One of the best things about having composer Lucas Richman as the conductor of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra is the music he writes. Often, they are pieces commissioned by concertgoers at the annual fundraising auction to honor family members.
Two years ago, Lee Souweine was the winning bidder. He asked for a piece to honor his late wife Ruth Souweine, who died following a car accident in February 2014.
The evocative piece, titled “Serenity on the Lake,” nearly eclipsed the rest of the program that featured a concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s operetta “Candide.” Most likely everyone in the audience for Sunday’s concert at the Collins Center for the Arts has spent some special time on the water in Maine.
Richman’s music transported them to that time and place and captured all the wonder and joy of camp life. The gentle sounds of the water lapping against the shore, the call of the loons, the brilliant pink and orange sunsets filled the hearts and minds of the audience. It was absolutely magical.
In addition to his own music, Richman each season introduces concertgoers to the works of living composers, who aren’t as well known as Bach, Brahms or Beethoven. Joan Tower’s “Made in America,” commissioned in 2001 by small orchestras throughout the United States, was as majestic as it was thought provoking.
Richman and the orchestra expertly and passionately played Tower’s complex score that used “America the Beautiful” as a subtly recurring theme. The musicians captured the nation’s violent past, its pastoral promises and its turbulent present that Tower so perfectly put to music. The piece embraced concertgoers like a shroud.
“Candide” brought the audience to its feet cheering in the symphony’s annual collaboration with the University of Maine Singers and Oratorio Society, which acted as musical Greek chorus. Bernstein originally collaborated with Lillian Hellman on a musical adaptation of Voltaire’s satiric novella that outlines the travails and triumphs of young lovers Candide and Cunegonde.
It premiered on Broadway in 1956 and ran for just 73 performances. Bernstein referred to it as a flop but he loved the story so much that he created a 50-minute opera house version. Its presentation Sunday was part of the BSO’s season-long tribute to the centennial of Bernstein’s birth.
The music was lush, the lyrics light, the plot ludicrous but Richman and his orchestra embraced all of that and performed a loving tribute to Bernstein.
Aaron Blake and Amy Maples expertly portrayed all the naivete and joy of the young lovers. Their voices fit perfectly together and both naturally captured the comedic moments.
The rest of the cast — Kelly Lester, who is Richman’s sister, Christopher Sanders and Boris Van Druff — were equally fine and created an ensemble that performed with grace and charm.
Richman, who will begin his 10th season as maestro this fall, consistently combines music by living composers with that written centuries ago by the masters of classical music. He challenges the orchestra as well as the audience with complex scores but also rewards both with fun pieces like “Candide.”
While Richman’s lasting legacy remains unclear, his cheerful personality, constant smile and positive outlook have charmed season ticket holders and contributors. The maestro’s emphasis on professional standards for musicians has elevated the organization leagues above the community orchestra the BSO once was.
The Bangor Symphony Orchestra will next perform Mozart’s Symphony No. 33 and Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 at 3 p.m. May 5 at the Collins Center for the Arts. For information, call 942-5555.