It was a night in America like so many others, the day after a mass murder. It would have thrown a pall over any public event, especially over a concert given by an orchestra with as strong a community bond as the Buffalo Philharmonic. A spokesperson, perhaps music director JoAnn Falletta, would have addressed the audience and the scheduled music might have been adjusted to fit the occasion. In fact, just a few days before, the orchestra had issued a statement condemning anti-AAPI violence in the wake of the Atlanta spa shootings. And Ulysses Kay's Pietà, in what may have been its first performance since 1958, provided an opportunity to reflect on beauty and the soul of a nation.

JoAnn Falletta conducts the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
© Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

In 1958, Kay along with William Schuman, Roy Harris and Roger Sessions traveled to Moscow to represent the United States as guests of the Soviet Union Composers' Union. He was the first African-American to receive the Prix de Rome and wrote his eight-minute Pietà in 1950 during his stay in the Eternal City, perhaps referring to Michelangelo's sculpture, as a work for English horn and piano dedicated to Pietro Accoroni. It was played in the composer's exquisite orchestration for a small chamber ensemble with a sense of inner reflection blooming into sound by Anna Mattix who had found and championed the piece. A moody introduction led to intertwined themes of yearning and a little phrase that unavoidably and not unpleasantly recalled the Serenade movement in Berlioz's Harold in Italy.

Nikki Chooi and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
© Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

The orchestra's concertmaster Nikki Chooi played Mozart's Violin Concerto no. 4 in D major with more sleek elegance than warmth and flashed a seriously flamboyant cadenza of his own for the opening Allegro. He didn't use much portamento aside from from one remarkable upward sweep on the G string in the Andante cantabile but he caught the jaunty attitude of the Rondeau and finished triumphantly. In the original chamber-ensemble scoring of Ibert's irresistible Divertissement the players sounded happy to be playing such music although they played it more like a well-known orchestral suite than the spontaneous accompaniment to a farce

The concert proper opened with a performance of Handel's Concerto grosso in C major for “Alexander’s Feast” that was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with intense, gorgeous playing from the solo group of two violins and a very loud cello, and a minimum level of scripted ornamentation. The broadcast opened with a previously unannounced lovely performance of Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp played by the orchestra's piccoloist, associate principal violist and harpist.

This performance was reviewed from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's video stream