
Past music directors of the Philharmonic have included William Steinberg, Josef Krips, Lukas Foss, Michael Tilson Thomas, Semyon Bychkov, and Maximiano Valdés. During Foss's tenure, the BPO was considered the world leader in performance of 20th century symphonic music. The current music director is JoAnn Falletta, the orchestra's first female music director. Stefan Sanders is the current resident conductor. John Morris Russell is the Principal Pops Conductor. Other celebrated conductors who have led the orchestra include Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Sir Neville Mariner, and Henry Mancini. Doc Severinsen was the resident pops conductor in the 1990s. Another notable BPO pops conductor was Marvin Hamlisch who is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, A Chorus Line. Actor Sorrell Booke also conducted the orchestra on at least one occasion.
The orchestra has recorded extensively. Under Steinberg, the BPO released a critically acclaimed first commercial recording: Dmitri Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony. Under Falletta's directorship, the BPO's recording program has focused on American composers for the Naxos label, including Frederick Converse, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, and contemporary compositions, including the first commercial recording of John Corigliano's Mr Tambourine Man which received two GRAMMY Awards in 2009. She also founded a house label, Beau Fleuve, on which the orchestra has released discs including "Built For Buffalo," featuring commissioned works, and "Carnivals and Fairy Tales," a children's album narrated by Falletta and Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls. The orchestra can also be heard in the soundtrack to Woody Allen's Manhattan.
During the late 1920s and early 30s, considerable efforts were made to foster interest in a professional orchestra for the Greater Buffalo community. By late 1934, via the efforts of Cameron Baird, Frederick Slee and Samuel Capen, a conductor of extensive European training was recruited to Buffalo in the person of Lajos Shuk, a cello virtuoso and director of the New York Civic Symphony. Shortly thereafter, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Society was formed and a series of classics concerts and the first BPO youth concerts were presented in the 1935-36 season.
Through the leadership of Society President Mrs. Edgar F. Wendt, funds were raised to maintain a viable ensemble through 1937 when support was received from the federal WPA project, which sponsored additional players and recruited a conductor named Franco Autori from the Dallas Symphony. Over the next two seasons (despite a variety of administrative and financial growing pains) the Orchestra presented many fine symphonic performances with renowned soloists, and began performing run-out concerts to neighboring localities like Niagara Falls. Finally, by the opening of the 1939-40 season, the Society and the Greater Buffalo community were ready to provide enduring support for the expansion of both the classical and lighter 'Pops' programming by its burgeoning orchestra. The only thing missing from the equation was a fine concert hall.
Opened in the fall of 1940, Kleinhans Music Hall is a shrine for music which enjoys an international reputation equal to that of its resident orchestra, with exquisite acoustics and a large seating capacity of 2,400. Constructed with funds in part bequeathed by Edward L. Kleinhans and Mary Seaton Kleinhans, the Hall has ever since served as the Orchestra's permanent home. Kleinhans Music Hall was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. The hall was designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen. While many capital improvements have been made over the years, the look and feel of the hall has changed little since 1940.
The BPO dedication concert of Kleinhans in October 1940 signaled that the time was right for the Orchestra to grow internally with additional players; externally with expanded outreach and the regular appearance of major concertizing artists; a series of FM broadcasts; and a more widely diverse repertoire. With demands on his expanding career, Autori resigned in the spring of 1945 and closed his tenure by conducting the Buffalo premiere of Copland's Lincoln Portrait with Carl Sandburg as narrator.
Time was prime for a new maestro in the revered opera-symphonic tradition. A major coup was achieved when the industrious and ever-versatile Cameron Baird (the Chairman of the UB Music Department) received a recommendation from Arturo Toscanini of the NBC Symphony that its Associate Conductor, William Steinberg, would be perfect for the job.
The Steinberg era of the BPO was marked by many changes in orchestra personnel, including the beginning of an influx of extraordinary European musicians who had (like maestro Steinberg himself) sought new lives and careers here in the United States just after the War. Their presence on stage - primarily in the strings - served to define the distinctly European sound that began to resonate from the BPO during the late 40s and continued throughout the 50s and well beyond. To this of course was added Steinberg's relentless demand for impeccable and dynamic performances. The time frame and timbre are nicely preserved on the BPO's first commercial recording, the Leningrad Symphony No.7 by Shostakovich on the Musicraft label. Moreover, several of the Orchestra's performances were recorded for broadcast on the NBC radio network, beginning in 1947, and currently preserved in the BPO Archive and at the Library of Congress.
By the time Steinberg resigned in 1952 to take over the Pittsburgh Symphony, the BPO was a mature and polished ensemble. Indeed, it was the remarkable talent here at Kleinhans that enabled the Orchestra's Board of Directors to achieve an artistic coup in 1953 by stealing the new BPO music director right from the podium of the London Symphony. It was none other than Josef Krips, the fine Viennese master who before the War had also been the Music Director of the Vienna State Opera. The Krips era witnessed a major expansion in the length of the season and the number of musicians employed as well as the re-initiation of major tours in the eastern United States and Canada, including the Maritime Provinces. Although it made no recordings at this time, the dark, European timbre of the orchestra matured in bottle like a fine vintage wine. The sound was mellow and sophisticated, with a nuance of tempo and robust phrasing that marked the great orchestras of the 'old world' European tradition.
