What a difference the MCA makes. Or, as it’s now properly known, the CCA — the newly renovated Collins Center for the Arts at the University of Maine, which played host Sunday afternoon to the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s third concert of the season.
A better atmosphere and much, much better sound helped make the concert a high point of recent years of programming, showcasing all the best aspects of the BSO, as well as bringing to the forefront new talent and new possibilities. Guest conductor Lucas Richman led the orchestra through a program of Beethoven and Brahms with piano soloist Joel Fan performing the former’s Piano Concerto No. 5 — better known as the “Emperor Concerto.”
Richman’s congenial attitude toward both orchestra and audience set the mood. The grandiosity of both Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto and Brahms’ fourth symphony could have made for an afternoon of Teutonic pomposity. In Richman’s hands, the Beethoven concerto felt thrilling and expressive, while the Brahms piece was lithe and lyrical.
Richman is not fussy or imperious; nor is he overly warm and fuzzy. He’s the right mix of accessibility and technical aplomb, and one hopes that the BSO will find a conductor with that kind of combination, as they search for a replacement for the former music director, Xiao-Lu Li, who recently resigned.
The BSO is lucky to have had such talented soloists grace its stage. Joel Fan packs a lot of punch into his performances — he’s a little guy with a big, big voice. Though that’s certainly not to say that Fan banged through the “Emperor Concerto” like he was on fire. Instead, he brought out the nuances and small, delightful musical phrases that are peppered throughout the otherwise majestic and regal composition. He was forceful when he needed to be, but he was also delicate and graceful.
A standing ovation compelled Fan to sit back down at the piano, where he played an absolutely charming rendition of Liszt’s Rigoletto Paraphrase. Fan is a great appreciator of Liszt, as evidenced by his choice to include the Rigoletto piece on his album “World Keys.” The playful, dynamic nature of the encore led BSO patrons to mob the merchandise table at intermission, where the affable, smiling Fan signed copies of “World Keys” for his newfound fans. Or, should I say, Fan fans.
During the concert Richman spoke of Bangor’s appreciation for the arts and especially for the BSO, which he called a “gem of an orchestra.” The burden of any incoming music director for the 113-year-old institution is just that: how to lead in a way that’s forward-thinking and musically rigorous, while still taking into consideration the love and pride that the community at large — Bangor and beyond — has for it.
The BSO is first and foremost a cultural beacon for eastern Maine, and all the expectations that come along with that role must be honored. But it’s also a living, breathing thing, full of talented musicians with individual strengths that must be allowed to shine.
With the Collins Center for the Arts, the BSO once again has a permanent home. With that uncertainty out of the way, let’s look forward to more creative programming, to more virtuosos like Fan coming to our community, and to more new, exciting things to come.