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Arts & Culture

BPO prepares for Poland tour, first international concerts in 30 years

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Next month, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will be hitting the road, and leaving the country for its first international tour in three decades. The BPO are invited guests to headline concerts in Poland, including Warsaw's prestigious Beethoven Easter Festival.

They'll perform in Poland at the invitation of Elzbieta Penderecka, founder of the Warsaw Beethoven Easter Festival and wife of world-renowned composer Krzysztof Penderecki. In 2014, BPO representatives including executive director Daniel Hart had the opportunity to meet Penderecka during a sponsors' tour and, he explained, the seeds of this year's tour were planted in a conversation that was held at her home.

According to Hart, Penderecka pointed out that 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of American composer Leonard Bernstein. Her festival felt it would be appropriate to welcome an American orchestra to headline this year's event.

"I think we were in the right place at the right time," Hart said. "Additionally, JoAnn Falletta did study with Bernstein at Tanglewood, so there is a connection there. We've been working ever since to put together this tour."

Falletta, the Philharmonic's Music Director, has appeared as a guest conductor at concerts worldwide, including Warsaw and Krakow. She will make history as the first American woman conductor to lead an orchestra at the Beethoven Easter Festival. Just as exciting to her is the fact this will be the BPO's first international tour in 30 years.

"I can't say enough good things about the country, the people, the great cities, the food," Falletta said. "It's beautiful and welcoming. We're very excited about it but it's a big undertaking."

In addition to transporting dozens of musicians and personnel, there is also the matter of moving all their bulky, very delicate, often antique and quite expensive tools of their trade. 

"One of the things we realized, going into it, is that not only do the musicians arrive there all in one piece but also, particularly, their instruments, that are an extension of who they are and what they do for a living," said Cindy Abbott Letro, a longtime BPO patron who along with her husband is leading tour preparations including fundraising. "My sort of role is if something has to be made to carry them, we really need to raise the money for that and it costs probably more, in some cases, to transport the instrument than to transport the musician."

The BPO is getting some much-needed help from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, which is lending several cases to help ease costs. Hart added that another obstacle is, upon the instruments' arrival overseas, getting them through customs. There are some rules that come into play, such as ensuring that the instrument materials are not restricted in some form.

"We've got to get all the wood instruments verified for endangered species. For instance the CITES process, where the fish, game and wildlife )officers) has to inspect our instruments. They need to make sure illegal trade isn't going on anywhere, " Hart said. "We have to get a manifest. We have to prove how much they're worth and what they're made of."

The tour begins March 15 with an ensemble from the orchestra giving masterclasses in Lus?awice and in Buffalo's official sister city in Poland, Rzeszów. The full orchestra will perform in four cities, beginning March 18 in Wroc?aw . The Beethoven Easter Festival in Warsaw is on March 20. Concerts will also be performed in Lublin and Katowice.

The BPO will be playing mostly American compositions, just as the hosts want it.

"Bernstein is really the headliner. Because of his birthday, we're playing the symphonic dances from West Side Story. I mean, that's universally beloved," said Falletta. "I know the Polish audience is really looking forward to hearing that. We're also bringing George Gershwin, Concerto in F, an American classic, one of the great American piano concertos. And Samuel Barber's First Symphony, an amazing, amazing symphony. One of my favorites."

Before leaving for Poland, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will perform their tour program at Kleinhans Music Hall, March 10 and 11.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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