Kleinhans Music Hall Turns 75

Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo
Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, New York

 

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, New York.

Home of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Kleinhans is considered one of the world’s most acoustically perfect concert halls. It’s also one of Buffalo’s most significant architectural landmarks. Located in a leafy residential neighborhood just north of the city’s downtown, it anchors majestic Symphony Circle, part of Frederick Law Olmsted’s extensive parkway system which runs throughout the city. The Main Auditorium, featuring rich primavera flexwood walls and striking recessed lighting, has a seating capacity of around 2,800. A smaller multi-purpose hall seats 800. The lobby is a smoothly curving 40-by-185 foot Winona travertine arc.

The history of Kleinhans is a story of community-minded public investment. In the 1930s, Edward and Mary Seaton Kleinhans, who made their fortune from a high-end men’s clothing store which opened in Buffalo in 1893, specified that their estate be used “to erect a suitable music hall…for the use, enjoyment and benefit of the people of the City of Buffalo.” Additional funding came from the Works Progress Administration. The Buffalo Philharmonic and conductor Franco Autori performed the opening concert on October 12, 1940.

Kleinhans’ sleek, timeless design was created by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and his son, Eero Saarinen (who went on to design the iconic Gateway Arch in Saint Louis and the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport, along with some of the twentieth century’s most enduring furniture). Buffalo architects F.J. and William Kidd were also involved. Eliel Saarinen’s objective was to create “an architectural atmosphere…so as to tune the performers and the public alike into a proper mood of performance and receptiveness, respectively.”

Megan Prokes, a member of the Buffalo Philharmonic first violin section, shares a uniquely personal perspective on what it’s like to go to work at Kleinhans Music Hall:

Kleinhans Music Hall has always been an important part of my life in music. My parents moved to Buffalo not long before I was born, my father having acquired a job with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Both of my parents are professional musicians, so it was only natural that as my younger sister and I grew up, we spent a lot of time at Kleinhans. My earliest memories of the hall are snapshots; the cacophony of instrumentalists warming up onstage before tuning, the broad staircases up to the balcony, the seemingly endless tunnels backstage and downstairs that lead to the music library, the musician locker areas, and out into the lobby through almost-hidden doors. Though it may sound strange, my most vivid and longest-held memory of Kleinhans is the scent of it, which has never changed. Familiar and comforting, I’d know blindfolded exactly where I was within a few seconds of entering the building.

When I think back on my childhood and early adulthood in Buffalo, and about my progress as a violinist, I see it mirrored in my relationship with Kleinhans. When I was little my mother would take my sister and me to the Discovery Concert series and I would look for my father, watch him as he came onstage. As I got older and more serious about music and the violin, I began to attend Classics concerts. I would sit impatiently, waiting for soloists like Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham and many others to take the stage and teach me about passion, technique, dedication, and artistry. Backstage at every age, I would look forward to saying hello to all of my parents’ friends, my heroes, those who had taken their love of music and their instrument and made it their life. They always inquired after what I was working on, making me feel like a part of their world.
 
Now, as an adult and a three-season member of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra myself, I look forward to working and performing in Kleinhans every day. The acoustics are everything that everyone says; rich, warm, well-balanced. While some say there’s no such thing as a “best seat in the house”, my favorite place to sit is front and center of the balcony. However, it is the entirety of what Kleinhans means to me, the representation of music and family, that makes it so special. My passion has become my lifestyle, my heroes have become my colleagues, and Kleinhans has become my second home.
 
interior view
interior view

 

BPO History Through Recordings

The 75th anniversary of Kleinhans Music Hall provides a great opportunity to celebrate the rich musical tradition of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and to consider the ways an orchestra’s sound and style of playing are shaped by its hall. From the beginning, new innovative programming seems to have been one of the orchestra’s hallmarks.

