Nobody knew quite what to expect when Christopher Tin and the Anonymous 4 vocal quartet took to the stage at Sunday’s Bangor Symphony Orchestra concert at the Collins Center for the Arts. Not just because Tin’s piece, “Sireines,” was a world premiere, but because Tin, a young, chameleonic composer based in California, is known for his genre and language-spanning approach to contemporary classical music.
Luckily for the audience — who braved sloppy roads and competition from the Patriots playoff game — the resulting performance was beautiful. The whole afternoon, in fact, was one of the most dynamic, widely enjoyable concerts the Bangor Symphony Orchestra has given in several seasons. The color, the energy, the light and darkness that conductor Lucas Richman and the orchestra brought to the auditorium was nothing short of magical.
The program began with Wagner’s overture to the opera “Tannhauser,” which set the stage for the rest of the concert, appropriately titled “Journeys”: love, sacrifice, loss, transcendence. The swelling crescendos and turmoil of the Wagner were mirrored and amplified in the closing piece of the concert, Richard Strauss’ epic tone poem, “Death and Transfiguration.” It is a masterwork of Strauss’ and is huge in many senses of the word: a large orchestra, and big, big themes. The Bangor Symphony Orchestra has not sounded so colorful in some time — Richman coaxed both quiet reflection and massive, crashing tumult out of the musicians, especially from the horns, which ably swung from dusky, pianissimo harmonies to earth-shattering fanfares.
In between two such intense, often dark pieces, came the two uplifting, exciting premieres from Tin and Richman. Richman premiered the warm, heartfelt “A Clear Story I Let Relive,” composed for the family of longtime Bangor Symphony Orchestra patrons Peter and Elizabeth Hansen, and reflecting on themes of shared memories passed down from generation to generation.
Tin’s “Sireines” was the most rewarding part of the concert, however. It is also a tone poem, but this time told the story of Odysseus resisting the call of the sirens, in Homer’s “Odyssey.” With that image in mind, the almost imperceptible entrance of the strings in the first few measures of the piece felt as though the audience was approaching an unknown island by boat, and the keening, mesmerizing four-part vocals of the Anonymous 4, were as irresistible as those mythological sirens.
The Anonymous 4 — Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Ruth Cunningham and Jacqueline Horner — perform as seemingly one entity, their voices blending perfectly. A standing ovation brought the women back to the stage to sing two haunting settings of two folk songs, “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Parting Friends,” both favorites of shape note singers, but here transcendent and unearthly, as befits a concert titled “Journeys.”
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