BPO Musician Portraits

The BPO and JoAnn Falletta have partnered with WNED PBS to present BPO Musician Portraits, a four-part musical showcase of television specials featuring select musicians from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. These personal concerts hosted by JoAnn Falletta, feature selections picked by the musicians to share with you.

BPO Musician Portraits

Tune in to WNED PBS Monday evenings at 7:30pm beginning June 15 for BPO Musician Portraits featuring performances from Roman Mekinulov, Principal Cello and Eric Heubner, Piano, Feng Hew, Associate Principal Cello, and Shieh-Jian Tsai, Section 2nd Violin, Madeline Olson, Principal Harp, and BPO concertmaster Nikki Chooi.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the BPO was forced to cancel performances at Kleinhans Music Hall. We are proud to present these intimate concerts with our audience and look forward to a time the entire orchestra can come together again.

Mondays at 7:30pm

June 15 -July 6


This program is funded in part by Cindy and Francis Letro, proud supporters of Buffalo Toronto Public Media and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Episode 1 | Monday, June 15 at 7:30pm | Rebroadcast Monday, July 13 at 7:30pm

BPO musicians Eric Huebner, Piano and Roman Mekinulov, Principal Cellist
Eric Huebner, Piano & Roman Mekinulov, Principal Cello

Roman Mekinulov, Principal Cello, and Eric Heubner, Piano, have chosen to perform movements from Rachmaninoff's Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 19.

In this performance, we present Roman Mekinulov, our principal cellist, and Pianist Eric Huebner.

Roman was born in Russia, trained at Julliard, and joined our orchestra in 2002 from a previous post as principal cellist in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Eric also trained at Julliard, and in addition to playing with the BPO, he’s the pianist for the New York Philharmonic and the director of undergraduate studies at the University at Buffalo, School of Music.

They will be playing the Rachmaninoff Sonata. Roman fell in love with it the first time he heard it, and he had the incredible experience of studying it with his teacher Harvey Shapiro, who learned it directly from Rachmaninoff and was able to pass on to Roman the composer's insights and interpretation.

Roman tells us that when he plays this piece he feels very Russian and very close to the composer. As an emigre himself, Roman seems to understand the composer in a special way, and Eric is the ideal partner- virtuosic and sensitive to every nuance.

Rachmaninoff's music conjures up the extravagant and tragic world of Russia in the last years under the Czar- in the time of Nicholas and Alexandra. The music glows with a dark beauty that echoes Rachmaninoff's own character. Having left his country when the revolution came in 1917, he suffered from homesickness for the rest of his life. Rachmaninoff's pain, his passion, and his love for Russia shine through Roman and Eric's heartfelt performance.

Episode 2 | Monday, June 22 at 7:30pm | Rebroadcast Monday, July 20 at 7:30pm

BPO musicians Shieh Jian, Violin and Feng Hew, Cello
Shieh-Jian Tsai, Violin & Feng Hew, Cello

Feng Hew, Associate Principal Cello and Shieh-Jian Tsai, Section 2nd violin, perform pieces from Beethoven, a special arrangement of Bach: Aria from Goldberg Variations, Glière, and Gershwin.

In this performance, we present Feng Hew on cello and Shieh-Jian Tsai on the violin. This husband and wife duo are both from Taiwan, and each studied at the New England Conservatory of music, but met, fell in love, and married here in Buffalo.

An interesting fact – Feng studied with prominent cellist, Larry Lesser. His wife, Masuko Ushioda, the renowned Japanese violinist, was Shieh-Jian’s teacher.

Feng and Shieh-Jian not only play in orchestra together, they very often perform chamber music, and as a duo. In this performance, they play a piece by Bach, originally composed for piano, which has been arranged as a string trio for violin, viola, and cello, and Feng is playing both viola and cello parts.

Feng shared with JoAnn that they know each other so well that they could even play together if they were in separate rooms. Their deep and intrinsic connection makes for the perfect expression of true chamber music, which we hear them explore in several different styles in this program featuring pieces by Bach, Beethoven, Glière, and personal arrangement of “Someone to Watch Over Me” by Gershwin.

Episode 3 | Monday, June 29 at 7:30pm | Rebroadcast Monday, July 27 at 7:30pm

BPO musician Madeline Olson, Harp
Madeline Olson, Harp

One of the BPO’s newest members is Madeline Olson, Principal Harp. She has put together a program featuring works from Dussek, Albeniz, Tournier, and Paradisi.

In this performance, we present Madeline Olson, our newest member of the orchestra, playing the harp.

The harp is one of the oldest instruments in the world. It appears as early as 3000 BC in wall paintings in Egypt. A close-up shot of the modern harp reveals that the strings are of different colors....all the "C"s are red, and all the "F"s are black. The foot pedals are how the harpist can add sharps and flats to the "white keys" of the strings. They are a very important part of playing the harp that the audience often does not notice.

Madeline's choice of repertoire is a breathtaking illustration of the amazing colors and timbral possibilities of the harp, and the complexity of the instrument. The harp is deeply valued as a solo instrument, in chamber music, as an accompanist beautifying a melodic line, in orchestral repertoire where it adds drama, sweep and excitement, or gentle and poetic elegance.

Madeline hails from California and is a recent graduate of Julliard. What initially drew her to the harp as a child was its sheer impressiveness. She loved that there was a form of the harp in almost every culture globally throughout history, from the bow harps in Africa or the Kafir harp in Afghanistan to the Paraguayan harp, which serves as its national instrument.

Madeline feels the harp is just starting to be explored and it is exciting to see all the new ideas composers are bringing to the instrument.

Episode 4 | Monday, July 6 at 7:30pm | Rebroadcast Monday, August 3 at 7:30pm

Nikki Chooi, Concertmaster with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Nikki Chooi, Concertmaster

The four-part series ends with a personal concert featuring Nikki Chooi, Concertmaster with the BPO. He has selected compositions by Back, Massenet, and Tchaikovsky: Excerpts from Swan Lake.

In this performance, we present our concertmaster, Nikki Chooi.

Nikki joined BPO in 2019 after they conducted an international search for a new concertmaster. JoAnn Falleta says, “Nikki had only played six months with us, but had already created a new landscape in the string section, with superlative playing, warm friendship, and gentle leadership.”

Nikki studied at the Curtis Institute of Music and The Juilliard School. He was born in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, and is a proud citizen of both Canada and the United States.

He’ll be performing a program featuring pieces by Bach, Massenet, and Tchaikovsky. Nikki recently watched the film Black Swan and was drawn to its beautiful score featuring many Tchaikovsky solos for violin from Swan Lake that he wants to share with the audience.

The Bach Chaconne that Nikki plays on this program is considered one of the glorious treasures of the violin repertoire. Bach composed the chaconne sometime between 1718 and 1720. Historians speculate that Bach composed it after returning from a trip and found his wife (and the mother of seven of his children) Maria Barbara had died. The music portrays raw, profound emotion.

Perhaps Brahms expressed this best when he described the Chaconne to Clara Schumann- “On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings."

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WNED PBS Specials

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About JoAnn Falletta

About the Performers