Grief engulfed the Collins Center for the Arts on Sunday afternoon when the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and a chorus of more than 100 voices performed Antonin Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater.” Rarely has a mother’s lament over the death of a child sounded so beautiful.
“Stabat Mater” is a religious cantata in 10 parts that the composer began writing in response to the death of his daughter, Josefa. By the time he finished the piece in 1877, Dvorak’s two other children also were dead.
The 80-minute piece, performed without an intermission under the direction of conductor Lucas Richman, melded together voices from the University Singers, the Oratorio Society at the University of Maine and four guest soloists with the orchestra to form what often sounded like one grieving voice. The chorus and instruments wove a blanket of sound that enveloped the audience in a comforting blanket — something unexpected in the midst of mourning.
Soloists Natalee McReynolds, soprano; Bracha Kol, mezzo soprano; Dustin Peterson, tenor; and Benjamin LeClair, bass; gracefully and at times eloquently expressed the sorrow of the mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross. Lucas made sure the orchestra did not overpower their voices.
Traditionally, the BSO has ended its season with a concert including the large chorus made up of university students and community members. The canon of music available for such a large number of singers is limited primarily to liturgical pieces centered on Christianity’s most holy days — Christmas and Easter.
The symphony’s final performance of each season falls near Christendom’s celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Over the past six years, a requiem has been performed three times and “Marie-Magdalene,” which portrays Christ’s last days from Mary Magdalene’s perspective, once as the season’s finale.
Most years, that is too much grief in April, a month that can be especially cruel in Maine. It also does not end the season on a joyful note.
Richman and the symphony’s new executive director, Brian Hinrichs, should seriously consider moving the choral concert to March, when the mood inside the concert hall is more likely to match the one outside, when hints of spring and resurrection are nowhere in sight.
The BDN is one of the sponsors of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.