Here is the orchestra’s first recording, made in 1946 at a newly-opened Kleinhans. In this excerpt, William Steinberg conducts Shostakovich’s Symphony 7 “Leningrad,” which at that time was a five-year-old work. Steinberg served as the BPO’s music director between 1945 and 1952:

Austrian conductor and violinist Josef Krips was music director between 1954 and 1963. In this live concert performance at Kleinhans on November 19, 1957, Krips leads the BPO in Mahler’s First Symphony:

American composer, pianist, and conductor Lukas Foss brought new, highly adventurous music to the Kleinhans stage during his tenure as music director between 1963 and 1971. His first concert with the BPO included the orchestra’s debut performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Buffalo audiences were less than enthusiastic about Foss’ avant-garde programming, but he continued to push the envelop, saying, “To take refuge in the past is to play safe. Safety lurks wherever we turn. Show me dangerous music.”

Foss’ GEOD, written in 1969, features amplification and strange collage techniques which might remind you of sounds The Beatles were creating around the same time. The music floats through a mysterious, gradually changing landscape. As fragments of folk songs emerge and disappear, the spirit of Charles Ives seems to be lurking in the background.

Michael Tilson Thomas, music director between 1971 and 1979, continued Buffalo’s tradition of innovative programming. Here is Sun Treader by American composer Carl Ruggles (1876-1971):

Current Music Director JoAnn Falletta has extended the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s discography with numerous releases on the Naxos label. One of her most interesting projects has lifted the music of Marcel Tyberg, a composer who perished at Auschwitz, out of obscurity. Falletta tells the amazing story of how Tyberg’s scores survived and ended up in Buffalo.

Here is Marcel Tyberg’s Symphony No. 3 in D minor:

The Joy of Wrong Notes

broken-piano-keysThe element of surprise is an important ingredient in every great melody. Each note of a melody sets up expectations which are either fulfilled or delightfully challenged. Often subconsciously, we enjoy the unexpected “wrong” notes that take a melody in a bold new direction. We listen closely to hear how the disruption will work itself out.

For an example, listen to the jarring appoggiaturas in the second movement of Mozart’s otherwise serene Piano Concerto No. 21, K. 467. Or listen to the Richard Rodgers song, In My Own Little Corner from the 1957 television musical, Cinderella. On the words, “own little chair” Rodgers veers unexpectedly to the “wrong” note and then quickly corrects it with the note we expected. The bridge section of the song moves even further afield before quickly and skillfully sliding back into the chorus. “Oh yes, that’s where we’re supposed to be.” The familiar chorus suddenly feels fresh and new because of where we’ve been in the bridge.

The examples above are relatively subtle. But once in a while the “wrong” notes begin to really step out of line and take over the piece. Here are eight pieces where “wrong” notes move beyond subtle into the realm of shocking:

Haydn: The Creation

Franz Joseph Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, completed in 1798, is based on the Book of Genesis and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The opening Overture is a musical depiction of chaos. It’s filled with harsh dissonances and cadences which avoid a clear resolution, elements which audiences at the time would have found particularly shocking. There’s a hint of the revolutionary fire of Beethoven, who was about to begin his first string quartets in 1797 as Haydn began working on The Creation. At moments the music is so chromatic that it feels as if we’ve stepped into some unwritten Wagner prelude:

Mozart’s “Dissonance” Quartet

Listen to the opening of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 19 in C major and you’ll understand why it earned the nickname “Dissonance.” Completed in 1785, the work was dedicated to Haydn.

Chopin’s “Wrong Note” Etude

Frederic Chopin’s Etude No. 25, No. 5 in E minor is known as the “Wrong Note” Etude because of its dissonant minor seconds.

Prokofiev: Cinderella

The music of Sergei Prokofiev is full of quirky “wrong” notes. This excerpt from the ballet score, Cinderella is one example:

Ives: Symphony No. 2

The final movement of Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 2 is an exuberant collage of American folk songs, hymns, and Civil War military songs. You might also hear hints of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony. The end of the movement is like the grand finale of a brilliant fireworks display. Listen carefully. Something surprising happens on the final chord…

Shostakovich: Polka from “The Golden Age”

Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1930 ballet The Golden Age offered a satirical look at cultural and political currents in 1920s Europe. The Polka lands somewhere between humor and sarcasm:

Schnittke: Stille Nacht

Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) wrote this haunting version of Silent Night as a musical Christmas Card for violinist Gidon Kremer in 1978. Schnittke spent much of his life trapped behind the Soviet Iron Curtain. His music often evokes an atmosphere of gloom as well as biting protest. Pastiche and historical references frequently make up the ironic fabric of Schnittke’s music.

