September 24, 2017
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BSO performance makes concertgoers ask: who are we as Americans?

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff
Updated:
Gabor Degre | BDN | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN | BDN
People gather to listen to Jeffrey Biegel playing the street piano Friday in the Pocket Park on Central Street in Bangor.

The Bangor Symphony Orchestra captivated and awed concertgoers Sunday afternoon with a program that left them asking the question: Who, as Americans, are we?

Are we the past of Peggy Stuart Coolidge’s Pioneer Dances when settlers pushed westward, settling a continent? Are we the vast industrial nation, struggling to welcome all to our shores that Antonin Dvorak wrote about in his Symphony No. 9 in 1892?

Or, are we the individual reflected in the broader society — the one who searches for and finds himself in conductor Lucas Richman’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: “In Truth.

This is a question we Americans most often ask ourselves through books, plays and the visual arts, rather than classical music. The answer, illuminated by these pieces that music director Richman chose for the first concert of the 120th season, is that we, as Americans, are all these things at the same time — individuals wrestling to live in but not be defined by society, imbued with our past, and because of the Internet, ever aware of how people outside our boundaries see us.

The soul of Sunday’s concert was Richman’s own “In Truth,” written for pianist Jeffrey Beigel. The composer might not have intended the three movements — To One’s Self, To One’s World and To One’s Spirit — to be experienced as “The Ages of Man,” but concertgoers may have experienced that way.

The joy and tumult of the opening movement sounded like a child growing into a teenager and then an uncertain adult. The second movement, which began with a piano cadenza, moved this individual into society and the demands of defining oneself in it, living in it and aging through it.

The final movement began with an instrumental setting of a line from Psalm 145: “The Lord is near to all who call to Him — to all who call to Him in truth.” The piece ended with a harmonization that balances the outer self and the inner spirit.

Beigel inhabited this music as if he had written it himself. The pianist and orchestra intricately wove Richman’s composition into a vivid tapestry that wrapped the audience in the truth of what it means to be a human navigating the world.

It was obvious from Sunday’s performance that Beigel, who last appeared with the BSO in 2005 when he memorably performed Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, and Richman share a deep musical bond. Their work in this concert will long be remembered as a high point in Richman’s time with the symphony.

If “In Truth” was the soul of Sunday’s program, “Pioneer Dances” was the heart and Dvorak’s “New World” was the head. It was delightful to hear the music of an American female composer kickoff the season. Composed in 1970, the musicians embraced Coolidge’s playful tunes that evoked American folk tunes and Rodeo, the ballet written by Aaron Copeland. The performance looked effortless.

The musicians had trouble with the Dvorak. Last performed by the BSO in 2009 under the direction of concertmaster Trond Saeverud, Sunday’s performance was, at times, anemic.

It is not unusual for the symphony to lose its momentum in the second half of a performance, which appears to be what happened Sunday. Although the audience rose to its feet at the end of the concert, the orchestra was unable to consistently meet the challenge presented by Dvorak’s demanding score after giving so much to Richman’s “In Truth.”

The Bangor Daily News is a sponsor of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.

The next concert will be performed at 3 p.m. Nov. 22 and feature the music of Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven.

 


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