UB's brown bag concert series offers informal way for audience to eat and listen to music


Lippes Concert Hall was filled with the pungent smell of sandwich bread, coffee and other snacks Tuesday. The sound of people chewing perforated the air as four students played piano and organ music for the audience.

The performance was the first Brown Bag Concert of the semester, featuring students in the Department of Music. It started shortly after noon Slee Hall’s main performance space. The series is an informal way for audience members to eat their lunches and listen to talented professors, students and visiting artist play.

“The atmosphere is great. We get free vouchers and it’s wonderful listening to the students play,” said Linda Stanton of North Tonawanda. “I haven’t been to one for three years, but before that I came maybe every month for seven years.”

Community members receive vouchers at the luncheon for concerts held by the music department.

Stanton and other audience members have been attending Brown Bag Concerts for years. The 16th season, which started at the beginning of the school year, features three concerts. Previously, the series had six performances each year.

The concert was bookended by two students playing on piano with two organ players in the middle. Wenchao Wu kicked off the recital on piano, playing Listz’s “Sonnetto 104,” which was followed by Patrick Davis on the organ.

Davis’ organ rendition of Jean Langlais’ “Acclamations,” was quickly followed by Peter Gonciarz, who played three movements of “Bach’s “Trio Sonata No. 5.”

Hangyu Bai closed out the hour-long concert on piano. She played György Liget’s “Musica ricercata 4, 8 and 9.”

“The Bach was magnificent. I thought it just sparkled,” said Jeffrey Crane of Buffalo, who attended the concert with his wife, Eileen. They brought celery sticks and chicken wraps to the concert. “I thought the two pianists played very solidly with authority. I enjoyed that very much.”

“[Hearing Bach] allowed me to appreciate the organ in a different light,” Eileen added.

While the audience enjoys some food and a free concert, the series is also a way for students, like Wu and Bai, to practice introducing themselves to an audience and perform.

“I’ve never introduced myself before I play” Wu, a second-year piano performance master’s student said. “It was the first time I talked to people [before] playing. I was nervous.”

Wu and Bai found out that they were playing in Tuesday’s concert a week in advance. They spend four to five hours each day practicing. Wu prefers the casual and informal environment of the Brown Bag Concerts.

The series was designed to showcase performances within the music department in a casual, intimate environment. There’s never a printed program available – forcing students to practice introductions – and artists are announced a week or two in advance.

Most concerts in the series allow attendees to sit on stage with the performer – a feature that puts Wu at ease. She finds the atmosphere more friendly and relaxing. The use of an organ during Tuesday’s show restricted seating to the normal seats off stage.

“It’s not only a way the musicians can have a place to perform, it gives the public a chance to be close to the performers,” said Bai, an advanced contemporary music certificate student.

Initially, they started with 25 seats and the series continued to grow from there, according to Phil Rehard, the department of music’s concert manager. He said 80 to 100 people attend each Brown Bag Concert. Tuesday’s turnout seemed to be about half of that and he asked everyone at the concert to bring a friend to the next performance.

Everyone who attends a Brown Bag Concert receives a voucher valid for a pair of tickets to any music department concert before the next performance in the series. Rehard said the vouches are a big draw. The music department’s new policy gives students a free ticket to all department concerts and series.

Non-students still have to pay for some shows, leaving the Brown Bag Concerts as a way for people to see two shows for free.

“I always think of the Brown Bag Concerts being successful because the stars line up,” Rehard said. “[You] never know what’s going to happen at a Brown Bag Concert.”

email: arts@ubspectrum.com