Wrong Note Rag

We’ll finish with music which perfectly sums up the joy of “wrong” notes. Here is an excerpt from the original Broadway cast recording of Leonard Bernstein’s 1953 musical Wonderful Town. The lyrics were written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green:

Share your own favorite “wrong note” pieces in the thread below.

Washington’s Birthday

Charles Ives
Charles Ives (1874-1954)

Washington’s Birthday, the first movement of Charles Ives’ Holiday Symphony, emerges out of the desolate, snowy gloom of a midwinter night in rural New England. The music feels strangely amorphous, as if we’ve suddenly slipped into a dream.

As we enter this sonic dreamscape, it’s easy to get the sense that we’re joining music already in progress. Who knows where or when it began? Drifting from one hazy moment to the next, we gradually become aware of a growing hubbub of voices. Suddenly, we find ourselves in the middle of a spirited barn dance. Fragments of old American folk melodies float in and out of our consciousness and begin to blend into a growing, joyful cacophony. With one shocking, climactic chord, our strange dream shows signs of turning into a nightmare. But then, just as suddenly, the night begins to wind down. Amid the final echoes of a fragment of Goodnight, Ladies, our ephemeral vision evaporates…

Here are the opening lines of Charles Ives’ description of Washington’s Birthday:

Cold and Solitude,” says Thoreau, “are friends of mine. Now is the time before the wind rises to go forth to seek the snow on the trees.”

And there is at times a bleakness without stir but penetrating, in a New England midwinter, which settles down grimly when the day closes over the broken-hills. In such a scene it is as though nature would but could not easily trace a certain beauty in the sombre landscape!–in the quiet but restless monotony! Would nature reflect the sternness of the Puritan’s fibre or the self-sacrificing part of his ideals?

Leonard Bernstein’s recording with the New York Philharmonic:

Visit Listeners’ Club posts featuring other movements from Ives’ Holiday Symphony, Thanksgiving Dayand Decoration Day.

Written in 1909

Composed in 1909 and revised and published four years later, Washington’s Birthday is an adventurous journey into atonality. Similar music was pushing the boundaries in Europe. 1909 was the year Anton Webern wrote the groundbreaking Five Movements, Op. 5.  The same year, Claude Debussy began writing his twenty four Préludes for solo piano. Listen to the hazy impressionism of the second Prélude from Book 1, Voiles. This music is constructed on the same whole tone scale Ives uses in the opening of Washington’s Birthday.  

In 1909 Mahler finished Das Lied von der Erde (“The Song of the Earth”). Ravel began work on the ballet Daphnis et Chloé and Stravinsky was a year away from completing The Firebird.

Music Fit for an Emperor

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Violinist Mark Sokol passed away last week. He was a founding member of the Concord String Quartet. Between 1971 and its disbanding in 1987, the Concord String Quartet championed music by American composers including Charles Ives, George Crumb, Jacob Druckman and Morton Feldman. Mark Sokol later joined the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Here is the Concord’s recording of Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3. This quartet earned the nickname “The Emperor” because the second movement is made up of variations on the melody, “God Save Emperor Francis.” Today we know this theme as the German national anthem.

Haydn composed the theme after returning from England, where he heard “God Save the Queen.” The theme quickly gained popularity and inspired patriotism at a time when Napoleon was threatening the Austrian Empire.

Composer Samuel Adler offers a technical analysis of the second movement’s progression of variations:

This is a wonderful lesson in orchestration, for too often the extremes in the range are wasted too early in a work, and the final buildup is, as a result, anticlimactic. The other formal factor to notice is that the entire structure is an accumulation of the elements which have slowly entered the harmonic and contrapuntal scheme in the course of the variations and have become a natural part of the statement.

Here are the second, third and fourth movements.

Decoration Day

Unknown-40Listen closely to Charles Ives’ Decoration Day and you may hear the lament of the dead.* The piece evokes ghosts of the battlefield and the distant echoes of small town New England observances of Decoration Day, the solemn American holiday of remembrance, started in the aftermath of the Civil War. It’s the holiday we now know as Memorial Day.

