The 114th season of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra will be as much a learning experience for the audience as it will be for the symphony. While the end result of the series, which features a different conductor for each concert, will be the selection of a new music director, it nevertheless allows the BSO audience a rare opportunity to observe and enjoy many different approaches to what makes an orchestra work.
The first guest conductor, Lucas Richman, set the bar high at Sunday’s concert. Richman, currently music director for the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra in Knoxville, Tenn., exudes a kind of warm, approachable confidence. He is eloquent and assured, while being soft-spoken and accessible. He is a communicator, a necessary skill for a community organization such as the BSO. Aside from his talents as a conductor, Richman’s ability to connect with his musicians and his audience is valuable.
On the podium, he is in complete command of the orchestra, as evidenced by the uncommonly nuanced concert-opening performance of Zoltan Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta,” a vivid and charming piece from the Hungarian composer. Richman brought rich tones and playful rhythms from the BSO, focusing on the small, delightful details of the piece, inspired by Kodaly’s hometown in the Hungarian countryside. Special credit must be given to principal clarinetist Kristen Finkbeinder, whose lush, limber playing added all the more color to an already colorful performance.
Wilson Bristol of Freeport, 2008 BSO Maine High School Concerto Competition winner, was the star of the next piece performed, Franz Liszt’s “Piano Concerto No. 1.” Bristol, at just 17, is already studying piano as a music student at the University of Southern Maine, and while his youth was readily apparent, his talent was equally front and center. The gentle beginning to the concerto began to pick up speed, and by the end Bristol was powering through the churning, polyrhythmic final two movements.
As Richman himself said in an interview with the Bangor Daily News last week, working with youth is one of his priorities as a conductor. In just five days in Maine, Richman not only managed to acclimate and win over his musicians, but also seamlessly wove a young guest soloist into a professional orchestra. That’s no small feat, and it’s one that BSO patrons will remember throughout the year.
The final performance of the night, Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 2, the Little Russian,” is one of those pieces that is perfect to end a concert with. Alluding to Russian folk songs throughout the first three movements, the finale brings together all the early elements into one intricate and explosive end. Finish the performance with the audience on the edge of its seats: at the least it will leave them talking, something all the more important with this particular BSO season.