The deep red that dominates the concert hall in the Collins Center for the Arts turned blue Sunday afternoon as the Bangor Symphony Orchestra kicked off its 121st season with a thrilling and joyous concert of music by American 20th and 21st centuries composers.
Andrew Staupe’s precise and passionate rendition of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” topped off a riveting program of celebration and joy that defied stereotypes about the solemn and somber nature of classical music. In his choices for this concert, maestro Lucas Richman proved that serious music can be upbeat and fun.
From the famous opening glissando, played with near perfection by principal clarinetist Kristen Finkbeiner, to the decisive closing chord struck by the entire orchestra, the BSO matched Staupe’s performance of this definitive American piece of music. Staupe and the orchestra beautifully portrayed the music Gershwin described as “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America.” Under Richman’s baton, it also was a celebration of the nation’s “vast melting pot” Gershwin sought to portray.
The program opened with Peter Re’s “Celebratory Overture,” commissioned by the BSO in 1996 for the orchestra’s 100th anniversary. Re was the orchestra’s conductor from 1964 to 1976. He died in July.
The BSO’s rousing performance of the piece Sunday was a loving tribute to the man credited with expanding the orchestra in size and repertoire.
Christopher Theofanidis’ “Dreamtime Ancestors” was inspired by the Australian Aboriginal tradition, but its themes evoked visions of the vast American landscape that influenced Aaron Copeland. “Dreamtime Ancestors” was co-commissioned by 48 regional orchestras in the U.S. that are part of the New Music for America consortium.
The three-movements included powerful thematic moments. The piece was dominated by the strings section but punctuated by the winds and percussion. While every concertgoer most likely did not envision the “songlines of the earth” the composer did, their own daydreams probably were as expansive and as lovely.
Richman included a sentimental favorite in Sunday’s program — “On the Town: Three Dance Episodes” by Leonard Bernstein. The conductor told the audience that when he was in high school, he played one of the three sailors in the musical best known for the song “New York, New York.”
The orchestra appeared to truly have fun with the piece that featured solos by Glen Sargent on saxophone and Curt Brossmer on trumpet. For the audience, it was a wonderful intro to “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Richman, who has led the symphony since 2010, has become more than a conductor to the BSO’s audience. Now, he is a neighbor. He’s no longer offering a program of music but is sharing a piece of his soul with each and every performance, which makes every BSO concert better because it is an intimate experience shared with a dear friend.
The Bangor Symphony Orchestra next will perform the music of Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Collins Center for the Arts.