Decoration Day is the second movement of Ives’ four movement Holidays Symphony, written between 1897 and 1913. Ives intended each movement to function effectively as a stand-alone piece, and that is how it’s often programmed. The music is rooted in the mysterious power of memory-specifically Ives’ childhood memories of holiday celebrations. Fragments of folk songs, Civil War melodies, and hymns such as Adeste Fideles are layered, blending into a dreamlike atmosphere. Listen for the solitary trumpet call, Taps, the sounds of a marching band in a small town parade, and the concluding plagal cadence, used in the “Amen” of protestant hymns.

In the relative isolation of early twentieth century New England, Ives was pushing the boundaries of tonality in shocking ways, mirroring and in some cases anticipating similar developments in Europe. At times, Decoration Day sounds like a late Mahler adagio in terms of its orchestration as well as its disintegrating tonality.

Here is a recent recording by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony:

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Here is Ives’ description of the piece:

In the early morning the gardens and woods around the village are the meeting places of those who, with tender memories and devoted hands, gather the flowers for the Day’s Memorial. During the forenoon as the people join each other on the Green there is felt, at times, a fervency and intensity–a shadow perhaps of the fanatical harshness–reflecting old Abolitionist days. It is a day as Thoreau suggests, when there is a pervading consciousness of “Nature’s kinship with the lower order-man.”

After the Town Hall is filled with the Spring’s harvest of lilacs, daisies, and peonies, the parade is slowly formed on Main Street. First come the three Marshals on plough horses (going sideways), then the Warden and Burgesses in carriages, the Village Cornet Band, the G.A.R., two by two, the Militia (Company G), while the volunteer Fire Brigade, drawing a decorated hose-cart, with its jangling bells, brings up the rear-the inevitable swarm of small boys following. The march to Wooster Cemetery is a thing a boy never forgets. The roll of the muffled drums and “Adestes Fideles” answer for the dirge. A little girl on a fencepost waves to her father and wonders if he looked like that at Gettysburg.

After the last grave is decorated, Taps sounds out through the pines and hickories, while a last hymn is sung. The ranks are formed again, and “we all march to town” to a Yankee stimulant-Reeves inspiring Second Regiment Quickstep-though, to many a soldier, the sombre thoughts of the day underlie the tunes of the band. The march stops-and in the silence of the shadow of the early morning flower-song rises over the Town, and the sunset behind the West Mountain breathes its benediction upon the Day.

For more on Ives’ Holiday’s Symphony, watch this episode of Keeping Score with Michael Tilson Thomas. Listen to the final movement of the symphony, Thanksgiving Day, in my previous post.

*See the recently published bookLament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung’s Red Book by James Hillman and Sonu Shamdasani.

Songs My Mother Taught Me

Ives Songs My Mother Taught MeIn celebration of Mother’s Day, here are two settings of Songs My Mother Taught Me by the Czech poet Adolf Heyduk. You may be familiar with Antonin Dvořák’s famous song, written in 1880 as part of the cycle, Gypsy Songs, Op. 55. Fritz Kreisler later transcribed it for violin. Here you can hear it played by Itzhak Perlman and then sung by American tenor Richard Crooks. 

The poem deals with the flow of time, continuity and memory:

Songs my mother taught me, In the days long vanished;
Seldom from her eyelids were the teardrops banished.
Now I teach my children, each melodious measure.
Oft the tears are flowing, oft they flow from my memory’s treasure.

About fifteen years after Dvořák, Charles Ives, an ocean away in New England, created his own setting. Here it is sung by mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani:

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Like so much of Ives’ music, this song enters hazy, dreamlike territory. At 1:29 the music drifts off into silence (“from my memory’s treasure“). When the A section returns at the end of the song, notice that Ives adds a crucial new chord (2:08) which wasn’t there the first time. Also listen for the ghostly echo of the final piano note.

To hear more music by Charles Ives visit my previous posts, A Charles Ives Thanksgiving and The Unanswered Question.

The Unanswered Question

New England ChurchIn the virtual isolation of early twentieth century New England, an organist and insurance salesman named Charles Ives (1874-1954) was imagining shocking and innovative new music. Ives created atmospheric collages of sound. He poured fragments of American folk songs and other material into a musical melting pot to create an exciting cacophony. Much of his music became widely known only decades later when other composers embraced similar techniques.

