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UB chamber music series combines classical music, architectural history

The audience will be seated onstage with the musicians at the June 5 Music in Buffalo’s Historic Places concert at Kleinhans Music Hall.

By BERT GAMBINI

Published May 28, 2015

“Kleinhans is an instrument in itself.”
Eric Huebner, assistant professor
Department of Music

Eric Huebner, a pianist and assistant professor of music at UB, is used to getting requests.  But lately, the suggestions are about places, rather than what to play.

And that’s fine with Huebner. As co-founder of a chamber music series that combines classical music with a celebration of the city’s rich architectural history, he’s always looking for interesting new venues.

The series, Music in Buffalo’s Historic Places, is a collaboration between the UB Department of Music and the School of Architecture and Planning.

The series began three years ago when Huebner was thinking of ways different departments at UB might work together. With the help of Brian Carter, a professor in the School of Architecture and Planning, the two created a series that tied music to place.

The concept has worked successfully elsewhere, including Huebner’s hometown of Los Angeles, which has a similar series that presents classical music in civic buildings, churches and private homes.

The initial UB concert at the Darwin Martin House in 2012 established the series’ template of bringing together faculty members and guest musicians in spaces that speak to the community’s architectural past.

That first program featured works by Beethoven — a favorite composer of Martin House architect Frank Lloyd Wright — in addition to pieces reminiscent of the American West as a nod to the Wright’s prairie-style of design, distinguished by its strong horizontal lines and open spaces.

“I think inspiration can come in part from the importance of the performance space,” says Huebner. “As a performer, I can feel that history.”

For Huebner, a place influences performance most immediately in terms of sound. He says each location for the series brought distinctive acoustics to the music and was chosen, in part, because the space could accommodate the presentation — even though hosting a chamber music concert probably was something that never crossed the mind of the building’s architect.

Bringing music to venues that aren’t necessarily performance spaces is among the series’ delightful curiosities, like those shows at the Martin House, One M&T Plaza and the Common Council Chambers on the 13th floor of Buffalo City Hall.

“Matching programs with the buildings is always interesting from a curatorial point of view,” says Huebner.

Yet, not all the concerts have been in such non-traditional venues. Some shows have taken traditional spaces and used them in unique ways, and that includes an upcoming performance on June 5 in Kleinhans Music Hall.

“For this year’s show at Kleinhans, the audience will be seated onstage with the musicians,” Huebner says. “This is a chance not only to enjoy music in one of the country’s great concert halls, but to actually sit onstage near the musicians during the show. It’s a truly unique experience.”

The concert is part of the 40th anniversary of June in Buffalo, UB’s pioneering contemporary classical music festival. June in Buffalo’s weeklong program features master classes, seminars, lectures and 15 concerts.

The show, to take place at 6 p.m. June 5 in Kleinhans, features members of the June in Buffalo Performance Institute playing the work of composers long associated with the iconic festival, including Lukas Foss and Jacob Druckman.

Huebner says Kleinhans is both an historic building and an acoustic marvel. Completed with funds from the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and designated a National Historic Landmark in the 1980s, its design considers the needs and demands of both the audience and the musicians.

“Kleinhans is an instrument in itself,” he says. “The audience will be up close, giving the concert an intimate feel, despite the size of the hall.”

General admission tickets and discounted seats for students and seniors can be purchased online. Tickets also are available at the door on the night of the performance.

The show is the final opportunity this season to attend one of the concerts. Music in Buffalo’s Historic Places presents two-concerts each year, but the series’ popularity is growing.

“It’s a modest project, but I would like to think that one day it could expand,” says Huebner.