December 11, 2018
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Harpist shines in the spotlight in BSO Orchestral Showcase

Monty Rand | Bangor Symphony Orchestra
Monty Rand | Bangor Symphony Orchestra
File photo of Lucas Richman conducting the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.

If the Orchestral Showcase presented by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra showed the audience at the Collins Center for the Arts anything, it is that soloists are born, not made.

Maestro Lucas Richman last year revamped the January concert to feature works written for chamber orchestras made up of an ensemble of 35 or so players rather than a full orchestra with the usual 60 musicians or more. This season, the conductor chose pieces that allowed orchestra members to stand in front of their fellow players and perform solos. To his credit, Richman wanted to show how talented his orchestra members, many of whom live in Maine, truly are. Other concerts feature out-of-state musicians, most of whom make their livings as orchestra soloists.

Mo Nichols of Portland on harp, Kristen Finkbeiner of Prospect on clarinet, Jonathan Laperle, a Canadian, on flute, Michael Dressler of Boston on oboe and William Whitener of Lemoine on trumpet all performed admirably in pieces by Arnold Schoenberg, Maurice Ravel, Samuel Barber and Edvard Grieg. Accomplished musicians all, they have performed with many different orchestras, according to their program biographies. Yet, all but Nichols seemed uncomfortable in the spotlight.

Soloists may be technically brilliant in their performances but play without passion or personality. Nichols exuded both in their solos on Schoenberg’s “Notturno” and Ravel’s “Introduction & Allegro.” The child of the BSO’s co-concertmaster Lynn Brubaker, Nichols enthralled concertgoers.

The harpist radiated light in playing Ravel’s 1907 piece, one of the first written for the double-action harp. Nichols long arms seemed to embrace rather than pluck the instrument as if the harp were a lover.

Richman likes introducing BSO’s season ticket holders to music written by living composers. He also makes sure each season includes works by women. A highlight of Sunday’s concert was Conni Ellisor’s “Conversations in Silence.”

Based in Nashville, Ellisor is as steeped in country as she is in classical music. The piece was commissioned by Orchestra Nashville in 1994 and was written for its string section.

“Conversations in Silence” transported the audience to a place where the soul is restored. Ellisor’s “silence” was lush and layered with all of the sounds the stringed instruments are able to make alone and together.

The Orchestral Showcase is a wonderful idea that longtime season ticket holders have embraced. Sunday’s concert still felt a bit experimental, as if the players have not quite settled in to being comfortable without the brass, wind and percussion sections but they will grow into it under Richman’s supportive baton.

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