Although Sunday’s Bangor Symphony Orchestra concert was billed as “Mozart in Paris,” the clear centerpiece was not actually Mozart’s Symphony No. 31. Judging by its rapturous reception, it was the mesmerizing, complex performance turned in by the BSO, accompanied by the University of Maine Singers and Oratorio Society and soloist Suzanne Nance of Francis Poulenc’s “Gloria.”
Led by guest conductor and BSO music director finalist Michael Butterman, the orchestra and singers put a passionate, concentrated effort into Poulenc’s alternately reverent and cheeky 1959 masterwork, which pops and swings with jazzy undertones, before moving into more spiritual waters. It felt excitingly, refreshingly modern and underscored the need for more 20th century programming choices for future BSO concerts.
As a soloist, Nance seems to hold a great deal of energy inside her small frame, swaying gently, eyes closed, before unleashing her crystalline soprano in fluid bursts of emotion. She is a formidable talent, and one we’re lucky to have in our community.
The Singers and Oratorio Society have never sounded in finer form, gamely tackling the knotty melodies Poulenc wove throughout his composition. The amount of work and focus the choruses put into their rehearsal for this concert certainly paid off. It’s debatable as to which will end up being the highlight of the season — the performance by Alisa Weilerstein and Chee-Yun last January of the Brahms double, or Sunday’s Poulenc performance.
The Mozart symphony that kicked off the concert was a fun, flippant early work from the composer, with the BSO bouncing through the piece before tackling the Poulenc. It seemed hard to top “Gloria,” but conductor Butterman managed to maintain some energy and interest by engaging both the orchestra and audience in a discussion about the next, final piece: Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3. The first half of the Saint-Saens is quite slow and meditative, but it soon picks up with a shocking blast of organ, like an alarm call.
Despite the slightly flagging energy toward the end of the concert, the BSO overall sounded excellent, with Butterman coaxing a warmth and agility out of the orchestra that has not been present with some of the other music director finalists. His funny, eloquent explanations of each piece to be performed were not only helpful to audience members who were not familiar with the composers, but also showcased his natural intelligence and depth of knowledge.
It is imperative that any future music director for the BSO have that easygoing ability to communicate, combined with intellect and musical rigor. Butterman appears to have both, which makes him among the strongest candidates for the position.