But 'tradition' was in for a big surprise after Krips resigned in 1961 to take over the San Francisco Symphony. Indeed, creative lightning was set to strike at the downbeat of the 1963-64 season when American composer, conductor and piano virtuoso Lukas Foss took the helm as the new music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic. At the opening concert the walls of Kleinhans were at once enchanted by Ives' Unanswered Question, then thrilled for the first time with the flash and peal of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Little did anyone realize that even 'Le Sacre' would be 'old hat' in a hurry. Within three seasons the BPO led the orchestra world in the performance of new music.
The Orchestra was invited to Carnegie Hall for the first of what became regular appearances there. Its first truly major recordings were made on the Nonesuch label featuring the music of Sibelius, Cage, Penderecki, Xenakis, Ruggles and Foss. Moreover, the BPO's first nationwide TV appearances were broadcast on PBS with Stockhousen's Momente and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, after which followed the initiation of several major tours, including two national tours with Arthur Fiedler and his 'Pops' repertoire. Buffalo and the BPO even received feature coverage in Life Magazine. Then, in a misty rain in 1970 maestro Foss shared the dias with Governor Nelson Rockefeller at the ground breaking at Artpark, the declared permanent summer home of the BPO.
When Foss resigned to take on the Jerusalem Symphony in 1971, he was followed by the 24-year-old, American-born wunderkind Michael Tilson Thomas. Over the next several seasons with MTT the Orchestra made two Columbia recordings and toured regularly, with frequent appearances in Carnegie Hall (including a gala special there with jazz great Sarah Vaughan) and performances in Boston's Symphony Hall and Washington's Kennedy Center. With the BPO Thomas also made two celebrated recordings for Columbia records (now Sony) including a brilliant set of Gershwin show overtures - a recording which found a second life on the sound track of the Woody Allen film Manhattan. In July 1974, MTT also presided over the BPO dedication concert at Artpark as the Orchestra's intended summer home. With many demands on his time, in 1978 Thomas resigned after accepting an appointment with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
In 1979 the podium was assigned to Julius Rudel, the highly regarded maestro of the New York City Opera. Though faced with many financial constraints, Rudel's tenure was marked with emphasis on the classical repertoire as well as gala performances with Beverly Sills and Plácido Domingo. Rudel also took the BPO on a West Coast tour which produced rave reviews in the San Francisco and Los Angeles press, and made a commemorative recording with CBS Masterworks of music for the holiday season.
Rudel's departure in the spring of 1984 was followed by the appointment of a dynamic and articulate young Russian emigre, Semyon Bychkov, who had been the BPO's Assistant Conductor for the previous three seasons. But this was not an ordinary promotion, as Bychkov was already singled out by the European press as the primary candidate for the helm of several great orchestras. With the support of an ambitious Board of Directors, Bychkov announced that the BPO would make its first tour of Europe. All of this was in addition to directing the BPO's 50th anniversary season and making a fine commemorative recording featuring Roberta Peters of the Metropolitan Opera. With regard to the 1988 European tour, the BPO performed two sold-out concerts in Vienna's great Musikvereinsall, as well as concerts in Geneva, Zurich, Milan, and Frankfurt and other venues in Germany and Switzerland.
When Bychkov resigned to take over the Orchestre de Paris in 1989, Chilean maestro Maximiano Valdes rekindled the BPO's reputation for program variety in both the standard and contemporary repertoire. Although the Valdes era encountered serious fiscal issues, the many extant tapes of local FM broadcasts reveal Valdes' inspired orchestral style with an alluring lyrical touch.
Following important administrative and fiscal advances, in 1998 the Buffalo Philharmonic regained its progressive role when it captured a rising star and appointed JoAnn Falletta as its new maestro. She was the first woman named as the music director of a major U.S. symphony orchestra. In addition to her mastery of the standard orchestral repertoire, Falletta reveals a keen enthusiasm for new and intriguing scores, both from the international panorama and from American composers, much in keeping with the distinguished history of the BPO. Under her direction, the orchestra has reinitiated a series of broadcasts on public radio, and has returned to Carnegie Hall after a long hiatus. Falletta has led the orchestra on three multi-city tours of Florida, and also conducted the orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in 2012. With Falletta, the BPO also has issued more than 40 new CDs, including several on Naxos Records. Among the celebrated soloists who have appeared with the BPO under maestro Falletta are Van Cliburn, Renée Fleming, and André Watts.Lajos Shuk (1935–1936)
Franco Autori (1936–1945)
William Steinberg (1945–1952)
Izler Solomon (1952–1953, conductor-in-residence)
Josef Krips (1954–1963)
Lukas Foss (1963–1971)
Michael Tilson Thomas (1971–1979)
Julius Rudel (1979–1985)
Semyon Bychkov (1985–1989)
Maximiano Valdes (1989–1998)
JoAnn Falletta (1999–present)