When Robert and Molly Nagle hear “Through the Azure Ether,” a composition by Maestro Lucas Richman, they will have a special reason for listening with open, excited ears. They’re the couple that bid on and won the opportunity in March of last year to have Richman compose the piece, which will have its world premiere performance by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra at this Sunday’s concert at the Collins Center for the Arts.
The Nagles, who live in Brewer and ran Reid Distribution Center in Bangor until their retirement, knew they wanted to bid on the item as part of the BSO’s annual fundraising auction as soon as they heard about it — which, as it happened, was just a few minutes before the unique opportunity went up for auction. They intended to dedicate the composition to their son, Arthur Nagle, who died at age 44 in April 2009 after a three-year battle with testicular cancer.
“It was right on the spot, that night,” said Molly Nagle. “We just kind of looked at each other, and we knew we were thinking the same thought. We knew this would be the perfect way to remember Arthur.”
“The best way to describe it is that it was purely an impulse purchase,” said Robert Nagle. “There are times when you don’t know you need something, and then you see it and all of a sudden you say, ‘Aha!’ It took us about 20 seconds to decide this was something we wanted to do.”
Arthur Nagle grew up in Houlton and attended Colby College in Waterville, but lived all over the country before settling in California, where he was an English teacher and school administrator. As his parents describe him, he was a man of varied interests and passions — from the marathons and triathlons he ran with his wife, Kim, to playing piano and cello and listening to all different kinds of music, to working with young people, including his three children, Langston, Pallas and Ezra. As Robert and Molly describe it, he’d be delighted to hear a symphonic piece had been written just for him.
“We both had a desire to do something meaningful in the way of a contribution to the Symphony, and in terms of our son, who was such a lover of music, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to create something in his memory,” said Robert Nagle.
“I think he would have loved it,” said Molly.
Shortly after the Nagles won, Robert Nagle sent a letter to Richman telling the composer about the engaging, multitalented man his son was. “Azure Ether” is based on what details that letter contained.
“I do wish that, when all is said and done, that I had had the opportunity to meet Arthur, because it sounds like he truly was one of the good guys,” said Richman. “He loved music, sports and academics and, ultimately, spent quite a bit of time serving as a guide for young people — something near and dear to my own heart.”
It’s not the first time Richman has composed for a cause. In 2006, he worked with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra in Tennessee, the other orchestra he conducts, and with Komen Knoxville to compose “We Share a Bond,” a song for breast cancer awareness.
“We certainly had cancer awareness in mind, when we chose to do this,” said Molly Nagle. “I heard Lucas speaking about that exactly when he was on MPBN one morning, so I’m glad we have the same ideas.”
Richman has certainly had his hands full in the three months since he last conducted the BSO. His children’s composition “Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant,” inspired by the works of poet Jack Prelutsky, was recorded by the San Diego Symphony Orchestra, with Richman at the helm. He also conducted for a recording of a new symphony, “Symphony of Hope: The Haiti Project,” which was released by Warner Brothers in the fall. In December, he went on a two-week tour of China with the Young Musician’s Foundation, accompanied by his 13-year-old son, Max. And most recently, he conducted two concerts featuring music from “Star Wars” with the Oslo Philharmonic in Norway at the behest of John Williams himself.
When he conducts the BSO this Sunday, however, Richman will spend part of the concert making music with the orchestra that will make one family very happy.
“We’re on pins and needles to hear it,” said Molly Nagle. “We’ve got quite a family coming. I think we have about 25 or 28 in total. It’s incredibly exciting. It’s going to be an emotional day.”
Also on the BSO program for Sunday, Jan. 29
Holst’s “The Planets”: This beloved composition is one of the most popular in the classical repertoire, and had its premiere in 1918. The seven movements are Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — Pluto was unknown at the time, and was controversially demoted to planetoid a few years ago. From the ominous, almost frightening Mars (“The Bringer of War”) to the upbeat Jupiter (“The Bringer of Jollity”), it’s a favorite of classical audiences of all ages and tastes.
Haydn’s Overture to Il Mondo della Luna: The opening passage for Haydn’s 1777 opera, it was later the basis for the first movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 63.
Golijov’s Sidereus: Osvaldo Golijov was commissioned by a consortium of 35 American orchestras to honor the former League of American Orchestras president and champion of classical music, Henry Fogel; Sidereus will be performed by ensembles ranging from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to the Bangor Symphony. “Golijov said that he was striving to make music that portrayed a giant object coming from outer space, floating ominously above us,” said Richman.
An early version of this story contained an error. The group that toured China was the Young Musician’s Foundation, not Young Musician's Project.