The Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s 114th season drew to a joyful close Sunday afternoon at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono, with an exhilarating program rife with technical mastery and dynamic performance.
Soloist Soyeon Lee’s mesmerizing take on Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini brought the BSO audience to its feet, calling for the first soloist encore since February 2009. Lee, a look of concentrated ferocity on her face, navigated the darkly romantic waters of Rachmaninoff with deft technical ease. The piece, a long series of variations on the legendary violinist’s caprices, brings to mind a huge, intricate machine, with tense, staccato bursts of piano interspersed with lush, warm, drawn-out melodic themes.
It cannot be stated enough that the inclusion of more relatively modern programming choices, such as the Poulenc piece at the last concert, brings a much-needed diversity and dynamic edge to each BSO season. Balancing Mozart and Brahms with 20th century compositions only serve to energize and enlighten both orchestra and audience.
Her encore, dedicated to BSO executive director David Whitehill for his upcoming marriage to Jessica Bloch (a writer for the Bangor Daily News), was the Nocturne Opus Posthumous in C-sharp minor by Chopin. Several audience members were brought to tears by the dreamy fluidity of the piece. Lee deserves all the acclaim she receives.
The second half of the concert allowed guest conductor and BSO music director finalist David Itkin to shine with the “Scheherazade” suite by Rimsky-Korsakov on the bill. The failure or success of “Scheherazade” rests largely on the dynamics of the piece; it is colorful, romantic and full of elegant, sensual lines. Itkin seemed to enjoy every bit of the performance, relishing each dramatic orchestral turn.
Where the Rachmaninoff was all about technical intricacy, “Scheherazade” is more like an incredibly detailed painting, with each little element as important as the other. Itkin seemed to understand this, and captured the small details, as well as the grand theme of “The Book of the Thousand and One Nights,” with exacting, entertaining aplomb.
Concertmaster Trond Saeverud imbued the violin line that represents Scheherazade, the Arabian sultana telling tales to save her own life, with tense, sinuous passion. Principal cellist Noreen Silver also brought a dramatic intensity to the piece. Special credit also must be given to the wonderful double reed section, featuring Louie Hall, Laura Green Estey, Wren Saunders and Lynn Flagg. And, finally, percussionists Nancy Rowe, Cindy Bastide, David Halvorson, Michael Venti and Tom Bennett were tasked with a lot of rhythmic dynamism, and provided an upbeat, even sometimes finger-snapping, foundation for the entire performance.