One of Lucas Richman’s great strengths as music director of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra is his willingness to introduce concertgoers to unfamiliar works that are as well-crafted as those written by the world’s best-known composers.
The BSO closed its season Sunday at the Collins Center for the Arts with a concert called “Celebrating Women” that featured the works of Fanny Mendelssohn and Amy Beach, both born in the 19th century, along with a commissioned piece composed by Richman.
The orchestra performed the varied musical styles with grace and gusto, but the complexity and depth with which players performed Beach’s “Symphony in E Minor” is what clung to concertgoers as they headed home. Composed in 1896, it was the first symphony by an American woman.
Also known as the “Gaelic” symphony, Beach drew inspiration from a collection of Irish tunes, published in 1841, the program notes said. Soloists Trond Saeverud on violin, Michael Dressler on oboe, Kristen Finkbeiner on clarinet and Katie Hardy on English horn performed beautifully. It was another fine example of Richman showcasing the breadth of talent under his direction.
Mendelssohn lived in the shadow of her more famous brother, composer Felix Mendelssohn. She composed more than 500 pieces, including the “Overture in C,” which opened Sunday’s concert. It is her only known work solely for orchestra, according to the program notes.
Beach’s symphony was a full meal of sound compared to Mendelssohn’s bite-sized overture, which was light and airy as a miniature cream puff. The orchestra performed it with serenity and joy, but it was not equal in complexity to Beach’s piece.
Nearly every year since Richman was named conductor and music director in 2010, he has composed an original piece, often commissioned by a BSO supporter to honor family members. “The Dream I Share” honored the life of Betty Lupton Donahey, who died in 2014 in Blue Hill at the age of 94.
Donahey dreamed of being a journalist, her daughter Roxanne Donahey of Blue Hill wrote for the program notes. The times in which she lived made it impossible for her to fulfill that dream, but she wrote poetry.
Richman used the elder Donahey’s writings to create a piece that celebrated generations of women through one woman’s experience in music and her own words. The maestro turned to his own family to portray the college student, the wife and mother and the woman in her twilight years.
His mother, Helen Richman, his sister Kelly Lester and niece Jenny Lester, all of California, brought Donahey’s musings to life. A chorus of female voices helped give a universality to the work, which somehow combined the musical complexity and simplicity of Beach and Mendelssohn’s works. The audience embraced Richman’s family as if it were its own.
Richman has successfully transformed what for more than 100 years was a community orchestra into a professional one. He also has taught symphony supporters to not just tolerate but to embrace new works. Nearly every concert seems like a feast that leaves concertgoers satiated and satisfied.