For their first concerts of November, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra brought in two special guests – a conductor to fill in for BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta who is in Ireland and a pianist to play the Concerto.

But before the festive joy of the concert, the program began on a sad note when Principal cellist Roman Mekinukov announced the death of one of the BPO family – violist Val – on October 31. With one of the Orchestra members conducting, they played Bach’s “Air on a G String” for Val.

With Leonard Slatkin as guest conductor the program opened with what Slatkin called a five minute romp with a fast pace work that included lots of percussion and features the cow bell. Following the time honoured traditions of Orchestra, Concerto, Symphony; the Cindy McTee composition “Circuits” got things going. Married to Slatkin, McTee was on hand to hear the performance.

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After the lively performance, pianist George Li joined the BPO for a performance of the “Concerto in A minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op 16′ by Edward Grieg. More than just a technical player, Li was as lively as the music, bouncing up and down with hair flying as he played.

Popular since its premiere, the Concerto has been performed by many pianists. Li noted that while learning to play the work, he would not listen to any other versions of the work so that he would not copy them but perfect his own interpretation of the piece.

For an encore, Li played a transcribed version of a piece from the opera “Orphee et Euridice” by Christoph Gluck while Slatkin sat on the steps of the conductor’s podium to listen.

After the intermission, Slatkin and the Orchestra returned to perform the Sir Edward Elgar work “Symphony No. 1 in A-flat Major, Op 55”. Elgar was the first British composer to veer away from the shorter folk songs and dances to compose major works.

Leonard Slatkin no longer holds a full time conducting position but he hasn’t lost any of the fire or passion. At time it appeared as if he were dancing instead of conductiong.

Born into a musical family, Leonard was destined for a life in the world of music. Father Felix was the music director for 20th Century Fox. The Slatkin household was frequented by the stars of the day including Uncle Frank (Sinatra)who would sing a young Leonard and his brother to sleep.

And the musical tradition continues with Slatkin’s son who create music in Hollywood for the television and film industry.

In the pre concert talk – Musically Speaking – Slatkin noted that there may be some who were surprised to see him because when the annual Emmy Awards aired recently it was Slatkin’s photo that was shown with the information on pianist Andre Previn. In the words of Mark Twain, reports of his death were greatly exagerated.

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