Previously, we listened to Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day from Ives’s Holidays Symphony. Now let’s hear The Unanswered Question, written in 1908 and later revised. Ives described this piece as a “cosmic landscape.” As you listen, pay attention to three distinct and independent musical layers: the strings, the trumpet and the woodwinds. Which voice do you think is asking the question? What is the response? What do you think the question might be? What feelings does the music evoke?

I grew up listening to this great recording with Michael Tilson Thomas and the Chicago Symphony. Close your eyes and become one with the sound, giving the music your full attention:

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Three simultaneous but contrasting realities exist in The Unanswered Question. The strings remain placid and unchanging throughout the piece with chorale-like music built on triads. The trumpet enters with an atonal statement which emerges from a completely different sound world. The woodwinds react, at first calmly and then with increasing agitation.

There are several ways of interpreting the question and its response and I would be interested in hearing your thoughts in thread below. The trumpet may be asking “The Perennial Question of Existence,” as Ives wrote. The woodwinds may be saying, “I don’t know!” with increasing impatience. Or maybe, as Ives suggests they begin to realize the futility of the question and start to mock it. The strings represent an eternal and unchanging reality. In the end, the question remains. It’s stated one final time by the trumpet as the strings’ G major chord fades into eternity.

These lines from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1841 poem, “The Sphinx” may have inspired Ives:

[quote]Thou art the unanswered question;
Couldst see thy proper eye,
Always it asketh, asketh;
And each answer is a lie.
So take thy quest through nature,
It through thousand natures ply;
Ask on, thou clothed eternity;
Time is the false reply.
[/quote] 

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]From the Steeples and the Mountains[/typography]

Here’s another interesting piece by Charles Ives. In From the Steeples and the Mountains Ives musically depicts the glorious cacophony of church bells ringing out from various steeples and then echoing off the mountains. Listen to the way Ives creates a collage with layers of sound. You may also hear echoes of Taps. This is from a recent recording by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony:

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[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Christian Zeal and Activity[/typography]

Like Charles Ives, contemporary American composer John Adams (b. 1947) traces his roots to New England. Adams’s Christian Zeal and Activity seems to pay homage to The Unanswered Question, although it ends up going in a different direction. Adams uses the hymn tune, Onward , Christian Soldiers, but slows it down and alters it in a way similar to Ives. In an interview with Edward Strickland (American Composers: Dialogues on Contemporary Music, pg. 185) Adams explains:

[quote]In any hymn the voices tend to move in blocks, so I went in and unhinged the hasps and let the four voices float in a dreamlike space so that they only rarely come together, and the effect was very beautiful. At moments it almost sounded like some unwritten Mahler adagio. I didn’t mean it to, but it just ended up sounding that way.[/quote]

Above these string lines, we hear the taped voice of an evangelist. Adams cuts up the tape and repeats fragments. His emphasis is on the expressive sound of the voice rather than the meaning. Listen to Christian Zeal and Activity and consider the ways it reminds you of the Ives. What emotional impact is created by the seemingly disparate combination of the strings and the recorded voice?

This is the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Edo de Waart:

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A Charles Ives Thanksgiving

NewEngland Fall

In the early decades of the twentieth century, American composer Charles Ives was stretching musical boundaries. Ives created exciting collages of sound by layering fragments of folk songs, hymn tunes and other music, often simultaneously in different keys and tempos.  The result was a musical melting pot that was uniquely American and anticipated compositional techniques used later by The Beatles, John Cage and others.

Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day from Ives’s Holidays Symphony musically evokes memories of Thanksgivings past.  As you listen, consider the atmosphere Ives creates with sound.  Throughout the piece you’ll hear fragments of two Thanksgiving hymn tunes, The Shining  Shore and Duke Street. Is there anything else that gives the music a distinctly American sound?  Listen to the way Ives pulls out all the stops at the end, creating a climax of glorious cacophony and then notice the surprising way the piece ends.  What mood do you feel?

For more on Charles Ives and the Holidays Symphony watch this excellent episode of Keeping Score with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.

A Symphony: New England Holidays, IV. Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day…Charles Ives (1874-1954)

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